Academic Dress: Congratulations December Graduates!

At high schools, colleges, and universities across the nation the fall semester is rapidly winding down to an end. Finals week is approaching and students are feeling the pressure. Some students are looking forward to finishing finals and returning home for winter break to spend time with family. Winter break is also the best time to re-charge for the upcoming spring semester. On the other hand, there are students who are excited to get through finals so that they can graduate! That’s right! December graduates at Iowa State University will be walking the stage on December 14th & 15th at Hilton Coliseum to receive their hard-earned degrees.

Deciding what to wear on graduation day is something that students often see as important. Looking presentable on graduation day has been a long-standing tradition as graduation is an important accomplishment; whether it be for high school or college. Here at the Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM), we have a number of graduation day ensembles that represent the insuppressible excitement of graduation day.

Everyone knows that on graduation day students wear a cap and gown, formally known as academic dress. McCallum states,

The most common styles [of academic dress] emulate the everyday clothing worn by scholars at the first universities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Typically, this included a flowing gown, a hood or cape, and some sort of head wear; the contemporary form of this ensemble depends of the rules dictated by the institution with which the student or official is associated (p. 1)

As a part of our collection at the TCM we have a number of graduation ensembles that would traditionally be worn be a student receiving a master’s degree from a college or university. The ensemble photographed below includes a master’s robe, hood, and mortarboard. Each individual object within this ensemble serves a specific purpose of representation of a historical context. Master’s robes are identifiable by their unique sleeves, as they are made to almost reach the hem of the robe. A master’s hood is representative of the level of degree being earned, furthermore, the college or university providing the degree is identifiable by the colors in the lining of the hood worn with the robe (Sheard, 1962).

This master’s graduation ensemble was donated to the TCM by Harriett M. Meek-Lyon in 1989. Meek-Lyon earned her M.S. in Textiles and Clothing from Iowa State University in 1957.




Here at the TCM we also have this 1936 high school graduation dress worn for graduation portraits by Dorothy Marie Messer Carpenter, mother of the donor, Carol Carpenter Hanson. The special occasion dress is made of blue velvet and is sleeveless. The round neckline of the dress is pleated with an attached shoulder cape that drapes to about shoulder length. According to information provided by Hanson,

Born on November 13, 1918, Carpenter was the granddaughter of Swiss immigrants on her father’s side. She was raised on a depression-poor farm near Guernsey, IA. She was also the salutatorian of her high school class, graduating from Guernsey High School on May 28, 1936. Carpenter was an extraordinary seamstress, perhaps learning skills from two Iowa aunts who were professional seamstresses (Hanson, 2016).

Also as part of our collection, we have the actual senior portrait of Carpenter wearing the dress photographed below.




The TCM would like to congratulate December 2018 graduates from all over. As you wear your carefully chosen outfits that will go under your academic dress, remember that what you are wearing has history and meaning. Wear it with pride as you have accomplished something great!


By Dyese Matthews



Hanson, C. C. (2016, October 31). Dorothy Marie Messer Carpenter. [Document on the life of Dorothy Marie Carpenter]. Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum (2016.17.1). Ames, IA

McCallum, J. (2010). Academic dress. In V. Steele (Ed.). The Berg Companion to Fashion. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from

Sheard, K. (1962). Academic heraldry in America. Marquette, MI: Northern Michigan College Press


Inspiration: Guatemala

Here at the Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM) we have a significant number of historical items from different countries all over the world. Some of our favorite international garments either come from or are inspired by Guatemala. The country of Guatemala is bursting at the seams with amazing stories and culture due to its rich history.

One of the items in the TCM collection that is inspired by Guatemalan culture is this intricately detailed and brightly colored jacket. The woman’s jacket is made of a woven cotton fabric that has a supplemental weft design in red, purple, blue, yellow and pink. The center front closure has one button and a rolled collar. It is evident that this jacket is not an authentic Guatemalan garment, but a westernized jacket that has been created with fabric from Guatemala. This type of object is often marketed to American buyers as something that can be culturally appropriate in America, yet can be viewed as a foreign artifact.

The jacket was donated by the Waldee family back in 1999. Dr. Edward Waldee was an Iowa State University alum and, for a brief period of time, a professor. Mrs. Bertha Waldee was a textiles professor at Utah State University. The Waldee family’s contribution to the TCM has played an enormous part in our success and expansion. Edward Waldee generously donated their collection of cultural textiles as well as a substantial endowment to the Textiles and Clothing Museum in 1995 to honor his wife for her contributions to the education of people around the world. This endowment became the foundation money that began our involvement in the Morrill Hall renovation project.

guatemala flag

Guatemalan flag

We also have a Guatemalan inspired ensemble, including a skirt and vest, here at the TCM from the early 1960s made of a handwoven Guatemalan fabric. Mostly red in color, the skirt has a green-blue and white supplemental weft design detail on the waistband and hemline that seems to include a type of bird as well as a type of fish. The skirt is uniquely structured with pleating coming from the waistband as well. The vest has the same weft design around its borders. This ensemble, similar to the jacket photographed above, is not authentic to Guatemalan culture. It is, instead, an outfit that could be worn in and is common in American culture that is made from Guatemalan fabric to appeal as an indigenous artifact.

It is assumed that the skirt was part of the Joanne Margarethe Hansen collection that was donated to the TCM after her passing. Joanne Hansen became the first person to be head of the Applied Art Department of the College of Home Economics at Iowa State University  in 1919 (Miller, 1990). She is known to have “move[ed] art study from an applied arts program with a focus on the home to a broader program encompassing both the fine and applied arts with a more professional emphasis” (Miller, 1990).

One of many items that we have that represents authentic Guatemalan culture is this huipil. Unlike the previous garments featured, the huipil is a traditional Guatemalan garment and has not been westernized for American culture. According to Odland, “In the highlands of Guatemala, indigenous Maya women are well known for their beautiful traditional dress, called traje. Women’s traje consists of a huipil (blouse or tunic)…usually brocaded by hand on a backstrap loom…[A] traditional garment that continues to be popular and has great social significance” (Odland, 2005).

This beautiful garment can be described as a three panel, hand woven garment with solid red along the hem and a multi-colored horizontal linear design across the chest and shoulders. The circular neckline is finished with dense blanket stitch in black yarn and chain stitched embellishment. This item was donated by Priscilla Kepner Sage, retired Iowa State University College of Design Associate Professor, fiber sculptor, and artist.


By Dyese Matthews


Miller, B. P. (1990). Selected gender influences affecting the development of the Applied Art Department of Iowa State University: A case study of professor Joanne Hansen’s administration, 1919-1941. Iowa State University, Ames, IA.

Odland, J. C. (2005). The huipil of Guatemala: In M.B. Schevill (Ed.). Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Latin America and the Caribbean. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from