"What's in A [Designer] Name? An Investigation of Twentieth-Century Fashion Labels"

is open in the Textile Gallery in Quinn Hall, first floor.

This new exhibit, curated and installed by graduate students, includes garments and accessories from Lucien LeLong to Issey Miyake, with Givenchy and YSL in between.

Today most fashion items bear a maker's label. However, this was not always the case. Labeling women’s fashion garments began in the late 1850s. This exhibition investigates the history of labels and specifically explores the cachet of designer labels through an examination of fashion items in the University of Rhode Island’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection (HTCC). 

The exhibition discusses fashion labeling and retailing practices and defines terms such as designer, brand, haute couture, and ready-to-wear. It essentially asks: what gave rise to the popularity of the eponymous label? Some designer labels are the hallmarks of an artisan workshop while others have become the stamp of global mega brands. 

The changing role of the American woman, as both makers and consumers, will also be at the forefront of our story. Twentieth century fashion silhouettes mirror the lifestyle of the American woman: where she spent her time, the choices she made, and how she wanted to be seen in the world.

Consumers, ultimately, determine which designers "make it", and contribute to which ones are remembered in the historical record through donations to fashion collections and museums. 

See the collection of of Twentieth-Century Fashion Designers posted on this omeka site for the research papers by students in Spring 2021 TMD 570 - Material Culture: 20th-Century Designers.



Dress as Multidimensional Cultural Documents

Material culture studies form an interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on the idea that materiality is a vital dimension of culture which assists in the understanding of social existence. Clothing and textiles constitute the widest category of material culture and are rich in symbolic communication.

The garments on display in this exhibit represent clothing identified with the various ethnic groups present in the United States.  By examining the relationship between ethnicity with 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 U.S. Viewers will also be introduced to the technical study and professional practice of textiles and clothing studies presented in the conservation projects of our students.

Dr. Jessica Strubel received a "Winnie" grant from the URI Center for the Humanities for "Outstanding Collaborative Projects in the Humanities 2019-2020."  The award supported "The Kaleidoscope of Textiles: Dress as Multidimensional Cultural Documents" - a project that involved students in the research and exhibition of ethnic clothing from the Historic Textile and Costume Collection. This exhibit is open in Quinn Hall Textile Gallery, Monday - Friday, 10 - 4.


SYMPOSIUM, September 28, 2019

Tales of North and South in Antebellum America: a complicated web

Swan Hall, University of Rhode Island

The Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, and the Costume Society of America Northeastern Region presented a free symposium to explore the complex story of the social and economic relationships between the industrial North and agrarian South in antebellum America. 

Thank you to the following for support in funding this event:

URI Alumni Association; URI College of Arts & Sciences; URI College Of Business; URI Office of Community, Equity & Diversity; URI TMD Department; Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, Brown University

Invited speakers included:

Linda Welters, Professor, University of Rhode Island, who welcomed the audience and introduced the exhibit that inspired the symposium, “One American Family: A Tale of North and South.” Please see the information below on this exhibit.

Seth Rockman, Associate Professor at Brown University addressed issues surrounding “Plantation Labor Outsourced: Situating New England Textiles in the National Economy of Slavery.” 

Katie Knowles, Assistant Professor and Curator of Avenir Museum at Colorado State University spoke about “Patches of Resistance on the Badges of Enslavement.”

Rachel May read from her book, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery and spoke about her process of researching and interpreting the lives of slaves such as those owned by Susan McPherson Williams Crouch and her husband Hasell, the original makers of the quilts that started her journey of discovery. 

Marcus Nevius, Assistant Professor at URI, focused on The Dismal Swamp in his presentation "The Price of Freedom in American Slavery, 1800 to the 1830s." 

Keith Stokes, from the 1696 Heritage Group in Newport, Rhode Island spoke passionately on “Legacies of Slavery and Freedom: A Family Story Through the Atlantic World.” 

Lynne Bassett, an independent scholar from Palmer, Massachusetts, ended the day with "Understanding Free Blacks' Clothing - A Photo Study."

Each speaker contributed to understanding the interconnectedness of the northern textile industry with the southern cotton economy that depended on slavery. The goal for this day-long program was to increase our understanding of the complicated history of the industrial North and the agricultural South through family connections and mercantile activity during America’s antebellum period.


One American Family: a tale of north and south

The Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising & Design was proud to present an exhibition of objects from the Cushman Collection in the Historic Textile and Costume Collection.

Inspired by the recently published “An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family Slavery,” this collection of quilts and clothing reveals a complex story of the social and economic relationships between the peoples of the industrial North and agrarian South in antebellum America.  

In her book, Rachel May envisions the world of the urban, enslaved women owned by Cushman ancestors, and explores the oft-silenced connection of slavery with members of Northern communities.  

The exhibit opened on April 22, 2019 in Quinn Hall. Quinn Hall is located at 55 Lower College Road, Kingston RI. The exhibit closed on December 6, 2019. 


Rosecliff, Newport Preservation Society

John James Audubon: Obsession Untamed explored the naturalist’s relentless pursuit of the birds of America and his singular determination in seeing his beautiful artworks published. Highlights include over 20 hand-colored, double elephant folio aquatints from Birds of America, along with exquisite ladies' hats and fans illustrating the early-20th century craze for feathers that led to initial conservation efforts.

URI loaned four feather fans, including one made with lyre bird feathers, and four hats for the exhibition, which closed on December 3, 2019 at Rosecliff. 

See the Preservation Society of Newport County website for more information.


Rachel May, a former English graduate student and current assistant professor at Northern Michigan University, has recently published An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery (Pegasus 2018). The book had its genesis in a material culture course in which Rachel studied a trio of unfinished quilt tops and a pair of swatch books in the Historic Textile and Costume Collection.