An Article of Clothing
I had the opportunity to visit the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center in Carson City earlier this year. The Textile what? I thought the same thing when I was offered a tour. I’d never heard of it and wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. However, I love clothes, and I was excited to learn about the history of clothing in Northern Nevada from the Center’s curator, Jan Loverin. (Jan has worked at the textile center for more than 30 years and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the collection’s items.)
Are you wondering what happens to the clothing displayed at Nevada’s state museums when an exhibit changes? Or where items come from for the new exhibits? Well, wonder no more. Clothing rotates between the textile center and the Nevada State Museum, Nevada Historical Society, the Nevada State Railroad Museum and the School of Home Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno. The historical clothing displayed at the Governor’s Mansion is also stored at the Textile Center.
From the exterior of the nondescript brick building near the Carson City airport, you’d have no idea that the oldest known Euro-American dress in Nevada is inside. Or the thousands of other inaugural ball gowns, entertainment costumes, wedding attire, military, religious, and fraternal garments, all cataloged and organized by type and age in rows of metal closets and cabinets just beyond the lobby entrance. The collection is comprehensive, focusing on Nevada and the Great Basin. It also includes the Marilyn J. Horn fashion library. Researchers can reach out to the staff for details on historic costume and fashion history.
One metal closet contained an array of inauguration ball gowns worn by various Nevada First Ladies. The designs differ widely, and some style choices were questionable at best. I’d forgotten about the omnipresent giant shoulder pads that dominated women’s fashion in much of the ’80s. Other cabinets contain wedding dresses, military uniforms, theater costumes, flags, quilts, purses and eyeglasses.
Due to the sheer volume of items in the collection, Jan is selective about accepting new garments and accessories. For consideration, they must be unique and stand out in their category. A plain dress from the turn of the 20th century probably won’t make the cut.
The Center is named after Marjorie Ann Guild Russell, a former Nevada First Lady and longtime Board of Trustee member. The Marilyn J. Horn Library is named after University of Nevada-Reno professor Dr. Marilyn Horn Bohmont, whose work and endowment provided digital cataloging for the collections.
If you’re as fascinated by clothes as I am, you’ll want to spend some time at the Textile Center, which is open by appointment from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, by calling Jan at (775) 687-4810.