Two years ago, a small room on the seventh floor of the library building acted as a repository for odds and ends of clothing donated to the Ryerson School of Fashion. Underused and barely accessible to students, the fashion research collection was little more than a misnomer.
When Ingrid Mida discovered it as a student in the master of arts in fashion program, she felt compelled to salvage it.
“When I saw that room in the library that had been left dormant and nobody was able to access it, I thought that was just wrong,” she said.
After much work, Mida revitalized Ryerson’s Fashion Research Collection, expanding it to a library of more than 3,000 historically important and unique garments dating back to the mid-19th century. It is now a fully functional in-house research resource for students.
Mida, Ryerson’s current fashion research co-ordinator and curator, said she always had an interest in fashion and made her own clothes growing up. But it was a hobby, which she did not intend to pursue it as a career. Instead, she went into finance.
After 10 years in the field and some time away from work to attend to her family life, Mida decided to return to the arts as a curator. She worked at the Royal Ontario Museum as a research assistant, where she learned about curation and museum practices. It was there that she met Ryerson fashion associate professor Alison Matthews David, who convinced Mida to join the master’s program.
“I found my interest in the arts always related back to the fashions in the paintings and photographs I was studying,” Mida said. “I knew I didn’t need the qualifications to do what I was already doing, but I just decided to go for it.”
During her time in the program, she put her connections within the museum and curation community to use when researching her school projects but knew that her classmates didn’t have access to the same resources as her. She took on the project of reorganizing the clothing collection while she was in school to provide her classmates with an in-house resource.
“I knew my friends in my class didn’t have money or a car to drive to Cambridge or Montreal to go to the McCord or the Fashion History Museum,” she said. “I really did it because I felt such compassion for my fellow students. This was an opportunity to use something that was already here, but nobody really knew how to deal with.”
Mida signed on for a three-month project with the School of Fashion with the initial purpose of figuring out if there was anything in the archive worth saving. The database had been corrupted and everything needed to be identified and catalogued from scratch. Mida said anything and everything that had been offered to the school was accepted and nobody had been curating it.
“It was a very difficult, dusty and dirty job. It was a repository, like your grandmother’s attic,” she said. “But I realized there was a core of a collection there.”
Rooms in Kerr Hall West’s basement had been vacated by the School of Photography and set aside for fashion, but remained empty for months because nobody had taken the initiative to move in. Mida said that, with her curatorial experience, she was able to direct the reconstruction of the rooms to suit the needs of a space properly designed to preserve the fashion research collection.
Organized racks and boxes of unique and historical pieces of fashion fill the rooms surrounding Mida’s office. She now selectively accepts donations to fill time-period holes in the collection, which is meant to be a resource for students researching certain historical periods. Although the collection is most often used by the students in the fashion master’s program, Mida said that she frequently has appointments with students in the theatre, English and modern languages programs looking to get a better understanding of time periods through fashion.
Mida has also written a book based on her collective experience with students visiting the collection and her history in curatorial research. Titled The Dress Detective: a Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion, it is expected to be released by Bloomsbury next fall.
Right now, a database of the collection and some accompanying photos are available on the fashion research collection’s blog. Mida is currently working with the Ryerson University Library and Archives to make every piece in the collection searchable through the library’s website.