Beyond Vassar

Progressive Styling

By Samantha Soper '91

When Madge Baker ’62 came across a trunk full of old clothes belonging to her late mother, Katharine Jones Baker ’26, she stopped to consider their historical value and arranged for a curator from The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look over the items. As Baker unfolded her mother’s mint-condition, 1926 Vassar gym uniform, the curator said softly, “Oh, we would be very interested in that.”

According to The Costume Institute, the ensemble “exemplifies the progressive-minded changes to women’s sport clothing and, ultimately, to women’s fashions during the first half of the 20th century. Early 20th-century women’s fashion began to exhibit an enthusiasm for bifurcated garments and separate items that would later become defined as ‘sportswear.’

“Parading a convenient pullover top and the controversial bloomer pant, the female athlete embodied a redefined ideal of physical beauty and evolved morality. She wore more liberated garments and participated in activities that were previously designated men’s fare. This alliance of ‘modernity’ or fashionability and movement or activity quickly allowed the conflation of stylish clothing trends and sport clothing templates. The acquisition will serve to document the emergence of this sport-chic aesthetic, which has been perhaps the most profound and far-reaching American contribution to high fashion.”

The Costume Institute primarily focuses on haute couture fashion and is interested in receiving images of any pieces alumnae/i might be interested in donating. It is currently working on a Chanel exhibition and is keenly interested in any pre-WW II Chanels.

A longer piece by The Costume Institute on the progression of women’s sportswear fashion is available in the Online Additions section of this issue.