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Old-fashioned outfits are at home in the Stephens College Costume Museum

The collection has outfits that from as early as the 1730s

Courtesy of Stephens College Costume Museum

Silk gown designed by Charles Worth, 1890s

August 11, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Correction: A previous version of the story listed an incorrect number of items in the Stephens College clothing collection.

Fashion meets history at Stephens College. The school has about 13,000 pieces of clothing, more than 500 pairs of shoes and about 800 hats from the 18th century through the present. It might sound like a dream dress-up closet, but it’s actually part of the costume museum and research library at the college. These pieces of history are used to teach students about fashion through the decades.

Most illegal piece of clothing
A leopard fur coat is one of the most controversial pieces in the museum. Dated to the ’30s, this coat was shortened in the ’50s to achieve a more modern look. Made from real leopard fur, which at the time was acceptable, this coat would be illegal to make or sell in the U.S. today.

Most famous piece of clothing
A dress worn by Diana Ross in the 1969 TV special GIT on Broadway is the most recognized piece of clothing in the collection. Bob Mackie designed the pale pink and black evening gown, and Ross wore it while singing “Wouldn’t it be Lovely” from My Fair Lady. The dress’s top half shimmers with sequins, and the underskirt is made of chiffon and tulle.

Most prized piece of clothing
In terms of monetary and cultural value in the collection, the most prized piece of clothing is a gown designed by Charles Worth, whose dresses are rare. The gown, which is in extremely good condition, dates back to the 1890s, when Worth was in his prime. Worth was an English designer who designed with a Parisian influence that became embedded in fashion across the world. The dress is an informal afternoon two-piece made of silk in a floral print with an olive green sash.

Most exotic piece of clothing
Although many of the pieces in the museum come from English and American culture, the collection spans continents. One such exotic piece is a traditional blue Chinese kimono from the ’20s.

Most represented designer
Oleg Cassini is the most represented designer in the collection. During the ’80s, his company developed a relationship with the college by donating clothing. Many of the donations are one-of-a-kind pieces that weren’t picked for production, and some are clothes the company bought for inspiration. Cassini earned his fame in the ’60s when he started designing clothes for Jackie Kennedy, though most of the pieces in Stephens’ collection are ones he donated from the ’70s and ’80s.

First addition to the collection
Ironically, the piece that started the now-massive collection at the all-girls school was menswear. Stephens College acquired the first piece of the collection in 1958. A faculty member purchased a pair of men’s silk britches that dates back to the 1770s.

Oldest piece of clothing
The oldest piece in the collection is a 1730s gown. The gown is French silk and was made in England. It was restored in the latter part of the 18th century.

Newest piece of clothing
The most recent addition to the collection is a 2011 pair of American-flag print platforms designed by Jeffrey Campbell.

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