Collections and Resources, Exhibits, North Carolina Collection, North Carolina History, Special Collections, UNC History

From Frock Coats to Flip-flops: 100 Years of Fashion at Carolina

fashion_exhibit_posterFrom Frock Coats to Flip-flops: 100 Years of Fashion at Carolina
North Carolina Collection Gallery
Wilson Special Collections Library
Feb. 25, 2016 – June 5, 2016 Extended through June 14!
Free and open to the public
(919) 962-3765 or

Imagine ordering tailored clothes from Baltimore or Raleigh to dress for class, as the well-dressed Carolina man did in 1900. Or wearing a wool dress and heels to football games, as a 1964 handbook advised UNC “co-eds” to do.

From Frock Coats to Flip-flops: 100 Years of Fashion at Carolina is the spring exhibition in the North Carolina Collection Gallery of Wilson Library. It will use photographs, news ads and articles, excerpts from old student handbooks, and nearly 60 clothing items to tell the story of student life as reflected in a century of style.

“What students wore reveals a great deal about their world and their experience,” says Linda Jacobson, Keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery and one of the exhibition’s organizers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, says Jacobson, UNC students—nearly all of them male—dressed for their future professional lives. “It can be hard to tell the students from the professors in old photos,” she observes.

But over the decades, clothing gradually became more and more casual, reflecting influences such as Hollywood, magazines, and later, the social turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s. Eventually, clothes that once would have been suitable only for home or recreation began making an appearance in the classroom. Students themselves began to set fashion trends, rather than copying adult fashions of the working world.

In preparing the exhibition, Jacobson and her colleagues reached out to alumni, asking them to donate or loan items from their undergraduate years and to share the stories behind them.

In addition to 16 imprinted t-shirts, they also received the cheerleading uniform belonging to Bernie Oakley, who was removed from the squad in 1970 for refusing to cut his long hair. These offerings complement items already in the collection, such as a walking stick from the class of 1923 and varsity sweaters representing years from 1925 to 1957.

Although the tone of the exhibition is light-hearted, it is far from frivolous. “It’s a fun way to talk about UNC history,” says Emily Jack, the Gallery’s Outreach Librarian. “Clothes and the stories behind them are an excellent way to tell the social history of the 20th century.”

Related Event

On April 19, fashion designer Alexander Julian, UNC class of 1969, will deliver the talk “The Threads of Carolina Style” at 5:30 p.m. in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room of Wilson Library. Julian’s parents opened the iconic Julian’s clothing store on Franklin Street in 1942. It was Julian who introduced argyle to Tar Heel basketball uniforms for the 1991-92 season. In 2015, UNC redesigned all athletic uniforms to include the now-iconic diamonds.

The free public talk is the 2016 Gladys Hall Coates University History Lecture. An exhibition viewing will begin at 5 p.m.

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