Fifteen Weeks and One-Hundred Eighty Hours Later: My Independent Study in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection

Blog post by Claudia Libow ’19.

 Claudia Libow ’19

For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of working in fashion. I was drawn to the rigorous, fast-paced and dynamic industry and couldn’t wait to be done with school and enter the “real world,” as I still call it today. I came to Cornell and thrived in my Fiber Science and Apparel Design classes but was still missing the live-action industry environment I loved. So when the second semester of my senior year came around and I had finally finished all of my requirements I was very much eager to gain more work experience and not prepared to sit through another four months of classes. I had been working as a research assistant in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection since my sophomore year. I loved this “real-world” experience but between a heavy course load and an entire year studying abroad, I was never able to commit a significant amount of time and dedication to the collection. Consequently, I didn’t get too much out of my four scattered hours each week.

Fifteen weeks and one-hundred and eighty hours later, my semester long independent study in the CCTC was the most beneficial and enjoyable part of my time at Cornell. By dedicating twelve hours each week to working in the collection, I felt a sense of ownership and accountability that allowed me to contribute in ways I never had before. From cataloging and inputing donations into our databases to assisting on exhibit preparations, I helped with various projects throughout the semester. The added time gave me the opportunity to gain a broader perspective and a deeper understanding of the complexities of running such an extensive fashion and textile collection. I would trade in the textbooks any day in exchange for the many lessons learned and skills developed during my one-hundred eighty hours in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection.

 A typical Monday morning working in the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection, February 2019.

5 Things the CCTC Taught Me for the “Real World” and a Career in Fashion:

  1. Showroom Experience: The vast majority of entry level fashion positions expect retail and showroom experience. Although I most likely won’t be working with 1920’s flapper dresses, 18th century wedding gowns, Schiaparelli or Chanel, the odds are pretty great that I will be working in another “fashion closet.” Not only is the CCTC a massive working collection with over ten thousand items, but it has invaluable pieces. Knowing how to properly handle fragile and oftentimes expensive garments is a skill I know will be helpful going forward.
  2. Collaboration: One of my favorite aspects of my time in Cornell’s Costume and Textile Collection is working with the diverse group of research assistants and volunteers. Between the student research assistants of all ages and majors and adult volunteers from Ithaca’s creative community, everyone brings something different to the collection. As I begin working after graduation, I will be even more prepared to work with a variety of people all of whom have different personalities, skillsets and opinions.
  3. Leadership: As a senior working in collection every day, I had the opportunity to help new student assistants learn the ins and outs of the CCTC. When Helen, the collection manager, was busy juggling a million other things, I had the chance to show the younger students what I was working on and even sometimes put them to work when I needed help on a big project. I not only loved getting to know the younger FSAD students, but I also learned how to effectively teach and instruct which can be surprisingly difficult in the workplace.
  4. Problem Solving: In a collection as large as Cornell’s, it is very easy for things to get mixed up. Whether it was missing tags on garments or separated multi-piece ensembles, things were not always where the database said they were. Although I still hocked Helen with tons of questions, I learned how to trouble shoot and take initiative which will be crucial when starting out in a new job.
  5. Sense of Humor: Twelve hours every week in a windowless room would have been a very different experience if it weren’t for the laughs along the way. Although Helen, Amanda our graduate research assistant, and the rest of the CCTC team work extremely hard, they don’t take themselves too seriously and know how to enjoy their work. This attitude has (hopefully) rubbed off!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *