Exhibit of 1950s and ’60s gowns emphasizes fashion‘s influence on society

Reagan Ritterbush

UT graduate student Morene Parten Cutler went to John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration in 1961 wearing a yellow dress, which students can now view at an exhibit highlighting the fashion and culture of the 1950s and 1960s.

Cutler’s dress is among an extensive collection of evening gowns from the 1950s to 1960s being displayed in the “As Time Goes By” exhibit by a textiles and apparel class on the history of dress and cultural change. 

Gail Chovan, lecturer for the department of textiles and apparel and organizer of the exhibit, said she and her students hope to promote the historical collection in order to give people an opportunity to look at history through an interesting scope.

“This exhibit makes great use of the resources we have here on campus and is a type of experimental learning,” Chovan said. “Instead of listening to a lecture, people can learn about 1950s and ’60s society [in other ways] hands-on.”

Chovan said her students researched each dress in order to understand the time period it came from and the different materials used to make the dress. 

“The way people dress shows us different aspects of the economic, cultural, social and political conditions of a time period we weren’t a part of,” Chovan said. “It’s interesting to think about why some things are the way they are especially in terms of fashion.”

Another dress featured was a 1950s taffeta and lace evening gown worn by Marialice “Cissie” Ferguson, the daughter of former Texas Gov. Allan Shivers.

Civil engineering sophomore Kevin Quist said the dresses were vastly different from dresses worn by celebrities and politicians nowadays.

“The dresses go all the way down to the ankles, which tells me how modest these women were,” Quiste said. “Society back then was far more chaste then our current society.”

The dresses were donated to TXA Historical Archives, which sponsored the exhibit, by the relatives of those who wore them previously. The gowns will be on display until Dec. 7.

Civil engineering freshman Monica Martinez said the exhibit shows how the influence of popular clothing in society has not diminished over time.

“There are some people who step outside of the standards of fashion during any time period, but for the most part everyone usually wears clothing society deems as acceptable at that time in history,” Martinez said. “No one really wants to go against what society sets as popular.”