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On the Runway: New Book on 20th Century American Fashion
University of Rhode Island

Ever wondered how and why U.S. fashions have gone from hoop skirts to hot pants, from zoot suits to sweat suits? 

 A new book, Twentieth-Century American Fashion (Berg Publishers), co-edited by University of Rhode Island Professor Linda Welters with Ohio State University Associate Professor Patricia Cunningham, traces the socio-political, cultural and economic changes that have shaped American fashion changes over the last century.

Welters, who chairs the University of Rhode Island 's acclaimed Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design Department, co-edited and contributed three chapters to the book. The book also includes a chapter written by fellow URI Assistant Professor Susan Hannel and four URI alumni who are now professionals in related fields. Welters is also co-authoring a book with Cunningham on the same topic for Greenwood Press. 

The book examines the various cultural influences on dress such as class, jazz and hip hop, war, the space race, movies, television and sports. It also shows how gender, psychology, advertising, public policy, shifting family values, and U.S. expertise in mass production helped to create the American style that has since been exported worldwide. 

Welters said an added source of pride on this important work is the contribution made by Hannel and her current and former graduate degree students. "This book truly reflects the level of research and dedication to the heritage and history of fashion and the collaborative nature of our work," said Welters. 

For example, the first chapter in the book entitled: "Fashion in the Gilded Age: A Profile of Newport's King Family," was written by Rebecca J. Kelly of Newport, who received her M.S. in Textiles from URI in 2002 and now works in research and conservation at the Preservation Society of Newport County. An exhibition opened on April 8th at the Rosecliff mansion in Newport, R.I. featuring the Gilded Age clothing discussed in Kelly's article.

Hannel wrote about "The Influence of American Jazz on Fashion during the 1920s," and a chapter that looks at the future in the past, "Space Age Fashion," was written by Suzanne Baldaia, who graduated with her B.S. (1988) and M.S. (1993) degrees from URI and is now an associate professor at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I. 

Alumnus Amy Lund (URI 1994) of South Dartmouth, Mass., who is a handweaver, wrote about "The Onondaga Silk Company's 'American Artist Print Series of 1947," with Welters, and Deborah Saville, who is now completing her M.S. degree at URI and is the caretaker of the Watson House in Kingston, R.I., wrote the chapter on "Dress and Culture in Greenwich Village in the 1910s."

Other chapters delve into such topics as fashion on film in the 1930s, dressing for success in the 1970s, Beat Generation fashions, and the wardrobe influence of Hip-Hop. 

In addition to this new book, Welters contributed to and edited the book Down by the Old Mill Stream: Quilts in Rhode Island (with fellow URI faculty member Margaret Ordonez). She is editor-in-chief of Dress, the Journal of the Costume Society of America and serves on the Board of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. In 2002, she was named distinguished scholar by the International Textile and Apparel Association, and last year she and fellow Textiles Professor Ordonez were honored as Costume Society of America Fellows.

 



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