Las Vegas is a dynamic place to do public history, and our program’s strong focus on material culture puts the city’s vibrant entertainment scene front-and-center. Under the direction of professor and costume curator Deirdre Clemente, undergraduate and graduate students have researched, curated and installed exhibitions that celebrate Las Vegas as the entertainment capital of the world.
In November 2012, we opened Vegas Style: Spectator and Spectacle, the first collaboration between the Nevada State Museum of Las Vegas and UNLV. The exhibition featured 15 costumes from industry greats such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Shecky Greene, and Penn & Teller. Other costumes included rhinestone-studded evening gowns, psychedelic maxi dresses, and elaborately embroidered Western wear worn by some of the city’s most notable names.
Working directly with museum professionals, the students learned first-hand the “hows” and “whys” of putting together a large-scale exhibition. Museum staffers taught and learned, as students inspired creative alternatives to established methods of design and display. Students created an app that allowed visitors to glimpse the interiors of these remarkable costumes from hand-sewn seams to elaborate monograms.
A virgin-fox fur coat with 16-foot train and two thousand hand-sewn rhinestones; bejeweled jumpsuits; custom-made cowboy boots with inlayed gold; and the rings. To say that the stage costumes of Liberace were extravagant would almost be an understatement—and Liberace didn’t do understatement. In November 2013, Clemente and PhD student Shannon Nutt opened ‘Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful’: Liberace and the Art of Costume at The Cosmopolitan. The exhibition, which ran for six months, featured a dozen of the pianist’s most iconic ensembles and attracted national attention. Students from Clemente’s Clothing and American Culture course (H. 485) assisted with the installation, and public history students working as interns with The Liberace Foundation served as gallery guides.