Submitted by Camie on Fri, 01/21/2022

Fashion that permeated pop culture and politics in the 1960s is on display at the University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries in an exhibit featuring the dresses, prints, and designs of Frankie Welch.

Frankie Welch in her studio
Frankie Welch in her studio

The exhibit, entitled Frankie Welch’s Americana: Fashion, Scarves, and Politics, documents the life work of Welch, a native of Rome, Georgia from her days as a home economics teacher to managing her popular Virginia boutique and designing dresses for First Lady Betty Ford. The colorful display features an eclectic array of prints Welch designed for political campaigns and for companies like McDonald’s, nonprofits and colleges, including UGA. 

“Frankie Welch occupies a unique position in the history of American fashion,” said Ashley Callahan, an independent decorative arts scholar who curated the exhibit. “She was a retailer and clothing consultant to prominent women—including several First Ladies—in the nation’s capital, as well as a designer of custom, limited-edition scarves that seamlessly blended style and business. She defined her own entrepreneurial career, and her distinctive brand of Americana fashion found an enthusiastic audience from the 1960s through the 1990s.”

An archivist works on the exhibit
An archivist works on the exhibit

The exhibit features a number of noteworthy textiles, from Welch’s popular Cherokee Alphabet designs to the Discover America scarves featured in the only fashion show ever held in the White House and the 50 State Flowers design worn by Ford and others. Many of these fashions were donated by Welch’s family to be preserved by the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, one of three special collections units housed in the building.

The materials, which include items on loan from Welch’s daughters and the Rome Historical Society, are also featured prominently in Callahan’s book Frankie Welch’s Americana, which is scheduled for a publishing release date next month by the University of Georgia Press.

This spring, the Hargrett Library will host a series of events engaging UGA students, scholars, and the community in celebration of the exhibit, made possible with funding and support from the Lucy Hargrett Draper Center and Archives for the Study of Women in History and Law.

In March, Madelyn Shaw, retired curator of textiles for the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, will join Callahan in a discussion about fashion in the context of political movements. Shaw’s lecture, entitled Camelot to Counterculture: Clothing & Society in the 1960s, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 3 in the Special Collections Building Auditorium. The event is co-sponsored by the UGA Press and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Mannequins wearing Welch-designed dresses in oranges, black and white, with African prints.
Designs featuring some of Welch's signature prints

In addition to gallery tours scheduled for 2 p.m. on February 1, March 1, and April 5, the community is invited to a Family Day event featuring children’s activities from 1 to 4 p.m. March 26. In addition, the UGA Fashion Design Student Association will present a spring fashion show inspired by Welch’s designs at the Special Collections Building on April 14.

Frankie Welch’s Americana: Fashion, Scarves, and Politics will remain on display in the Hargrett Library gallery through July 8.

The galleries at the Special Collections Libraries, located on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, with extended evening hours until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays this spring. For more information or to schedule a tour, visit