It occurred to me only quite recently how the library I grew up with really has, well, shaped my life.
Like many a “sensitive” child growing up in a small town, I found a happy place among books and magazines. I gloried in the library’s outdated collection, which included treasures like Gassner’s Best American Plays: Fourth Series, 1951–1957, Bette Davis biographies, decades-old etiquette books, and Edith Head’s The Dress Doctor, whose photos I pored over. In early adolescence, I checked out a pink-dust-jacketed copy of Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Present Century in a continual loop. Nickelodeon reruns like The Donna Reed Show engendered my love of clothing and interiors from the 1950s to early 1960s, and I thrilled at the regional state university library’s bound copies of Vogue from the 1950s. So, for me, it goes without saying that, in a very real way, there is no such thing as fashion without libraries.
Only in the past thirty or so years has the field of fashion studies—an outgrowth, of course, of home economics—been coming into its own. With the field’s development comes infrastructure like blogs, podcasts, conferences, graduate programs, monographs, and journals. In 2003, I moved to Wisconsin to attend the master’s program in Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Though I did not complete the program, I did receive a remarkable education. I studied under the tutelage of the incomparable Beverly Gordon, cataloged items as a volunteer in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, interned in the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Costume and Textile Collection, and produced a fashion zine. Later, I maintained a blog about style.
Having become a librarian, it was only a matter of time before I articulated the importance of fashion in libraries. Actually, while in library school I interviewed library workers from Special Collections at the Fashion [End Page 1] Institute of Technology and the Fashion Study Collection at Columbia College Chicago for my Introduction to Archives final class project.
In this issue of Library Trends, Olivia Warschaw writes cogently about productive ways librarians can collaborate with fashion students to build or refine their research skills and methods that will help students become the best fashion professionals they can be. Marcie Farwell writes about discoverability and democracy in collections at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University. Linda Przybyszewski looks at the possibilities commercial sewing pattern publications offer scholars, and Suzanna Hall writes about what fashion zines could mean for academic libraries.
Cristina Favretto and I met at an Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS) conference event in 2018, and I’d venture to say, we recognized in each other kindred souls. Later that year we both presented, separately, at LIM College’s Fashion: Now & Then Conference. We worked in libraries and knew we wanted to do something fashion-related together.
That year at Fashion: Now & Then I also met Sally Stokes, a widely known and respected library professional in the Washington, D.C., area. In 2019, she gave a presentation that spoke to my heart. The slides Sally used for “Status Symbols in the Suburbs: ‘Country Classic’ Brands and Teen Girl Identity in the 1960s” reminded me of the illustrations that populated books aimed at young women in the 1950s and 1960s. As a vintage-clothing-obsessed tween, I had yearned to have the wardrobes of the poised, sleek hat- and glove-wearing young women idealized in the books instructing high school girls and “coeds” in the ways of prettiness and popularity.
I recognized that reading, being conversant in, this body of literature was deeply weird. I didn’t realize anyone else cared about this kind of visual culture. In fact, I didn’t even have language for it. This made it that much more moving that another person, another library professional committed to fashion and its discourses, found significance in this subject.
Dear, kind Sally Stokes died in August 2020, and I would like to dedicate this issue of Library Trends to her memory. [End Page 2]
Courtney Becks works as the...