This conference was originally designed to be a one-day meeting in New York City. Due to Covid-19, it developed into an 8-plus hour meeting spread over two weekends and the two-week break in-between. There were around seventy participants from all over the country. Chloe Chapin from Harvard, Christianne Meyers, and Sydney were the major organizers of the event. The main focus of the conference was how and why do we teach costume history.
It was so amazing to meet fellow designers and educators from across the country. The southern and western region group is planning to meet up again to discuss how to create a similar event for students to help them start forming connections with others in their field.
One of the major topics was how is costume history taught. Most of the group were taught in the parade of history mode. Alternatives included thinking of the field as a meadow or looking at how clothing from different periods are responses to similar themes—power, status, etc. Another concern was how globally inclusive was the curriculum. One of the amazing things created as a result of the online modality is a Google drive file that is both a permanent record of the event and a living document as we move forward as a group.
There were multiple mid-session workshops. I attended one on Filipina dress and its roots. This was an excellent example of how the colonizers’ need to show differences in power and class contributed to what is now a form of national dress in the Philippines. Another session discussed how to teach fashion theory, a topic that is not part of most costume designers’ training. I made rope from not-quite-dead plants! Fairly dry plants work best, as mine untwisted as the leaves dried. One participant used corn husks she dried and re-soaked. I also learned about research into the dress of ancient Mesopotamia.
I led a session on inclusiveness in the area of costuming. We talked about a variety of issues, including how inclusivity means both the people in the classroom and those outside of the classroom.
Take-aways for me: adjusting a major project in Costume Design to include research across the globe as a way to introduce students to dress from other countries. I plan to look at my calendars in my courses to see if I can adjust things to add an in-class how to research day. The group is an excellent source of sources for teaching this topic and is very willing to share. I want to look at the structure of my projects from a “know-think-experience-do” perspective and re-write as needed to have students better understand the goals of assignments.
I am very excited about a planned book club and the list of books that I discovered from the conference. I am mulling over talking to the History department about the possibility of a clothing history course, possibly based on the text Women’s Work dealing with textiles and their impact on history from trade laws to the creation of machinery.
Also, I made rope from plants! Yes, this can be done. Some plants are better for this than others, but the technique is the same—spin and twist. I attended a virtual costume pedagogy conference recently and this was one of the hands-on events. It also covered how to teach the costume history in a non-linear framework. People shared their research on topics from the clothing of Ancient Mesopotamia to the history of Filipina dress.
I led a session on inclusivity in the classroom. We discussed how a more global approach to costume history is important, that we need to think about including those outside of the classroom as well as those inside the room, and re-think the gendered vocabulary associated with items in the costume shop like snaps and grommets. The notes from our conversation help us to recall our most important takeaways.