Exhibit, Student Project

Belles with Blades

One of the most exciting aspects of having the Historic Clothing Collection on campus is that it provides the opportunity for undergraduate students to use both the information the collection provides as well as the garments themselves to create exciting exhibits to share with the greater Smith community. Our current exhibit, created by Dylan McBride (Class of 2019) focuses on the history and evolution of women’s fencing uniforms.

Dylan McBride, ’19, on the creation of Belles with Blades: Smith College and the Evolution of Women’s Fencing Attire;

“The exhibit on women’s fencing garb outside Josten Library started with a conversation
about my experience in Hell’s Belles (the Smith fencing club), and an old fencing mask that surfaced out of the costume closet. I realized I didn’t know very much about the history of women fencing or our gear, and that kicked off a semester-long quest through the college archives and databases, every book I could get on the subject, and a few interviews. I discovered that Smith has had its foot in the world of women’s fencing almost since it was first socially acceptable for women to take up foil. The college began offering instruction in the sport in 1904, and with the exception of a five year interlude in the 1920’s, has stuck with fencing ever since. From old photos of Smith fencers and mentions in books, I pieced together a journey from skirts to pants and then regulation knickers, plastrons to jackets, the introduction of the chest protector, improvements in mask safety, electrification of the foil, and subsequent donning of the lame. The club has existed off and on since the 1930’s, and the current iteration of the club came into existence twenty years ago, just in time for epee opening up to women in the 1990’s and sabre in the early 2000’s. As gear and rules have evolved over the years, female fencers have worked steadily towards equal treatment in the sport, and what can be worn on strip has played an important part in achieving that goal.”

The exhibit currently sits in Mendenhall Performing Arts Center, between Josten Library and the Hallie Flanagan Theater. It won’t be up for too much longer, so make sure you check it out soon!

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