Working women get all kinds of advice. Lean in, lean out, ask for a raise, but don’t ask in the wrong way, be combative, but not too combative. We’re also told to make sure not to forget about our personal lives, to pervent foregoing families or love or travel or friendship in service of our careers. It’s baffling and crazy, and we’re all still trying to figure it out.”This Woman’s Work” is an endless series meant to point out how women in different industries are living their lives. We hope to show that there’s no one “right” way to succeed. There are so many ways, and so many different experiences.
Today we’re talking to Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Over the past 18 years, she has organized upwards of 20 exhibitions, including Shoe Obsession (2013), Daphne Guinness (2011), Gothic: Dark Glamour (2008), Love & War: The Weaponized Woman (2006), London Fashion (2002), and The Corset (2000).
This week, Steele, along with her FIT colleagues, will honor Manolo Blahnik with the 2015 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion.
Your typical workday.
Since I am both director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, I am in charge both for the museum and curating one exhibition a year. Therefore, a “typical” workday can vary a lot. The Museum at FIT is a specific fashion museum and also a university museum, which means I work very closely with colleagues at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I report to the president of FIT, Dr. Joyce F. Brown, and I collaborate closely with administrators throughout the college. I have a staff of 30 at the museum, and we have a lot of meetings. The meetings that are the most fun, of course, involve planning an exhibition and working with the exhibition designer to create a setting in which to present the fashions chosen to be on display.
How did you get your current job?
I had been teaching fashion history in FIT’s School of Graduate Studies, and the then-director of The Museum at FIT asked me to apply for a part-time job at the museum. Not long after, that turned into a full-time job as chief curator. It was my expertise in fashion history that made me qualified for the position.
Describe your way before getting your current job.
Before working at the museum, I taught fashion history—at FIT and at other colleges and universities, including Parsons, NYU, and Columbia. I also wrote books, such as Paris Fashion: A Cultural History and Women of Fashion: 20th-Century Designers. In addition, I founded (and still edit) Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, the first scholarly journal of fashion. I received my PhD in history from Yale University, where I focused on the history of fashion. I also spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, where I helped conceptualize an exhibition (and book) on men’s and women’s clothing.