Written by Gabby Taylor
Virginia Tech has gained a new source of sparkle.
Kylene Barker McNeill ’78, the first Miss Virginia to be crowned Miss America, has donated her winning gown to the university’s Oris Glisson Historic Costume and Textile Collection.
During the university’s Homecoming celebration in 2021, McNeill, a former member of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association Board, donated her Miss America crown for display in the Holtzman Alumni Center.
“Camille Schrier became Miss Virginia and posted a photo in front of my Miss America display in the Holtzman Alumni Center,” McNeill said. “I stopped in my tracks and said, ‘That’s where my crown belongs.’”
The same week she donated her crown, she considered donating her dress to the Oris Glisson collection.
“The thought later occurred to me that since I’d been a fashion major maybe I should consider donating my winning gown as well,” she said.
From an early age, McNeill knew she wanted to be a Hokie. She enrolled in 1974 with aspirations of majoring in physical education. Yet when she learned the university offered a major in clothing, textiles, and related arts — today the fashion merchandising and design major — she switched disciplines.
“I loved fashion and actually made my first garment when I was in the sixth grade,” McNeill said. “After that, my mother never had to sew for me again.”
During her time as a student, she made a multitude of memories as a cheerleader, an experience that boosted her gymnastics routine during the Miss America competition.
Within months of her 1978 graduation from Virginia Tech, McNeill was named Miss Virginia and, soon after, Miss America 1979. Upon completion of her one-year reign, she opened her own dress shop, which she ran for 13 years. She went on to co-author a book, serve as a corporate spokesperson, and produce fashion shows.
It was while McNeill was in the clothing and textiles program that the Oris Glisson Historic Costume and Textile Collection was named in honor of its founder, who taught fashion at Virginia Tech for three decades. Glisson donated many of the collection’s original items, including designer dresses from the 1950s-70s.
The collection — which now contains more than 5,000 pieces of clothing, accessories, and textiles, some dating to the 19th century — serves as a key teaching and research resource for students and faculty.
“I am excited for this gift,” said Dina Smith-Glaviana, director of the collection and an assistant professor of fashion merchandising and design in the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management. “To me, the gown is significant because it’s tied to the history of Virginia Tech and our program.”
McNeill’s gown was designed by Stephen Yearick, a celebrated designer of couture gowns for pageants, weddings, and events for many celebrities. It is a slim, white dress with beaded detailing.
McNeill originally donated the gown to the Jeff Matthews Memorial Museum in her hometown of Galax. A large photo of McNeill wearing the gown now stands in the museum’s Miss America exhibit.
Schrier, a 2018 graduate with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology, was named Miss America 2019. Together, she and McNeill served as grand marshals of Virginia Tech’s Homecoming parade in 2021.
“Virginia Tech has always been so good to me,” said McNeill, who is retired in Muskoka, Ontario, and Naples, Florida. “As the years go by, being the first Miss Virginia to win the title of Miss America becomes even more special.”