SVA MA Design Research

SVA MA Design Research, Writing & Criticism1 is a one-year graduate program2
devoted to the study of design, its contexts & consequences.
Our graduates have gone on to pursue research-related careers in publishing, education, museums, institutes, design practice, entrepreneurship, & more.3

  1. Formerly known as D-Crit
  2. About the program
  3. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. All successful candidates awarded a significant scholarship!
SVA MA Design Research

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New York, NY 10011





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The American Prison Uniform: A Snapshot – SVA MA Design Research

Emily R. Pellerin

The American Prison Uniform: A Snapshot

A group of incarcerated men photographed in 1895 in Utah. From Hoaxes, Humbugs and Spectacles by Mark Sloan (1990)

An illustration from 1860, depicting incoming prisoners’ transitions from their street clothes to the striped uniform.

In the late eighteenth century, when American colonists established detainment centers for criminals, they borrowed what they knew from Europe. Jails were disorderly, unsanitary, and lenient regarding regimen. People with means could purchase their way out of the discomforts of incarceration, buying or bartering for – among other comforts – clothing.

An act put into place in 1790, which was part of a so-thought progressive new system of penology proposed by a Philadelphia-based consortium of prison reformers, instituted a consistent manner of dress for incarcerated individuals. Introducing clothing manufacturing as a new system of labor within the prisons and jails themselves, the actual clothing that was being produced and worn now mimicked the general, modest style of the times: plain gowns for women, two-piece outfits of linen in the summertime for men, and of wool in the winter, with access to jackets and coats (source).

Instituted in Philadelphia, the benevolence of this act didn’t quite translate to other prisons in the U.S. at the time. In New York, for example, the introduction of a more consistent prison outfit shifted from a focus on normality, to a focus on explicit differentiation. In the later 1790s and through the early 1800s, uniforms were introduced to loudly call out the convicted nature of the incarcerated: they were colorful or other otherwise categorically differentiating, and were deliberately humiliating. (Read more…)