Design Study Collection at the University of Cincinnati

Another highlight of the CSA (Costume Society of America) was a visit to the University of Cincinnati department of design. There we viewed the department’s historic design study collection. One thing to keep in mind is that a study collection is not the same as a museum collection. The clothing in a study collection is meant to be closely examined and even touched by students and researchers. The clothing in a study collection is often not perfect, nor is it “museum quality,” a term I don’t completely approve of, but which seems to best describe my meaning.

The clothes were arranged roughly in chronological order, and started with the later nineteenth century. Above you can see some of the earliest items in the collection.

It made me happy to see an early twentieth century bathing suit in the mix. The skirt is just draped over the shoulder, but you get the idea. There’s really nothing special about this particular bathing suit. It appears to be homemade using cotton trimmed with rick-rack. It is completely typical of what women wore to go to the beach 120 years ago, and so is an important object for students to see and study.

If you look closely at the arm hole area, you will see that this sweet little 1920s frock is badly damaged. The damaged area has been stabilized, but this dress could never be worn or displayed. But, as a learning tool it is valuable. Many of the older items in the collection did have condition problems, but the newer items were of a higher quality and condition.

I can’t help but think that a vintage clothing seller would leave this collection feeling really sad. Many of the garments were in great, and wearable, condition.

This Castillo for Lanvin piece was interesting. The label is significant, but the garment was one piece – the short jacket –  of a two-piece dress ensemble. It was one of the few couture pieces in the collection.

For the most part, the items from the 1960s and younger were nice, high-end ready-to-wear. There’s a little Pucci, some Bill Blass, and that sort of thing. Nothing earth-shattering, but great stuff to show the techniques and skill of garment makers in the 1960s.

One of my favorite 1960s dresses was this one by Teal Traina. Traina’s name is somewhat forgotten these days, but he sure knew how to cut an interesting dress.

This is a buttonhole detail from a 1960s Christian Dior New York coat dress. This was one of the ready-to-wear lines that the Dior company produced in cities other than Paris. How else could a student get such a great look at the types of detailing that made high-end ready-to-wear so special in the days before so much out-sourcing?

I don’t have anything clever to say about this Stephen Burrows dress except that I love him so much.

And I don’t have to say anything clever about this one, because the donor said it all!

The garments in the collection were donated, many from the original owners. Often times families contact museums to see if they want some old clothes, but most of us don’t have the types of things that enhance museum collections. A good alternative for donation might be the design collection at a local collage.


Filed under Proper Clothing

7 responses to “Design Study Collection at the University of Cincinnati

  1. Intriguing idea to leave clothes to a college collection. Most of us don’t have museum quality vintage clothing, but students might find them quite useful.
    bonnie in provence


  2. kickshawproductions

    We are now creating a study collection at the Fashion History Museum. We have been accumulating duplicates or better examples of items that were once considered precious but are now redundant. In some cases, more modern wearables will be resold and the money go towards the care and conservation of our collections. However, older or better items will be retained as examples of workmanship, fabric, or style, as well as items that could be used for displays in less than perfect environments. It saves wear and tear on the better pieces.


  3. Now, that’s a bound buttonhole! (When I did garment sewing and struggled with welt pockets I’d hear, “They’re just like big bound buttonholes.” That was little help since I never attempted a bound buttonhole.)


    • Well …. I did try a bound buttonhole, only because my singer treadle machine does not do buttonholes! It was, shall we say, purgatory, and the results did not look like the one you mentioned. Snaps, think snaps……….
      bonnie in provence


  4. Thank you for introducing me to Teal Traina and Stephen Burrows!!! And also, I LOVED the note from the woman who donated the girdle. Thank you for sharing all of this with us!!


  5. jacq staubs

    Teal Traina is one of (I think) still very wearable. I appreciate the tailoring in the 60’s clothes-


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