Utah State costume design professor’s exhibit is more than just a fashion show

By Lydia Velazquez

Today in the Caine College of the Arts’ Tippets and Eccles galleries, costume design professor Nancy Hills will be holding an opening reception for her exhibit “More Shades of White,” a showcasing of dresses Hills made to reflect the development of women’s fashion over a period of decades.

Hills researched the style of women’s dresses during different times periods as well as studied various patterns made by Janet Arnold, a British clothing historian and costume designer, before making her own patterns. With the help of a few graduate students, the result of Hill’s research was a number of white dresses that each embody a change in style.

During Hills’ sabbatical, 2014 to 2015, she traveled to London and presented her research to the Society of Antiquaries, from which she received the Janet Arnold Award, a grant awarded to further a applicant’s study of the history of dresses and their materials. Hills then took her dresses to Berrington Hall in Herefordshire where they were on display for seven months and then had them on display at the Hereford Museum and Gallery for three.

“I think a lot of times theater is discounted as not as scholarly and I think especially within theater costume spaces there is a lot of, frankly, gender based discrimination. ‘It’s women’s work,’ so people tend not to take it as seriously,” said Spencer Potts, a USU alumnus who helped Hills with the project and a current costume design professor at Westminster College. “What Nancy was doing was showing some serious academic research in the field of costume design and costume history and that was amazing and inspiring as a student to see that happen.”

Hills chose white as the color of the dresses because it is common in costume design to make mockups using white fabric, so there is a sense of familiarity in the work, and so that despite the dresses’ varying styles, there can still be a homogenous feeling to the display.

The first display only had 11 dresses, but Hills eventually added nine more, as to have a larger spectrum to better encapsulate the varying styles and fabrics that existed from the 18th to 25th century. Hills also wanted to show the details in the dresses’ artistry and functionality during their respective time periods.

“I find the story to be fascinating, what each thing tells about their time and their place and the lives of women,” Hills said. “The story it tells utterly fascinated me”

Today’s reception starts at 5 p.m. and the exhibit will be on display through Dec.7.

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