Rutgers director shares passion for recreating historical costumes
Ghislaine Darden, assistant vice president of Strategic Services, has an unusual passion: sewing historical clothing.
While studying at Douglass College, which is now referred to as Douglass Residential College, Darden majored in art history, but knew she did not want to work in a museum. Instead, she wanted to work in an environment where she could interact with art, such as an auction house.
Having previously sewed in the past, Darden decided to take a course in pattern making, where she learned how to make the bodice of a dress.
“Once I learned that, that was the key,” she said.
Afterward, she began to take up the hobby of sewing historical dresses. Since there was no internet at the time, she utilized books, paintings and movies to recreate historical dresses. One of her dresses was based on “Gone with the Wind,” which is about a woman’s life during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, so it was reflective of clothing from that time period.
Darden continued recreating historical dresses for a wide variety of themed parties. One example was the “Elizabethan Banquet” at Rutgers dedicated to commuting students at the University. She also helped to set up these parties, even organizing her own. Darden’s first party was Baroque-themed, and she invited her friends to all dress up in clothing from that era.
After college, though, Darden took a 25-year hiatus from recreating historical costumes. It was not until recently that she took up the hobby, and Darden said that with changes in technology, she is now utilizing the internet to aid her in being as accurate as possible in remaking costumes from the past.
Before, she would use any fabric she could find that looked similar to what she was trying to recreate. Now, Darden creates dresses based on historically correct patterns by making use of books by experts and other resources.
Darden also joined a Facebook group to be part of a larger community of people interested in recreating historical costumes.
“They can tell you if you need to fix something,” Darden said. “Or (if the costume) is perfect.”
Her recreations are used for a wide variety of functions. Darden said that social media has helped to spread the word faster about events, such as historical balls, where she is able to wear her recreations.
There has also been a merging of historical dress recreations and professional dancers. Before events such as historical balls, costumes would be given to the dancers for free in exchange for them teaching dance lessons to others.
Though Darden took a break from sewing, she never stopped working. She previously held a job in Manhattan for an auction house, but shifted to working at Rutgers, where she continues to work to this day.
She and her team are in charge of managing institutional planning and communication at Rutgers, as well as conducting assessments for the conditions of facilities. Darden also works with technology to operate parts of the Rutgers website, in order to inform students.
She added that her experience as a Douglass woman was also important to her passion for both sewing and work.
“I think Douglass fostered independent thinking and independent women,” she said.
Darden also started a sewing club and continues to recreate historical costumes in her spare time.