Try On History Fund Drive

At an outreach event in 2017, hundreds of schoolchildren piled off buses, and upon seeing a figure in rugged leather boots, waistcoat, breeches and leather tricorn hat, shouts of exclamation began. The full Spanish colonial costume, worn by Associate Education Officer Joseph Fox, fueled the students’ excitement before they even began their learning activity. As Fox pointed to the wool and leather in the costume to discuss ranching and trade in South Texas during colonial times, the costume became more than clothing. It became an effective and entertaining educational tool. The museum has long used such costumes in its programming.

Trained staff and volunteers wear reproduction-level costumes to convey information about life in the past and to add to the immersive experience of the museum. Simpler costume elements that can be tried on by visitors also enhance their experience by allowing them to interact with objects and place themselves in the past. Reproduction level costumes can be expensive to purchase or create. But a study conducted in the U.S. and U.K. noted that high level investment in quality reproduction costumes, coupled with extensive training, produced the best results for visitor learning via costumed interpretation. MOSTHistory strives to offer the best visitor experience possible and plans to continue adding both complete reproduction costumes and visitor try-on costumes.

Thus, in 2015, the museum started an annual fundraising drive for the Try On History program. The program has been featured during MOSTHistory Happy Hours and has benefitted from #GivingTuesday donations. It has been fruitful in terms of acquiring new costumes—and in growing community partnerships. The colonial costume previously mentioned was one of the first purchases made from this fund. Fabric for women’s costumes depicting the Spanish Colonial period has been purchased and the costumes are being made through collaboration with UTRGV. The fundraising goal for this year is $1,500.

Statements from Museum Staff & Volunteers

Melissa Peña, the archival assistant at MOSTHistory

Costumes don’t just add to the charm of events like Summer Nights at the Museum, they lend perspective. Each station has a different historically-related activity that corresponds to a certain time period and presenting that history in costume makes the entire experience a little more magical. I found a photograph of a woman from the mid-1860s and wanted to try to recreate her outfit as best as I could. I looked through our holdings in the archives, because I think it’s important to see what was worn in this area.

Statements from Museum Staff & Volunteers

Neil Cassady, a museum volunteer

As a costumed participant in a Museum of South Texas History event, it is my hope that I can get visitors to relate, in a more personal way, with those who lived before our time. I want visitors to wonder how those living and breathing  persons of the past thought and what they did in their daily lives. I want to convey to visitors that history is the real never-ending story.


Jennifer Saxton, head of theater production at UTRGV, has long supported the museum by volunteering at Summer Nights at the Museum. With the Try On History program, she is also enlisting her students. Her class of beginning sewers created an entire set of historically-accurate bonnets for the museum, based on joint research by Saxton and Curator of Collections Lisa Adam. Numerous visitors have tried on the bonnets, even posing against a green screen to be inserted in a historical image from the museum’s archives. Saxton noted that the bonnets were an ideal project for her students to see every aspect of costuming, from research and pattern drafting to fabrication.

Saxton has enlisted several of her experienced sewers to work on the next set of costumes, a trio of colonial women’s outfits to be worn by staff and volunteers. She recently brought her students to tour the exhibits so they could see the high standards the museum wants to match in its costuming. Saxton and Programs and Events Officer Rene Ballesteros are also planning a community-based sewing event for 2019 to add more hands-on items to the costume collection. Through the Try On History fund drive, the museum’s growing costume collection will help bring history to life for countless museum visitors.

UTRGV/Museum of South Texas History Collaboration

For research, the museum provided photographs including this one of carrot workers in Edinburg, Texas (1939, Russell Lee, Library of Congress).

Students at UTRGV drafted the bonnets using Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s instructions.

The fabrics were purchased from Reproduction Fabrics ( The fabrics represent the 1830s, the 1860s, the 1930s, as well as some undated late 19th century prints.

The UTRGV students created the kits: seven adult-sized and 12 child-sized bonnets. According to Professor Saxton, “The file folders are going to be re-purposed as bonnet slats, or the rigid structure inside the bonnet, once it is no longer needed to organize the kits. The ball of fabric scraps from truing up the edges of the fabric before cutting will be used for either ties for fabric bundles or for making a rag rug. We don’t often get to do zero waste but this project may be close.”

And, the final products!

A big THANK YOU to the students at UTRGV and Professor Saxton for providing their talents, dedication and time to create sunbonnets for the museum’s reproduction clothing collection. This project was funded the Try On History Project — your dollars at work! Thank you for bringing more interactive experiences to museum visitors.

Back view of the adult sun bonnet.

Side view of the adult sun bonnet.


Try On History Fund Drive

Wow! 90% of the $1,500 has been raised! Donate today to reach 100%!

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