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Not-so-average: Elizabeth Way - Associate Curator at The Museum at FIT

By Ameera Steward


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Elizabeth Way. Photo by Eileen Costa via Flickr.

Elizabeth Way is an Associate Curator at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), as well as a fashion historian whose personal research focuses on the intersection of Black American culture and fashion.

Her most recent project is the Fresh, Fly, Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip Hop Style exhibit which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop. This exhibit is available to the public until April 23, 2023.

About this series

There’s more to the fashion industry than jobs in designing or styling. Like any other sector, fashion is a business so there’s a space and a job for everyone. That includes a person who loves math, a person who solely loves to shop or a business-minded individual.

The word “everyone” doesn’t just refer to those who have different interests or job titles, but also those of a different race or gender. We’ve decided to highlight how diverse the fashion industry is, could be, and should be with a series of stories on Black professionals with not-so-average fashion careers.

How did you get to work in fashion?

“I grew up being really interested in fashion,” Way said. “I grew up in southern Maryland, so not a particularly urban or…chic space, pretty rural. But I loved Vogue Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and W. I just read so many fashion magazinesmagazine and I was really interested in fashion.”

This undeniable interest in fashion prompted her to pursue a career in fashion design. She attended the University of Delaware and majored in apparel design and history. By the time she graduated she was sure that she no longer wanted to become a fashion designer. “I didn’t really have the creative passion but I really love pattern making,” Way explained.

Because of her love for pattern making, she enrolled into an additional program at Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London to study creative pattern cutting leading her to work as a pattern cutter in a small New York design label around 2008. But that wasn’t a great fit either.

As a result, she revisited her background in history and went into theater costuming as a stitcher first and then an assistant costume designer at the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players (REP) costume shop from 2009 to 2011.

“Theater wasn’t really my area even though I loved the clothing,” said Way. “So that’s when I discovered a graduate program at New York University in costume studies…I applied for that program and that’s what set me on my path to curation. But I feel like fashion and history were always kind of dancing around in the background.”

What’s your current fashion job?

As an associate curator Way’s duties are focused on exhibitions through curation, researching, and writing things such as exhibition books. For example, the Fresh, Fly, Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip Hop Style exhibit has an accompanying book written by Way and her co-curator Elena Romero. In addition, she also gives tours, hosts appointments with researchers visiting the museum, as well as intradepartmental duties including working with the conservation team, and the education team to produce programming around the exhibitions.

“It’s…a lot of different hats,” Way said.

She added that her typical day involves answering emails, attending meetings, and occasionally conducting research and interacting with the exhibitions. But overall “it’s a little less sexy than people think.”

A word of career advice

Way, who is currently working towards her PhD in fashion curation at Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London, said that for those who wish to become a fashion curator or a fashion historian, “grad school is really key.”

She added that although there are different programs around the country for those who want a career in curation or history, there aren’t as many programs with a concentration in fashion.

“But there are a lot of different ways to approach it academically,” Way explained. “So sometimes when you’re trying to academically study fashion, you have to be creative.”

Museum at FIT
Not-so-average series