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‘Vegas Style’ fashion exhibit explores history through clothing

What can Liberace’s clothing tell us about Las Vegas history? That is what some UNLV students are exploring in a new exhibit at the Nevada State Museum at the Springs Preserve.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas students recently organized "Vegas Style," a fashion exhibition scheduled to open Saturday and run through June. The museum, 309 S. Valley View Blvd., will feature about 20 mannequins displaying attire from the 1950s on.

UNLV history professor Deirdre Clemente said her students are "learning the old school way of just doing it."

"Vegas Style" will feature a Liberace outfit he wore on an episode of "The Muppet Show," hand-sewn clothing from early Helldorado events, showgirl costumes, comedian Shecky Greene’s tuxedo, suits worn by the magic-comedy duo Penn & Teller and more.

Some outfits pose bigger problems than others.

"Penn & Teller gave us their suits, which are cool but difficult to dress …" Clemente said. "We have to modify the mannequins."

Clemente taught a fashion history class during the spring semester in which students did most of the research for "Vegas Style." This semester’s class will display that research with text accompanying each piece of clothing.

"There are fashion exhibits everywhere, just not in Las Vegas," Clemente said. "… It’s a way of looking at your society. … Historic dress doesn’t have to be a 19th-century crinoline with some ridiculous skirt."

Graduate student Alex Hutchings and co-curator Alison Bazlynski are in charge of the exhibit, while other students contributed to its installation. Some searched thrift stores for accessories while others constructed the space. One student is creating a mobile app that museum-goers can use to enhance their experience by accessing additional information about each item.

Hutchings called the experience "the most rewarding things I’ve done in my academic career."

Linking fashion to history is about context, he said. Liberace’s attire is an example.

"What do the sequins, the rhinestones, the glamour, the glitziness of his costume say about Vegas?" he asked. "We’re tying it back into the spirit of excess. (Las Vegas) is this glittery, glamorous place."

Furthermore, the Helldorado outfits reinterpret the West.

"We live in the ‘Wild West,’ " he said, "but is it really the ‘Wild West’ if you’re wearing an embroidered shirt with rhinestones and sequins? We’re talking about the move away from functional cowboy clothing to the use of Western clothing as a style."

About half of the clothing in question came from the museum’s collection and the other half from private collections, the Morelli House and the Clark County Museum. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s Las Vegas News Bureau donated photos and video to accompany the exhibit.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday. Admission is included with a general admission ticket to the Preserve. Children under 18 receive free entry to the museum. Regular admission to the preserve is between $5 and $10.

For more information call 702-822-7700.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 702-224-5524.

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