On college campuses, moving usually means chucking belongings in boxes and doing the apartment shuffle.
For the faculty in charge of the Texas Fashion Collection at the University of North Texas, moving means careful planning, lots of documentation and, with some garments, the lightest of touches.
The Texas Fashion Collection is housed in Scoular Hall, a building set for demolition as the university prepares to expand the student union. Before the start of the new school year, every last piece of the extensive collection will need to be packed, cataloged and moved to the Welch Street Complex, said Dawn Figueroa, assistant to the director of the collection.
The Texas Fashion Collection is practically a giant closet where historical clothing is carefully preserved along with real treasures — 19th- and 20th-century couture, high fashion and principal ready-to-wear designs by American and international designers.
“The majority of the donors to the Texas Fashion Collection are from this area or live in this area,” Figueroa said. “They’re significant for a lot of reasons. We have prairie dresses and wedding dresses and garments that people wore for special events, like the Golden Globes and events like that.”
A tour through the collection signifies the longstanding affluence and influence of wealthy Dallas and Fort Worth personalities, from the luxe beaded bodice of a Balenciaga garment to the prim houndstooth pattern of a classic Chanel suit.
Figueroa said the items have communicated more than just fashion trends to UNT fashion design students.
“The thing that is so important about this collection, from an education point of view, is that they are very complete,” she said. “If I show you a piece from the 1850s without the bustle and the petticoats and all of those things, you won’t understand how women were confined by what they wore.”
Figueroa said the collection even had her straining her eyes to see the top hats in the film Lincoln.
“We have some of those top hats from that era, those tall, tall hats,” she said. “You see them in movies and there is this sheen to them. It’s almost satiny. But we have some of those top hats and they’re covered with beaver fur. It’s a really dense material and it has this shine. I was really looking at those hats in Lincoln, and some of the hats I saw were covered in beaver fur.”
The faculty, student volunteers and staff started the move in May. The collection has to be moved into the Welch Street Complex before classes begin.
“For the accessories, we repacked everything,” Figueroa said. “The location of everything is specific to this space [in Scoular Hall], and that just won’t work in the new space. In some respects, it made more sense to start over.”
The small group of faculty and students who maintain the collection boxed more than 500 items.
“For instance, we had to box up all the hats,” Figueroa said. “At the top of all these boxes when you open them is a piece of paper that documents every detail of that item, which can be everything from hat pins to bands and little pieces. So in a way, the move helped us really improve our documentation. Some of the pieces might have up to 30 details that go with it. We were able to get all of that on paper and pack it with the items.”
Then came the garment boxes, of which Figueroa said there are hundreds. After select garments are wrapped and packed by a worker wearing white gloves to prevent the transfer of dyes, fibers or dirt onto the garments, all of the hanging items — many of them designer gowns, suits and dresses worth tens of thousands of dollars — have to be loaded onto racks. Professional movers will load the items onto a truck for a short trip down the street.
Figueroa said a staff member will hand off the boxes and racks to the movers and note the removal. Figueroa said she and other faculty and workers will be at the new space to accept the boxes and racks, and to note their arrival.
The collection can occupy only the same amount of space in the new complex as it has in Scoular Hall. Figueroa said the university kept the lines of communication open so the collection might be able to come out of storage for limited exhibitions.
“Our vision for the workroom in the new space was to have space to have pieces on display. That was one of our ways to get some of the collection out so that people can see it,” Figueroa said.
In the complex, Figueroa said, students and faculty won’t have to share the workroom with any other classes.
The dialogue between collection officials and university officials also put a space to photograph items from the collection on the priority list.
Figueroa said the faculty couldn’t pack the collection into your garden variety boxes.
“We have to use acid-free boxes and acid-free tissue paper,” she said.
Acid-free material helps slow the natural deterioration that can make fibers thin and stiffen, or break crinolines and laces. The collection is stored in a space that keeps the humidity at 50 percent and the temperature between 65 and 70 degrees.
The move is expected to take a week, and while the start date hasn’t been confirmed, the collection will be in the Welch Street Complex prior to the first day of fall classes on Aug. 28.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
THE TEXAS FASHION COLLECTION
Mission: To preserve and document historically significant fashion as an educational resource.
1972: Edward Mattil, the art department chairman at what was then North Texas State University, helped transfer ownership of the Dallas Museum of Fashion to the university. The collection includes more than 3,000 items
1989: Patti Lou Cobb joins the University of North Texas staff and instigates museum standards and practices to improve preservation of the collection.
1993: UNT moves the collection into a newly renovated space in Scoular Hall.
1995: A National Endowment for the Arts grant for history and documentation is awarded to the Texas Fashion Collection. This grant lays the groundwork for the retrospective conversion of the catalog.
Today: More than 18,000 objects are housed in a 4,500-square-foot climate-controlled space, which makes it possible to inventory the collection as a whole for the first time.