Wisconsin student's duct tape dress heading for Mount Mary's archives
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Wisconsin student's duct tape dress heading for Mount Mary's archives

Sep 01, 2023

Recently graduated Wisconsin high school student Ritika Singh is doing all the typical prep work before she heads off to college at Hofstra University in New York.

Getting together last-minute supplies for her new dorm room, familiarizing herself with campus maps, and packing. Then there was something less routine — donating a dress made of duct tape dress to Mount Mary University's fashion archive.

Singh spent hundreds of hours during her senior year to create the 15-pound piece – and 38-rolls of duct tape.

The goal: a scholarship from Duck Brand, the famed tape maker, which was running a contest for a $10,000 Stuck at Prom scholarship. A teen from Los Angeles eeked out a win with half the duct tape.

But Singh's creation scored another honor – the dress will be in Mount Mary's digital fashion archive and on display in the university's welcome center in Notre Dame Hall throughout the fall 2023 semester.

Singh's dress will be preserved for fashion design students to reference, and could sometimes be displayed in fashion exhibitions and cataloged in the university's digital archive. She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, it was a "happy outcome."

The Journal Sentinel wrote in June about the making of the duct tape dress being entered to win the "weirdest" college scholarship.

Mary Elliot Nowakowski, the now-retired curator for the university's fashion archive collection, contacted Donna Ricco, an executive fellow in Mount Mary's fashion department, about the dress and suggested Ricco find a way to procure it for the archive.

"The collection is about 10,000 pieces of historic clothing and accessories that range back to about 1760 right up to the present day," Nowakowski said. "It's a resource for Mount Mary's fashion design students because they learn the history of clothing and they can study techniques, understand designers, look at clothing construction and fit. It serves as a tremendous inspiration for students."

Singh said many of her friends and family and coworkers and patients at Midwest Orthopedic hospital where she worked as a patient care assistant saw the story about her entry. "They were so excited," Singh said. "So when I didn't make it, I felt like I was letting people down. But then Mount Mary called, and it was a complete turnaround with everyone being so happy for me that my dress will be somewhere where it will be remembered."

Singh's dress has a message of unity, inspired by her Sikh faith. The dress has duct tape representations of every continent, symbols for eight major religions and every country's flag. There's also a human chain.

"If you look closely, the arms and legs make hearts which shows that everything is about love because that's one thing we genuinely know how to do naturally," Singh said. "I want people to see the dress and take a minute to listen to other people's opinions, put their differences aside and just look at people as fellow humans."

Nowakowski related to Singh spending a considerable amount of time creating a piece of clothing.

"When I realized how many hours Ritika put into that dress, it brought back a lot of memories," Nowakowski said. "For my senior project, I made a replication of a 1908 theater suit, and I think I stopped counting how long it took me at about 250 hours."

That suit is also part of the Mount Mary fashion archive.

Singh plans to study religion and sociology at Hofstra University. Nowakowski gifted her $1,000 for her education.

"We have this young woman who is not pursuing a degree in fashion design, but she's using fashion and this dress to further her education," Nowakowski said. "I think that's just fantastic."

Contributing: Krystal Nurse of USA TODAY