Exploring Dress History at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)

Lesson 1

Core texts to be read before the lesson:

Discussion Questions:
  • What can we learn about social and cultural history from visiting a dress collection in a museum or archive?
  • What do you feel are the differences between ‘Dress’ and ‘Fashion’? How important do you think it is to distinguish between these two categories when considering what objects should be included in a museum or exhibition?
  • If you worked for a museum, what kind of dress objects would you include in your collection and why? 


Select one object from the Museum at FIT collection. Write a report explaining why you feel your chosen object has been included in the museum collection. Contextualise your argument and chosen object using materials from the Berg Fashion Library and provide evidence as to why your chosen object is important to the study of dress and fashion.

Lesson 2

Review one of the following fashion exhibitions held at the Museum at FIT, or visit a fashion exhibition of your choice.

Discussion Questions:

1.    Describe your initial thoughts of the exhibition.
  • What did you learn?
  • Did you like the exhibition?
2.    Focussing on the display, how has the exhibition been designed to reinforce key themes or ideas?

3.    Are you surprised to see any particular garments/objects included? If so, why?

4.    Are there any objects that have not been included in the exhibition that you think should have been included? If so, why?

Drawing upon your answers to the discussion questions, select a garment or object on display in one of the exhibitions and write a report analysing the curation of the garment/object. Focus on the subject of the exhibition and consider the lighting, positioning, and other display choices. 

Lesson 3

Final Assignment/Project – Design your own exhibition using the Museum at FIT collection

Select one of the following objects from the Museum at FIT collection and read the relevant texts outlined. Write a report or create a presentation explaining how you would curate and design an exhibition using your chosen object as a starting point. You may select other objects from the Museum at FIT collection to include in your fictitious exhibition, or describe the kind of objects you would like to include. The title or theme of your exhibition is at your discretion.

Be as creative as you like, include illustrations, diagrams, or design ideas if it would help to explain or clarify your curatorial decisions.

Referring to the reading material outlined for each of the below options, contextualise your chosen object within your report/presentation and explore any key themes. Examine the different ways in which your themes or ideas could be developed or interpreted through the curation of your exhibition.

Think about your audience. Who will visit your exhibition? What will they learn? How will you present this information to make it interesting and accessible? 

Option 1:

Corset c. 1889

Set Texts:

  • Steele, Valerie and Gau, Colleen, “Corset”, The Berg Companion to Fashion, Valerie Steele, ed. Berg Publishers, Oxford 2010.
  • Steele, Valerie. “Tight-Lacing”, The Berg Companion to Fashion, Valerie Steele, ed. Berg Publishers, Oxford 2010.
  • Steele, Valerie. “Fetish Fashion”, The Berg Companion to Fashion, Valerie Steele, ed. Berg Publishers, Oxford 2010.
  • Summers, Leigh. Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset. Series: Dress Body Culture, Joanne Eicher ed. Berg Publishers, Oxford, 2001. DOI: 10.2752/9781847888655

Option 2:

Flag Costume c. 1889

Set Texts:

  • Evenson, Sandra Lee, “Dress and Identity”, Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Volume 10: Global Perspectives, Joanne Eicher ed. Berg Publishers, Oxford 2010. DOI: 10.2752/BEWDF/EDch10007
  • Calefato, Patrizia, “Dress and Social Identity”, translated by Lisa Adams, in The Clothed Body, Series: Dress, Body Culture, Joanne Eicher, ed. Berg Publishers, Oxford 2004. DOI: 10.2752/9780857854049/CLOTHBOD0005
  • Welters, Linda and Cunningham, Patricia A, “The Americanization of Fashion”, in Twentieth-Century American Fashion, Berg Publishers, Oxford 2008. DOI: 10.2752/9781847882837/TCAF0005
  • Druesedow, Jean L. “Evidence about Dress in The United States”, Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Volume 3: The United States and Canada, Berg Publishers, Oxford 2010. DOI: 10.2752/BEWDF/EDch3005

Option 3:

Evening dress, 1913, Paul Poiret

Set Texts:

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