Textile Gallery exhibition looks back on 100 years of business suiting – Rhody Today


KINGSTON, RI – March 17, 2023 – The power suit is far from dead. But over the past 100 years, it has evolved from the essential business attire for both men and women into one of the many choices available today for the senior executive or the nervous job seekers are available.

That is one of the storylines of the new exhibition, Dressed for Business: A Retrospective Look at the Suit and Beyond (1923-2023), taking over the University of Rhode Island Textile Gallery at Quinn Hall beginning Thursday, March 23. Presented by the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, the exhibit fits like a tailored suit to the 100 from the College of Businessth Anniversary with a celebratory exhibition of clothing from the university’s historical textile and costume collection.

“The idea of ​​dressing as a businessman—typically a man—has evolved as society has changed,” says Collections Manager Susan Jerome, who co-curated the exhibition with Associate Professor Rebecca Kelly. “The jacket and tie replaced the three-piece suit in the 1970s. Now in 2023, people are still a bit confused between casual and business and what is appropriate in business environments. We live in a more casual world.”

Rebecca Kelly, Associate Professor of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, dresses a 1917 men’s suit.

The exhibition traces the evolution of the business suit – from three-piece suits of the early 1900s, which included waistcoat, jacket and trousers, to a more modular look of jackets and trousers that came into fashion in the 1970s, to more casual, Today’s almost-everything-goes-dress.

The exhibition mixes a display of 13 women’s and men’s business suits and numerous accessories – ties, waistcoats, shirts and shoes – to show the evolution of business attire. Complementing the story are numerous posters combining URI yearbook photos across the decades with fashion ads of the day.

“It was so much fun flipping through the yearbooks,” says Jerome. “In the 1920s all these men sit there in their dark suits and ties and then you see women infiltrating these groups. Then, in the ’60s and ’70s, all hell broke loose and the concepts of dressing professionally went under.”

“I think that’s made it a challenge for young people who are trying to get into business and go to their first job interview,” says Kelly. “There is great concern because the ‘dress for success’ manuals of the past are no longer the hard and fast rules. I laugh at how much it has changed in a very short time.”

From left, a 1980s Armani women’s suit, a 1917 women’s suit and a late 19th century men’s frock coat await display at the Quinn Gallery.

For the exhibition, the story actually begins decades earlier – it begins with a man’s cutaway tailcoat from the 1820s. The tailcoat—represented with a tie, the forerunner of the modern tie—”is probably the root of the modern suit,” says Kelly. “It came about around the time you started seeing these three elements of a jacket, a waistcoat, and a wound in the 1820s. But then you very quickly find that men are more likely to wear pants for business.”

Through the suiting on display, the norm is increasingly going from formal to increasingly casual. As women enter the business world, their early business suits show elements of men’s attire. Men’s suit lapels grow (especially in the 1930s and 40s) and then shrink. Fine fabrics, beautiful cuts and beautiful details give way to synthetic fibers.

Fashion, like everything else, is influenced by times of political, economic and social change of the day, says Jerome. And in the 1940s and 50s, men’s and women’s suits show WWII era influences.

This is evident in a 1940s charcoal gray women’s suit with a military cut facilitated by elaborate buttons. The suit was one of two donated by a man whose aunt was a shopper at old department stores Gladding’s and Cherry & Webb, Jerome says.

With societal changes in the 1960s and 70s, the URI annuals show an absence of the evening dress, which was a staple two decades earlier. “Nobody wears suits and there’s a lot of facial hair,” says Jerome. “If you see a group of people and there’s a person in a suit, it’s the professor.”

“I do think there’s a bit of a lack of formality in women’s fashion,” adds Kelly. “I think women who are strong in these business environments feel like the suit is part of their armor to enter this world.”

Today, “dressed for business” can mean different things to different professionals. The tech boom of the 1990s and 2000s — and the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed many jobs online — have had their impact, Kelly says.

“If you think of someone like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, some of the most powerful people in the world go to work in a hoodie or a Patagonia vest, jeans and sneakers,” she says. “There’s so much ambivalence about this old power suit idea. Some people are attracted to it and others are repelled.”

Jerome says one surprise when she and Kelly curated the show was the lack of menswear in the URI collection. “Women remain the clothing consumer and the collection has a very strong focus on women’s clothing,” she says. “We need to do more to collect men’s clothing, accessories and especially shirts to be able to display a complete suit from different decades and centuries.”

An opening event will take place on Thursday, March 23 at 6 p.m. Linda Welters, Professor and Director of the Textile and Costume Collection, will present in the Quinn Auditorium on “Dress for Success,” the 1970s movement that popularized fashion’s association of clothing and a person’s success in business. and private life. There are also guided tours through the exhibition and the opportunity to ask questions.

The exhibition will be on view at the Textile Gallery on the first floor of Quinn Hall, 55 Lower College Road until December. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

URI University of Economics

The College of Business has been a leader in business education, research and public affairs in Rhode Island since its founding in 1923 by Howard Edwards, then President of Rhode Island State College. The college is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and today has more than 2,300 undergraduate and approximately 350 graduate students in 10 majors, nine graduate programs and three Ph.D. specializations.

With its 100th anniversary, the college continues to renew its offerings. New courses focusing on diversity, social entrepreneurship and innovation, and artificial intelligence have been added to the undergraduate curriculum. The college is also introducing new programs to keep up with the times, including the Doctorate of Business Administration for working professionals and FinTech, an undergraduate program in financial technologies.

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