Syracuse University Magazine

hair style 1876

Loops of hair were often left to hang down the back of the head. These loops were sometimes made of false hair or combings from the owner’s head. Clara Bradley, 1876.

Bustles to Bermudas

Archives online exhibition highlights women's changing fashions on campus

When assistant archivist Cara Howe G’10 delved into the Syracuse University Archives to select photos and printed material for an online exhibition featuring coeds’ fashion trends, she discovered there was too much historic material to research and present in one exhibition. “Our collection is massive, so I decided to narrow my focus to the years between 1870 and the 1950s because women’s fashions saw a big transition during this time period,” Howe says. “At the beginning of the 20th century, college women played sports wearing knee-length skirts with leggings underneath, but by the 1950s, coeds were walking around campus wearing pants and Bermuda shorts.”

Howe, who holds a master’s degree in library and information science from the School of Information Studies and is pursuing a master’s degree in museum studies from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, curated the exhibition Changing Women’s Fashion: A Look at Coeds’ Clothing on SU’s Campus from Pre-1900-1950s as a class project. She began by pulling items from the archives’ more than 6,200 digitized images, searching through photo collections, and looking through copies of the Onondagan yearbook for team photos showing women’s athletic apparel and head shots depicting the latest hairstyles, necklines, jewelry, and accessories. “Our yearbook collection, which dates back to 1878, was also a good source for local department store ads featuring fashions for women,” says Howe, who works with the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives in the Department of Archives and Records Management. “And I was able to use student publications and campus newspapers for additional material as well as a few alumni scrapbooks that have been donated to SU.” 

The selected items featuring women’s formal, casual, and athletic attire were scanned into the archival database and then tweaked to produce crisp, high-quality images. To write captions for the images, Howe pored over historical fashion books for accurate descriptions of various styles and the correct terms for assorted necklines and silhouettes. The fashion exhibition, which went live in March, will be featured through December, after which it will become part of archive’s permanent online collection ( “The exhibitions never end, they are just no longer featured,” Howe says. “We’re planning to present one large online exhibition a year. Fortunately, we have a long list of topic ideas that will keep us busy for quite some time.”  —Christine Yackel

Treasured Memories

The Department of Archives and Records Management has been mounting online exhibitions since 1997. Over the years, the technology and format have changed, and more recent exhibitions are larger in scale, but all highlight memorable moments in SU’s remarkable history. Below is a sampling of recent online exhibitions of interest to alumni and academic researchers. 

 From the Waltz to the Jitterbug: Dances at Syracuse University, 1900-1960

 SUNY ESF and SU: 100 Years of Collaboration

 Tip It, Frosh! The First-Year Student through SU’s History

 Handle with Care: Glass Plate Negative and Lantern Slide Collections at the SU Archives

 50 For 50 Years!

 The Art of the Onondagan II

 HOODOO! The Syracuse/Colgate Football Rivalry

 To view the complete collection, click here

fashion-1910.jpgThe second decade of the 20th century (circa 1911-15) saw a significant simplification of female dress. 

fashion_1920.jpgDuring World War I, women participated in the war effort on a large scale, necessitating functional garments. The female student on the left even appears to be wearing soldier’s breeches. 


Cheerleaders with the 1947 Football Queen exhibit pleats in their skirts that provided more movement than their straight-cut predecessors of the ’30s. 

fashion-1950.jpgBermuda shorts became popular in the ’30s, but were frequently banned from women’s wear and remained a heated issue into the ’50s.