I am back from the Costume Society of America symposium in Phoenix. The CSA is the national organization for researchers of the history of dress — lots of academics and museum professionals, as well as some reenactors and theatrical costumers too. This was my first time attending the symposium — it was quite interesting and fun, altho a very different animal from Costume College/Con (naturally).
Some of the highlights for me were:
Visiting the Phoenix Art Museum’s Medievalism exhibition. Lots of 20th century costumes, a few earlier ones. There were some really amazing pieces, including a 1916 suit that made me REALLY want to do that era, a gorgeous yellow sheer Regency dress with perfect brown ribbon trim, a green 1840s dress that had the teeniest stitches I’ve ever seen (it had to be like 20 stitches per inch at least), and more.
Two professional development sessions (one on using theory in research, the other on writing) were very helpful, and gave me some good ideas for my current project on French appropriation of Turkish dress in the 18th c.
Lots of interesting presentations, most notably (to me):
- Anne Bissonnette (Kent State Univ. Museum) and Harold Koda (Costume Institute at the Met) presented on exhibitions they’d created. There was a very fascinating discussion afterwards with Koda about the Costume Institute’s funding, as well as the transfer of the Brooklyn Museum’s costume collection.
- Kelly Mohs Gage (Univ. of Minnesota) presented on African slave women’s dress in 19th c. Rio de Janiero. She used photographs and ads for runaway slaves published in a local newspaper, and it was really interesting to hear how they mixed European-style dress with African adornment, and how that changed in later generations.
- Christina Bates (Canadian Museum of Civilization) spoke about nursing uniforms in late 19th/early 20th c. Canada, discussing the development of the uniforms and the various related gender issues — interesting to me because of its parallels with the research I’ve done on college women in the 1920s (who weren’t wearing uniforms, but had similar issues going on).
- Jo Paoletti (Univ. of Maryland) talked about the feminization of pink. As someone who LOVED pink when I was little and now refuses to wear it (because of it’s association with VERY traditional femininity), it was interesting to hear how late that association developed (1950s) and how fluid it was.
I got to meet and chat with a number of costume researchers whose work I admire – I sat next to Patricia Cunningham (who has written on dress reform, among other work) on the bus to the Phoenix Art Museum, and watched Candace Kling work on ribbonwork during a presentation and then chatted with her about 18th c. trimmings afterwards. Mela Hoyt-Heydon (an amazing theatrical costumer who usually teaches at Costume College) was there and was kind enough to introduce me around to a number of interesting people.
One thing I’d like to participate in at a future symposium is the Angels Project, where they organize volunteers to help out at a local museum’s costume collection — generally with cleaning, storing, cataloging, etc. They take people of all skill levels, so this would be a great way to check out museum work for a day!
There is a marketplace, which is only open one day — there was a vintage clothing dealer with some stunning offerings, altho I restrained myself by chanting, “But do you NEED it?” I did pick up a museum catalog from one of the book dealers.
To see the full run-down on the symposium’s offerings, including the many tours (which I didn’t participate in), check out this pdf.
Next year is in Kansas City MO, and if I’m not in Europe, I’ll be there!