As a professor in Illinois State’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences for nearly 30 years, Lois R. Jett recognized the value of hands-on learning.
She knew students interested in apparel, merchandising and design (AMD) would benefit as much from examining clothing as they would from a textbook lecture. Jett consequently funded a collection that decades later still gives students in the department a competitive advantage.
The Lois Jett Historic Costume Collection now has approximately 2,000 pieces, with garments dating from 1870 to the present. Articles include shoes, hairpieces and attire worn primarily in the Midwest by both genders as well as children. Students studying everything from the style to the structure of apparel appreciate the opportunity to visualize how and why clothing has changed over time.
Jett, who joined Illinois State in 1962 and retired in 1989, has fully endowed the fund needed to support the collection. Now 82, she continues her support, providing the revenue needed to install a climate control system in Turner Hall last year. The upgrade will protect the aging items that have an invaluable impact on student learning. Gallery space was also created, allowing for ongoing exhibitions that will further enhance the student experience.
“A hallmark of a quality apparel, merchandising, and design program is having a costume collection as a teaching and research resource for students,” said Jennifer Banning, an AMD associate professor and director of the collection. “When students can see a firsthand example of what they’re learning about in class, their understanding of a concept deepens.” They are also gaining insight into how to preserve historic garments and use them for research.
Providing such opportunities is a challenge across the University. Donors who designate their investment to improving facilities and equipment are crucial campus partners. Whether providing funds for lab upgrades, software purchases, performance space improvements or athletic facility renovations, private dollars enable the University to secure the tools needed for students to soar.
Jett’s passion to see them succeed resulted in additional support for the department beyond the collection. She also created the Lois R. Jett Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide financial assistance to a senior AMD student. Kelly Alexander ’15 is the most recent recipient.
“Receiving the scholarship has given me a push forward,” said Alexander, who aspires to be a head buyer for a large department store. “Knowing that someone else is contributing to my education gives me more motivation and furthers my drive to succeed.”