· Jun. 22, 2022
Joan and Barbara in Santa Monica, California.

“When FIT handed out internships, my friends were sent to a glove factory in Brooklyn that had rats, but I was very lucky,” Joan McNamara, Apparel Design ’51, recalls. She helped a designer—an heir to the Gillette razor fortune—construct the garments he made for celebrity game show panelists like Dorothy Kilgallen and Arlene Francis.

“He had wonderful ideas about design but didn’t know how to sew,” she says. “He made a blouse with a boat-shaped neckline for Arlene Francis, but he didn’t put any elastic around the shoulders. It started falling off in the middle of the show.”

After graduation, Joan took a job working for the actress Gloria Swanson, who had designed the costumes for a play she was in called Nina. Joan constructed them in Swanson’s Fifth Avenue garment workshop.

A gown Joan designed —and wore—at FIT.

“I learned all about her personal life,” Joan says. “She only ate broccoli. She was very upset with her daughter because she had fallen in love with a Frenchman almost double her age, and she wanted her secretary to break up the relationship. The daughter ended up marrying this fellow—and as far as I know, they’re still married today.”

After a year, Joan left the industry, got married, and had five girls and four boys. She made all her daughters’ clothes. Her youngest, Barbara, always loved fashion.

“She was always fussy about clothes,” Joan recalls. “She wouldn’t wear pajamas unless the tops and bottoms matched.”

Barbara McNamara followed in Joan’s footsteps to FIT, graduating with a degree in Fashion Buying and Merchandising in 1992. “My mother has timeless taste, and we always loved going shopping together,” she says.

“From when I was a young girl, FIT was the only place I wanted to go.”
Joan in her FIT days.

In the early aughts, Barbara left the fashion industry for a job casting background roles for Sex and the City.

“Background casting has a lot to do with fashion,” Barbara says. “You work very closely with the wardrobe department to find people who look right for a scene, whether it takes place at Barneys or in Brooklyn with hipsters.”

A few years later, she started her own background casting company and worked on The Devil Wears Prada and 30 Rock. Recently, she’s gotten into principal casting—speaking roles—for History Channel miniseries, and in 2021 she was accepted into the exclusive Casting Society of America.

“I was on my own for all those years,” she says. “Now I’m part of a group.”