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Saint Mary’s introduces new fashion and costume minor, engaging students of diverse backgrounds

| Monday, March 1, 2021

The College’s department of theatre introduced a new minor in fashion and costume to Belles this semester. Theatre professor and professional specialist in design Melissa Bialko spearheaded the program and spoke about its creation.

“We’re really fortunate at Saint Mary’s,” Bialko said. “We have an administration and a culture that’s invested in really showing students how multiple fields can inform them about their own chosen field and because of that, I was able to suggest a fashion and costume minor to my colleagues and write a proposal for it. The proposal then [went] to the curriculum committee and then it [was made] available to students.”

Before the minor was created, Bialko discovered students in a variety of majors were invested in fashion.

“I teach a class called ‘Fashion and Costume Construction,’ which will run again next spring,” she said. “I’d say 90% of the students that were in that class were not theatre or music or dance students that were interested in costuming for stage performance — they were interested in the fashion aspect.”

Bialko explained that the minor would be beneficial to both students wanting to use what they learn in their career and those who just want to take courses based on their personal interests.

“We have a number of students in fashion and a number of students interested in costuming,” she said. “I have actually found we have one who has her costume company already, which is really cool…It’s a minor that would certainly be useful to anyone interested in fashion and costuming just for fun, but also to have that on your transcripts and resume will set students apart from other applicants in the job market.”

The minor will give relevant information about different aspects of fashion and costuming, so students can be successful after Saint Mary’s.

“It’s not a fashion merchandising minor. It’s not a fashion design minor, but we look at components of that as frequently as we can because I really want to in every opportunity I have to prepare students for their life after Saint Mary’s,” Bialko said. “We’re taking every class and we’re approaching in a way that it informs students who are interested in fashion or interested in costume.”

Bialko noted the minor is 13 credits hours taken from three different buckets. The first requires students learn the basics of the fashion and costume industries.

“The first bucket is a foundations bucket — ‘Fashion and Costume Foundations,’” Bialko said. “So those are things I think every student in the planet who wants to go into fashion should know about. That’s Fashion Ethics, Professional Aspects, soft skills that are really necessary and can show an employer that the candidate is superior to other candidates because of their care for preparation. In the last class in that bucket, students can either choose to take Fashion and Costume History or Costume Design.”

Bialko emphasized that her fashion ethics course can be tailored to the interests of students, making it an individualized learning experience.

“What I like about fashion ethics is on the first day, we discuss ethics issues that are important to us as a class and then that’s what we cover in class throughout the course of the semester,” she said. “So, every class of Fashion Ethics is unique in that the content is different and geared to the interests of students taking that class.”

She also discussed the importance of learning about fashion and costume history to understanding today’s style trends and how that impacts costume design.

“The reason why fashion and costume history is important is because we typically adapt previous aesthetics into new designs,” she said. “I think it’s kind of fun to be able to look at what was [in style] and how it influences what is now… Costume Design deals with the whole design process and it goes through how we can describe what we wear.”

The minor also requires students to apply fashion projects to business classes, Bialko said.

“So, the reason this business bucket is necessary is that it informs students of the business and marketing side of fashion,” she said. “While these aren’t fashion classes, we ask that when students are allowed to choose topics for their own projects that they gear those projects to the fashion world.”

Bialko said the last bucket allows students to produce work in an art course.

“The last bucket is creative and historic arts and that’s very much the hands-on bucket,” she said. “The creative and historic arts bucket allows a student to actually create something, so they’re physically creating something, either via a theatre class or an art class.”

Thinking to the future, Bialko expressed her enthusiasm about creating a fashion major, and to give students more options, Bialko is also considering a sustainable fashion concentration.

“Students might do a class based on innovative textiles and the science behind that. They might [also] work on some up-cycling of garments,” Bialko said.

Wanting to give students insight into the complexity of fashion and costuming, Bialko focuses on elements of diversity in her courses.

“I, in all my classes, pursue some focus on diversity, culture, ethics, ethnicity all related to fashion and costume,” Bialko said. “It’s really important to me that we approach content with a commitment to kindness and diversity and looking at how our actions affect others.”

Bialko expressed her excitement about the progress students have already made in her classes.

“I am really already impressed with students who have claimed they have never picked up a pencil to draw with and they’re creating these beautiful proportionate figures,”  she said. “They’re using their intuition to interpret color and line really successfully. I’m excited and I’m pleased with the students who have entered this minor.”

Sophomore Emma Abrahamian picked up the minor out of her interest in fashion and “putting a good outfit together.”

Abrahamian believes the minor will help her achieve her career goals as a makeup artist.

“I plan to go to beauty school after college and kind of the big dream goal in my career would be working in Hollywood or Broadway as a makeup artist,” Abrahamian said. “I would be working alongside the costume designers, so that’s where I see it to be useful.”

Sophomore Brittany Stewart is using courses in the minor to create her own major in sustainable fashion.

“Professor Bialko has helped me design my own major, so I’m in the process of putting that together and sending in the proposal,” Stewart said. “I’ve taken a mix of environmental science classes and fashion classes put them in with some art ones and my senior composition will be creating my own line.”

Ultimately, Stewart wants to combine her love for fashion with her horse riding hobby.

“Horse clothing is very expensive,” Stewart said. “So my goal is to make my own equestrian sustainable fashion line that is affordable. One thing I’m going to work on doing is repurposing those fabrics, re-dyeing them in a safe manner that’s not going to harm the environment and then creating a line that works well for people working in the industry.”

Senior Alexis Mattea wanted to pursue the minor because she sees clothes as a way to express her own personality.

“I’ve always been interested in fashion and I knew that I always wanted to have a career in it after college,” Mattea said. “I really love focusing on just how clothes build someone up and how everyone can express themselves with what they put on their body.”

With the courses she has taken, Mattea says she is discovering what she wants to do with her career in the field.

“It’s just opened up my eyes more and I’m going toward the path where I know what I want to work in,” Mattea said.

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a graduating senior at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature, creative writing and secondary education. She was an Assistant Managing Editor for the 2022-23 term.

Contact Genevieve