Go Figure: The Fashion Silhouette and the Female Form

Honoring Rachel Hope Doran

March 1, 1997- August 17, 2018


Rachel Doran was the kind of undergraduate research assistant that every professor, collection manager, and peer dreams about: she was curious, determined, passionate, smart, kind, and had a great sense of humor. Rachel began working in the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection (CCTC) in 2015, the fall semester of her freshman year. When she came to us as an eighteen-year-old, she was already accomplished: an entrepreneur with her own company, Rachel’s Rags, a costume designer for Staples Players, and a fashion designer in her own right. At Cornell, Rachel chose to major in Fashion Design Management and minor in business; her interest in fashion shifted from design of the garments themselves to their historical, social, commercial, and financial implications. She focused her energy on the business of fashion and how changes in design signaled larger social and cultural transformations. Her creativity articulated with these intellectual pursuits: she began writing for the CCTC blog and became a curator. Through both endeavors she shared her passion for research and fashion history with the wider public.

Rachel became part of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology Undergraduate Research Program and was awarded a prestigious summer research stipend in 2017. That summer she inventoried the CCTC’s collection of nineteenth-century women’s clothing and garments held by the Seward House Museum in the nearby city of Auburn, NY. Of this summer, she wittingly remembered, "There’s no better way to enjoy a gorgeous Ithaca summer than to spend your days in a windowless room. You may think I’m kidding, but I chose to trade sunshine, gorges, and waterfalls for nineteenth-century dresses. No regrets."

In 2017, Rachel also was awarded the Charlotte A. Jirousek Undergraduate Research Fellowship in the CCTC, an honor that resulted in her first costume exhibition: Go Figure: The Fashion Silhouette and the Female Form, which was on display November 13, 2017–July 17, 2018 at Cornell University. Rachel extended her research on nineteenth-century dress into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The exhibition provided new and insightful commentary on the cyclical nature of changing beauty ideals, from a contemporary perspective. She displayed outerwear alongside structural undergarments to illustrate changes in Euro-American beauty standards for women, nineteenth century to the present, and wrote an impressive guide that visitors could read as they moved through the exhibition.

Rachel was admitted to the hospital in July and diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome. After a five-week-long battle with this illness, complicated by Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome and renal failure, Rachel passed away on August 17, 2018. She often spoke about wanting to become a feminist leader and impact the world through women’s empowerment: while her life was cut far too short, she did have this impact on all who met her, saw her exhibition, and read her writing. She will be remembered as a successful curator, an incredible researcher and writer, and as a kind-hearted, joyful person.

-Denise Nicole Green, Katherine Greder, Helen McLallen