Exploring Historic Fabric
Ross to discuss fashion at Oldham County History Series
Event to include discussion of
Historical Society's collection
LA GRANGE, Ky. (May 2015) – Jo Ross fondly remembers her grandmother sewing dresses for her when she was a little girl. Her grandmother would stitch dresses just like the ones seen in large department store windows.
“We would get dressed up with white gloves and my little black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, ride the bus to downtown Louisville, and look at the clothes in the store windows,” said Ross. When they came home, “she would copy what we saw.”
This made a deep impression on Ross. “It was only natural to appreciate the workmanship and time spent creating those dresses.”
Though women’s fashions have changed over the years, fashion expert Jo Ross never tires of talking about textiles. She has put together a program that focuses on the various aspects of historic garments using selections from the Oldham County Historical Society’s vintage garment collection.
“Historic Dress” will be presented from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 8, at the Rob Morris Educational Building, 207 W. Jefferson St. on the Oldham County History Center campus in La Grange. A luncheon will accompany Ross’s presentation. This program is part of the Lunch & Learn Series.
“The Oldham County Historical Society has some wonderful items from this county’s history that we will be discussing,” said Ross. The collection ranges from early 19th Century through mid-20th Century. Pieces include hand-woven linens from Hannah; a Civil War mourning cloak; hand-beaded Victorian gowns; and undergarments such as whale bone corsets, cotton stockings, and leather slippers.
As part of her presentation, “Jo will be talking about the way materials have changed over the years and their uses,” said Nancy Stearns Theiss, Executive Director of the Oldham County History Center.
“Women’s fashions have had the most change in what fabrics are used, and the technology that has been developed for ease of care and breathability,” Ross said. “The structural design of clothes has become much less constricting and more comfortable.”
As to what types of garments have been preserved over the decades, Ross said a lot depends on the past owner’s station in life. Everyday work clothes can rarely be found within a costume collection because the “owner literally wore them out with everyday life. Special occasion items are most often found within a costume collection,” she said.
Like a lot of other young women, Ross took Home Economics in high school, learned how to sew and made most of her own clothing. Her big break came after college when she was hired by Byck’s Specialty Store for the position of copywriter in the advertising Department. “I think Dann Byck Jr. hired me because I was so knowledgeable about fabrics, detailing and silhouettes of clothes,” Ross said.
Byck sent her to New York University for a 24-hour class in copywriting. Having spent 48 years in the fashion industry, Ross has definitely become a recognizable name. She has attended 40 to 50 shows a week as part of New York Fashion Week and worked internationally to produce fashion shows in Arequipa and Lima, Peru, Morelia, Mexico, Prague and the Czech Republic.
Ross has produced hundreds of fashion shows for various charities, reported fashion news for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Voice Tribune, Business First, Today’s Woman, FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS, Derby Museum, the Kentucky Science Center and the Museum of History and Science. For the latter museum she created a 22,000-item costume collection.
Her most recent project has been a vintage costume installation at The Mansion at Churchill Downs. This project includes dresses, hats, shoes and purses from decades beginning in 1875 to the present.
One of Ross’s mentors was Stella Blum, curator for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Blum’s comment sums up Ross’s feelings about her career choice: “We can all identify with clothing. It is a way we express ourselves and who we are. It is an art form in the most universal way.”
• For more information or to make reservations for “Historic Dress,” contact the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826. Cost for this program is $15 for members, $18 for non-members.
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