The Kaleidoscope of Textiles: Dress as Multidimensional Cultural Documents


Clothing and Dress


The Kaleidoscope of Textiles: Dress as Multidimensional Cultural Documents


"Show me the clothes of a culture and I can write its history" - Anatole France (1844-1924)

Material culture is the world of things that people – all of us – purchase and possess. Our possessions provide information about who we are and how we live. Clothing and textiles constitute the widest category of material culture rich in symbolic communication. The University of Rhode Island’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection has approximately 25,000 objects, including roughly 285 ethnic garments.

The garments in this exhibit represent clothing identified with various ethnic groups present in the United States. They represent the ethnic diversity and sociocultural richness of our population. By examining the relationship between ethnicity and dress, viewers can gain an awareness and appreciation of the kaleidoscope of ethnicity that makes up our population and conceivably the experiences of those who have immigrated to the United States.


Funding for this exhibit was provided by a URI Center for Humanities Winnie Grant

Thanks also to the URI Alumni Foundation for their support


The following students contributed to the production of this exhibit: Christina Adamo; Mariela Aguero Barrantes; Aymar Ccopacatty; Susan Day; Erika Holshoe; Michelle Leung; Cordelia Mueller; Samantha Myette; Alyssa Opishinski; Katy W. O’Donnell

All photographs by Connor Steere

Faculty and staff: Jessica Strubel; Rebecca Kelly; Susan J. Jerome

Collection Items

Woman's Huipil, Guatemala
Huipils are precolonial garments used by indigenous people within the Mayan region in Central America. The Maya civilization developed thousands of years ago, with descendants living today in an area that incorporates southeast Mexico, all of…

Textile Fragment from Chancay People, Peru
Andean textiles are some of the most intricate and technically complex textiles in the world, reflecting development over thousands of years prior to Spanish contact and continuing through modern times. Textiles were used in Andean culture as a form…

Textile Fragments from Peru
These three archaeological textile fragments represent the diversity of Andean weaving styles. Design motifs include imagery of serpents, birds, and stars and are reflective of indigenous cosmological beliefs. These pieces also demonstrate the wide…

Textile Fragment from Chancay People, Peru
This archaeological textile originated from the Chancay people, an indigenous group that occupied territory in the central coast of current-day Peru from 1000-1470 CE.  A complex tapestry consisting of repeating colored squares containing a Pelican…

Woman's Bollenhut, Baden-Württenberg, Germany
This headdress identifies the wearer as an unmarried woman from the Black Forest area of southwest Germany. This large, forested mountain range, bounded by the Rhine River to the west and south, contains many small, relatively inaccessible valleys to…

Girl's Socks, Dragaš, Metohija, Kosovo, Republic of Serbia
These socks belong to a community of Slavonic origin, who speak a “Gorani language” (a dialect of the Serbian language typical of Kosovo and Metohija) and who have adopted Islam as their religion. The Gorani people are an ethnic group living in the…

Woman's Skirt, Miccosukee/Seminole  Tribe
This garment is a tiered skirt with gathering at the waist covered by a plain waistband. The skirt is made from strips of alternating patchwork and ribbon applique, machine sewn together, with seven tiers in total. Three of the tiers (tiers 3, 5, and…

Man's Ikat Robe or Chapan, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan
This silk ikat robe was probably made and worn in the early 20th century, in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s central location between two major rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, allowed for trade from India, China, Russia,…

Woman's Apron, Hutsul Culture, Ukraine
The apron is first and foremost a garment. It is worn in two panels over an embroidered shirt, called a vyvhyvanka, covered at the waist by a wrapped belt, called a krayka, and topped with many overgarments (UATV English, 2017). The two-panel nature…

Woman's Robe or Kurte from the Tekke Tribe, Afghanistan or Turkmenistan
This robe represents one style (kurte) of the embroidered long-sleeved robes and mantles worn by Tekke tribe women of the Turkmen ethnic group of Central Asia. (Meller, 2013). Kurtes were worn as outdoor coats by Tekke women, topping their daily…
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