Stories in Fashion, a Nebraska Perspective

Stories in Fashion, a Nebraska Perspective

Monday, February 15, 2016 to Friday, April 1, 2016

Seventy years of fashion are represented in the upcoming exhibition, “Nebraska: State of Fashion I” at the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery on UNL's east campus. From the closets of former Nebraska governor Kay Orr, from Avery Woods, and from the late Lincoln dressmaker Ilona Berk come vibrant examples of fashion worn in the state of Nebraska between 1920 and 1990. The exhibition opens February 15, 2016 and tells the story of the connoisseurship and skill that went into the creation of women’s dress in the mid- to late-20th century.  A segment of the exhibition focuses on dress for political events. Many of the garments demonstrate the art of dressmaking in Nebraska while others are prime examples of key fashion trends in the US at time.  The work of notable fashion designers, both American and European, are included in the exhibition as well as select designs by Nebraska’s own Mary Anne Vaccaro.  Garments by American designers Patrick Kelly, Michaele Vollbracht, Norman Norell, James Galanos and Hattie Carnegie are featured.  Zandra Rhodes, Valentino, Leonard, and Pucci are among the European designers represented in the exhibition.  All of the garments in the show are part of the Department of Textiles, Merchandising  & Fashion Design's Historic Costume Collection.  

Featured in the exhibition are garments Kay Orr wore to state and national events while she served as the state's 36th governor, from 1987 to 1991. During her time as governor much of her wardrobe was designed and made by Omaha dressmaker Mary Anne Vaccaro. Vaccaro was known for producing garments of fine fabrics with a classic minimalism and meticulous fit. She is a Nebraska legend in the area of custom dressmaking and couture construction. Ilona Berk (1918 to 2013) was a prominent Lincoln designer who became an influential player in fashion for those who sought distinctive design and custom fit.   Berk was a Czechoslovakian native and a Holocaust and concentration camp survivor. She immigrated to the United States in 1948. Her collection of garments include not only her custom made designs but European fashion from the last half of the 20th century, hand picked on her visits to Europe’s fashion capitols.  Avery Woods offers three generations of impeccable fashion worn by her and members of the Woods family. Fashion worn for business, international travel and community fund raising events and celebrations, including Nebraska’s Ak-Sar-Ben Ball, are included in the exhibition.

While each connoisseur has a story, it is the garments that express the tenor of their times. Elegant fabrics with stunning prints are a feature of the exhibition.   A flowing coral and orange Zandra Rhodes   dress and coat printed in a feather motif inspired by Native American dress is a fine example of lasting design. A Leonard strapless evening gown executed in a bold floral print provides evidence of the skill of French textile designers.  A magenta velvet, bias cut 1920s evening gown with handkerchief hem is another example of the opulent textiles that visitors will see in the exhibition. Classic designs include a Patrick Kelly knit button dress circa 1980; a Norman Norell black suit from the 1960s;  a pink Pucci ensemble; and a bouffant gown by Valentino enhanced with crystals.  A black lace evening ensemble by Vaccaro rounds out the exhibition.

Events scheduled to coincide with the exhibition include a reception and gallery talk hosted by the Friends of the Hillestad Textiles Gallery on March 4th, 2016 from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.  A gallery talk featuring the story of Ilona Berk, fashion entrepreneur and Holocaust survivor, is scheduled for Friday March 25th at 5:30 p.m.  A public lecture by Dr. Barbara Trout and co-curator Kylin Jensen titled “Design that Lasts” is set for 12:00 p.m. on February 26th in room 31 in the Human Sciences Building on east campus. The exhibit runs from February 15 through April 1, 2016.  

The Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery is part of the Department of Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design in the College of Education and Human Sciences at UNL. The gallery is on the second floor of the Human Sciences Building on East Campus, on 35th Street north of East Campus Loop (map at Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday and by appointment. Admission is free. Guest parking is available near the building and metered stalls are located in the Nebraska East Union lot. For more information, call 402-472-2911 or visit

Detail of custom designed gown, late 1920's donated by Avery Woods.

Vaccaro Gown
Evening gown designed and produced by Mary Anne Vaccaro of Omaha for Nebraska Governor Kay Orr, gift of Kay Orr to the UNL Historic Costume Collection 2014.005.001 Photo by Loren Rye, UNL Pixel Lab.
Tribouillard evening dress
Printed evening dress by designer David Tribouillard for Leonard Fashion (France), from the wardrobe of Avery Woods. Gift of Avery Woods to the UNL Historic Costume Collection 2014.001.017. Photo by Orville Friesen.
Berk two-piece gown
Two-piece gown designed and produced by Ilona Dorenter Berk (1918-2013) of Lincoln for her personal use, c. 1945. Gift of Jim Berk to the UNL Historic Costume Collection 2014.003.031. Photo by Tom Slocum.