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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Bluffton College tackles fashionable undertaking

Bluffton College students Tanisha Seibert, Janet Rebekah Moyer, Rebekah Wingert, and Sonya Phillips, from left, try to find Mennonite clothing that Amanda Mills, right, requested from archival boxes in the storage room. Bluffton College students Tanisha Seibert, Janet Rebekah Moyer, Rebekah Wingert, and Sonya Phillips, from left, try to find Mennonite clothing that Amanda Mills, right, requested from archival boxes in the storage room.
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BLUFFTON, Ohio - Talk about a cramped closet.

Lynn Barnes has 7,000 pieces of clothing in her Bluffton College collection, but she's not finished.

The fashion professor is always looking for more clothes - as long as they're historical pieces. It's all part of her plan to put together a first-class, vintage clothing collection.

“This is one of the best-kept secrets on campus,'' said Ms. Barnes, an apparel, textiles, merchandising, and design teacher.

The family and consumer science department is beginning a project to catalog 7,000 historical garments in the college's collection.

The catalog will be on a web site so Bluffton's collection will be available to students, researchers, museums, and costume designers around the world.

Ms. Barnes and several students in her historical-clothing class are starting the cataloging project with 75 Mennonite plain-clothing items.

“This is definitely a longer-term project,'' she said. “It will take some time to have the web site up and running and then several years to catalog all of our garments.

“Since we are a Mennonite college, we want our Mennonite historical items to be available online first,” Ms. Barnes said.

Mennonites, an evangelical Protestant sect, favor plain dress and plain living.

Once the web site is live, Bluffton's collection will become a public resource, Ms. Barnes said.

The college expects to receive garment loan requests from researchers, museums, or costume designers working on clothing for theater or movie productions,

The department is interested in receiving more donations for its historical gallery, especially donations of Mennonite clothes. Information about the attire being donated would be helpful, including family history, geographic region, or photographs of individuals wearing the garment, Ms. Barnes said.

No one knows when Bluffton College began collecting old clothes, said Ms. Barnes, who has been teaching at the school for two years. “I inherited the collection,'' she said.

And no one knows how much the clothing is worth. But they should know once the clothing is cataloged, she said.

Now, the clothes are stored in a classroom known as the costume lab. “It's a very big closet,'' she said, laughing.

Most are neatly packed in special garment boxes. The garb dates to the 1800s.

“People can use the clothing to study the social structure. They can reflect on what was going on in society during a particular period of time,” Ms. Barnes said.

During the year, fashion and textile students work three hours a week in the costume lab cataloging the items, giving a brief description of the garment, including what kind of material was used. The most unusual piece is a black toccata and satin mourning dress from the 1880s, she said.

Ms. Barnes said she is looking for a place on campus to display some of the items.

That's good news for Amy Parks, 21, who is fascinated by the collection. She has been helping catalog the items.

“It's really interesting what fashion designers did with the materials and equipment,'' said Miss Parks, an apparel textile major who wants to become an underwear designer. “The hand sewing and details on some of the pieces are amazing. It's interesting to see how styles have changed over the years.''



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