Behind the Scenes and Into the Past: UVA’s Historic Clothing Collection

March 28, 2024 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

There’s history beneath the University of Virginia’s Culbreth Theatre.

On the lower level of the Drama Building on Culbreth Road exists a treasure trove of historic clothing, aptly named the Historic Clothing Collection.

The collection includes a gown from the 1930s that a woman wore to a Greek life function, a 19th-century suit for a little boy and even a helmet from World War I, riddled with bullet holes.

Former professor Lois Garren started the Historic Clothing Collection in the 1970s, when she realized that while some garments were too fragile to be worn on stage, they still offered insight into the past. Today, associate professor of costume technology Marcy Linton manages the collection.

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“People have no idea how amazing this collection is,” Linton said.

The collection is “about 95% donations,” mostly from people looking to clear out their attics, according to Linton. A few of the items were even worn on stage, before anyone realized how valuable the garments were. 

UVA Lifetime Learning is hosting an event on Friday showcasing selected garments in the collection. UVA Today got a sneak peek at a few of the impressive items.

Tour guide holds up a piece of fabric
Collection manager Marcy Linton still finds costumes in the Department of Drama that are worth including in the collection.
Children's clothing spread on a table for viewing
The collection has an array of well-preserved children’s clothing, like this 19th-century outfit for a young girl, as well as a little boy’s suit.
Various older articles of clothing on a table
Recently, Linton has started to collect items from the 1970s, like the platform heels and purple and teal newsboy cap in the back of this photo. Older items include a World War I helmet and a collection of men’s collars from the 1800s in the original package.
Linton demonstrating the sleeve of a dress hung on a mennequin
Linton sewed extra support into the straps of this intricately constructed dress by Jean Desses, a leading designer throughout the middle of the 20th century.
Dress laid on a table for viewing
This dress was probably worn by a woman of means to a ball, Linton said. Though the gown is made of gauzy material, it had boning inside to give the bodice structure.
Magazine featuring a dress in the collection
Linton was studying a design book to look for a different dress when she recognized a gown in UVA’s collection in the book.
several articles of clothing hang together on a rack
Suits from Christian Dior, Chanel and Emilio Pucci hang on this rack. While a couple of the suits were likely bought for special occasions, many were considered relatively casual at the time they were made.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications