When Avery Novitch told her father she had created her own minor around a theme of fashion history, he said, “Clothes? Old clothes?”
“I said, ‘Yes, Dad, old clothes!’”
For Avery, the topic is “artsy and academically challenging.” Indeed, she was able to channel her passion for costume studies into scholarly research and also weave in her studies as an English major.
Avery’s introduction to research at Union began with “The History of Fashion and Dress,” a theater course taught by Professor Brittney Belz. It turned out to be a perfect fit when the professor’s interests in costume technology and design matched her own.
“For my final paper, I wrote about how costume shapes character in my favorite book, ‘The Age of Innocence,’” Avery says.
She also has been able to pursue her sartorial interests in classes on Shakespeare, Manor House literature, the history of Hollywood film, and American realism and naturalism.
In her Sophomore Research Seminar, a course titled “Betty Friedan and the Rebirth of Feminism,” she wrote about the transformation of women’s shapewear in the 1950s and ’60s, exploring fashion silhouettes from Dior to Twiggy. Using Vogue archives, photos, articles and advertising to tease out themes, “it was the first time I was so focused on making my own arguments for primary sources. It was a really interesting experience.”
Her professors gave her support and latitude to explore. “Every time they find out this is my passion, they say, ‘You can tie it into your work.’”
In a class on The Museum: Theory and Practice, Avery conducted an internship at the Schenectady Museum exploring textile technology, in which she planned an exhibit incorporating General Electric sewing machines.
As a junior, Avery gave two presentations, one on literature and one on Victorian costumes, during Steinmetz Symposium, a one-day exposition devoted to research and creative work in all disciplines. Her father, visiting campus that day, “couldn’t be prouder of my humanities research.”
The culmination of Avery’s research came with her senior year English thesis exploring the aesthetics of costume and scenery in Edith Wharton novels.
With her rich tapestry of knowledge, Avery envisions someday working in costume studies at a museum or costume institute.
“My research experience at Union has been so positive,” she reflects, “it’s something I want to continue.”