UK Professor Melds Apparel and Horses in Student and Academic Research Projects

Kimberly Miller-Spillman, PhD, professor in merchandising, apparel, and textiles within the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, proves equine research can occur in many contexts outside of the traditional models of horse health research. She melds her interest in horses and apparel in several ways to create meaningful projects for students and a tie-in to Kentucky's signature industry.

She currently teaches a course for merchandising majors titled "Social and Psychological Aspects of Apparel" that requires a research project. Three students in her spring class chose equine topics for their research and presentations, with topics including "Race and Society: The Level of Involvement from African Americans in Horseback Riding"; "The Perceived Effects of Attire on Participants in Equitation Events"; and "Sidesaddle and Astride Dress in a Contemporary Context."

In describing the process students followed, which included surveys, formatting scientific manuscripts, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and a research paper and corresponding presentation, Spillman said, "Social and psychological theories of dress and behavior along with historic research methods inform their research efforts. Students learn about survey research methods, interview methods, online data collection, and how to take data and connect it to theoretical concepts."

Spillman said she used the occasion of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) to inspire student design ideas for another project, although this project is not formally affiliated with the Games in any way.

"Merchandising students have diverse career interests that include retail management, event planning, promotion and displays, and apparel design," she said. "For the equestrian event design project, students chose from three options using the Games for ideas. They could design a garment, a kiosk, or an event based on inspiration from historical clothing. This project took historic clothing out of the past and into the present. All students followed the design process and received feedback from three experts mid-semester."

The top three designs were blouses, a kiosk, and a bar.

A kiosk designed by student Kaitlin Burks included a WEG video simulation, a video game system that is interactive, electronic, innovative, and free-standing and would allow event spectators to stay involved during waits between events. The game includes a Wii Fit board, a horse control stick, and games for single and multiple players. All the WEG events, except dressage and para dressage, are included. Players can pick their outfits from historically inspired garments.

Event-related design by student Cruse Ash was titled "WEGO's", a bar that would appeal to 21-30-year-olds and features a modern appearance with some historic costuming.

"The research opportunities for apparel and horses seem endless, and I enjoy brainstorming possibilities," Spillman said. "As a social scientist, I believe that individuals reveal a great deal about themselves through their dress choices."

Holly Wiemers, MS, is communications director for UK's Equine Initiative

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