MSU’s Myrna Colley-Lee Costume Collection offers rental opportunities for community theatre programs

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

Mississippi State Communication Instructor Melanie Harris looks at a polka-dotted skirt that is part of the Myrna Colley-Lee Costume Collection housed at the university’s Mitchell Memorial Library. In addition to actual pieces dating from the 1920s to the present, the collection consists of vintage costumes and clothing amassed by Colley-Lee throughout her 40-year professional career as a costume designer. (Photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—From aprons, dresses, jackets and jumpsuits to pants, shawls, shirts and shorts, items in Mississippi State’s Myrna Colley-Lee Costume Collection put the fun in fashion.

Along with benefiting Theatre MSU productions throughout the year, these timeless pieces are now available for Mississippi school and community theatre programs to rent from MSU Libraries.

A collaborative effort between MSU Libraries and the Department of Communication’s Theatre MSU program, the collection consists of Colley-Lee’s vintage costumes and clothing, as well as actual pieces dating from the 1920s to the present. Colley-Lee, a Hamlet, North Carolina, native, has over four decades of experience in costume design. She also is an art director and set designer for film and television productions, as well as founder of the GladRags Designs costume and interior design firm in Tallahatchie County.

“We are pleased to be able to make this site and collection available to the theatre community,” said MSU Libraries Associate Dean Stephen Cunetto. “It is a wonderful way of sharing Myrna’s treasures that she collected over the years.”

Rental fees are based on time, but there is no restriction on how long theatre programs can rent items from Colley-Lee’s collection. The process for renewal is similar to that of checking out a library book, according to the collection’s organizer Melanie Harris.

An MSU communication instructor also serving as Theatre MSU’s costumer and theatre operations manager, Harris has played a major role in maintaining the collection, which can be explored online at

Selected costumes and notes from Colley-Lee are featured in an exhibit at MSU’s Mitchell Memorial Library. (Photo by Megan Bean)

“All of the clothes in the collection are Myrna’s, except for about 10 pieces that I have added with her permission,” Harris said. “We have a jumpsuit made of legit old school denim, like what a 1940s mechanic would have worn. We have a 1940s evening gown that would make for a perfect summer garden party dress. We have a West Point cadet jacket, too.”

More than a decade ago, Colley-Lee donated to MSU items she acquired for costume use throughout her career. She said inspiration came after befriending Cunetto and learning of the university’s connection to theatre.

“As my collection became too big to house and my relationship with Stephen and MSU developed, it seemed a natural progression for me to donate and allow new thespians and designers to benefit from decades of salvaging interesting bits of clothing to make a character come alive,” said Colley-Lee, who received an MSU honorary doctorate of creative arts in 2007. “I couldn’t be more gratified with everyone who has worked on this project and the cataloging process that has made this collection so accessible to those who need it most.”

Stored in an air-conditioned, dehumidified room at Mitchell Memorial Library, the clothes are cataloged by type and color for easy shipment to theatre programs around the state that contact Harris with requests.

“We had fashion historians come in, and we took measurements of every piece, so if there is anything special or unique about a piece, we can tell people,” Harris said. “We would like to add more items, so the collection will keep evolving. As we find more treasures, we want them to be shared.”

Harris said clothes in Colley-Lee’s collection make for interesting educational tools. Selected costumes and notes also are featured in an exhibit in the John Grisham Room at Mitchell Memorial Library.

“The whole point of a costume collection is for the clothing to go on stage, but when a piece needs to be retired, it can still be useful,” Harris said. “If students at MSU or other universities want to come and do research or look at the patterns and fabric, I am happy to take them on a search piece by piece.”

MSU’s Department of Communication and its Theatre MSU program are online at; MSU Libraries,

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at