A modest, white pinafore greets visitors to the Barrow Hall gallery, flanked on both sides by a sharp, dark blazer and a formal, “New Look” cocktail dress befitting a woman of elegance.
The contrast between the practical garment and the two more refined pieces is meant to show the evolution of a character, Eilis Lacey, as first portrayed by the noted Irish author Colm Tóibín in his coming-of-age book, “Brooklyn,” later adapted for a movie by the same name.
The Barrow Hall exhibit, curated by College of Family and Consumer Sciences faculty member Monica Sklar, uses pieces from the college’s Historic Clothing and Textile Collection to approximate the garments Eilis might have worn and seen during the 1950s era in her native Ireland and through her move to Brooklyn.
Sklar, with help from the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and two fashion merchandising students, pored over images from the era and stills from the movie to put together the 12-piece collection that will be on display through April.
“It was a very fun project,” Sklar said. “We really dove into the history of the era, and it was really fun to look into what people were wearing at the time, why they were wearing it, why this girl would’ve made the choices she made and how she would’ve grown as a person and (how) that would’ve been reflected in her clothes. We hope we’re telling that story here.”
The pinafore, for example, approximates the clothing Eilis wears as a grocery employee in the movie. The exhibit also includes a 1950s-era swimsuit, resembling the suit the character wore during a beach trip to Coney Island.
The exhibit includes posters that provide detail about the era and how American fashion evolved during the time due to a convergence of factors such as changing gender roles in the aftermath of World War II, the influence of Parisian designers, immigration and the abundance of silk and cotton after the war.
Among the most prominent fashion trends of the era was Dior’s “New Look” style that featured an exaggerated hourglass appearance and Coco Chanel’s “little black dress.”
The Historic Clothing and Textile Collection, which is in the process of being moved from Dawson Hall to the University of Georgia Special Collections Library, contains more than 3,000 pieces, primarily women’s clothing from the Southeastern United States.
The collection, made up largely of items donated to the college through the years, is intended to be primarily a research and archival collection and contains pieces from as far back as the late 1800s.
“This project was a good link to our clothing collection because we have many garments from that time period,” said Sklar, who oversees the collection. “We’re able to show that our collection has a lot of diversity from everyday wear through evening wear, high-end designers and things that were made by hands in the home, a whole spectrum.”
Tóibín visited UGA in March as the second annual Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding.
The Delta Visiting Chair, established by the Willson Center through the support of The Delta Air Lines Foundation, hosts outstanding global scholars, leading creative thinkers, artists and intellectuals who teach and perform research at UGA.
A photo gallery of the exhibit is available here.
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