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Southern Miss Theatre Students Research Historic Garment Collection

Wed, 12/09/2015 - 09:56am | By: Ashlea Maddox

Kelly James-Penot (center) is the supervisor of the Southern Miss Theatre's costume shop. Under her guidance, students learn the technical skills to execute costume construction.

Students from The University of Southern Mississippi's Department of Theatre recently attended a special workshop at Mississippi State University in Starkville as part of the “Mississippi Cotton: Weaving Futures” partnership.

Along with representatives from Delta State University and Mississippi State University, members of the Southern Miss Theatre's costume design team participated in the project that seeks to strengthen the partnership between the three universities' textile and fashion merchandising programs. Another goal of the project is to promote student interest in career opportunities among the Mississippi cotton and textile apparel industries.

The project's participants attended seminars on the significance of cotton in the textile and apparel industries, since many students studying costume design, fashion merchandising and apparel entrepreneurship will go on to be buyers, designers, entrepreneurs, product developers and visual merchandisers.

Kelly James-Penot is the supervisor of the theatre department's costume shop and she explained there are many similarities between fashion merchandising programs and careers in costume design.

“Fashion and costume design both begin with inspiration and research. Through countless hours of work and dedication, a three-dimensional, wearable piece of art is developed to convey a story,” James-Penot said.

She and three Master of Fine Arts candidates from the theatre department-- Hali Hutchison of Davie, Fla., Jacquelyn Loy of Burlington, N.C., and Heather Steward from Spartenburg, S.C.--attended the third and last installment of this year's project at Mississippi State.

James-Penot led a roundtable discussion with students on costume design and related careers, and along with Hutchinson, Loy and Steward took advantage of the hands-on learning experience. In addition to attending lectures from textile and jewelry designers, they had the rare opportunity to study garments from the late 1890s, pulled from the Historic Costume and Textile Collection at Mississippi State.

“We were very fortunate to view the historic garment collection at Mississippi State University. To create the costumes for our productions, we devote a great deal of time to researching the cut of the clothing worn in the period,” James-Penot said.

“Examining pictures of garments from the era contributes greatly to the success of the execution of costumes. Having the opportunity to examine the construction of garments, place white cotton gloves upon our hands and handle pieces from the era is a rare opportunity and treat.”

Two of the theatre department's upcoming spring presentations, The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder and The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, are set at the turn of the 20th  century, so the opportunity to view and examine clothes from this time was an invaluable opportunity for costume design research, said James-Penot.  Members of the Southern Miss and Hattiesburg communities can see these costumes by attending one of the productions this spring.

For information about the Southern Miss Department of Theatre, visit