Online Historic Costume Collections

In a click of a mouse, I can visit the historic and contemporary costume collections from around the world. Although some museums and university collections welcome visiting scholars, digitizing a collection reduces the handling of fragile garments and also offers everyone a chance to see garments that are not on display.  Here are my top picks of accessible collections (click on museum name for related link): 

Dior 1947 Bar Suit, Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute
Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Collection: The Met has over 35,000 costumes and accessories in their collection, with the earliest piece going back to the 15th century. This New York museum sets the gold standard for online digitized collections, providing multiple images and extensive descriptive information and provenance details for each item.

Victoria and Albert Museum Collections:  Although the storage and research facilities for this London based museum collection are currently being renovated (scheduled to reopen in October 2013),  the V&A website gives access to images from their extensive costume collection and also provides videos, articles, suggested books, and related material. An inviting and friendly website, the fashion related section is organized by period, with links to all related material available on the site. Like the Met, the information provided for each fashion item is extensive, including multiple viewpoints, photos of related accessories, marks and inscriptions and exhibition history. 

FIT Museum Collection: FIT Museum currently has over 50,000 garments and accessories in its collection. Although they have pieces going back to the 18th century, their focus is on contemporary fashion and they seek to add new pieces that "make fashion history". They have an extensive online collection and are adding to that regularly.  FIT has a smaller study collection of approximately 1200 pieces that is accessible to students, faculty and visiting researchers.

Kent State University Museum: Kent State has one of the largest study collections in the world with over 40,000 pieces including historic pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries to the present. While only a small sampling of items have been digitized, this museum believes in accessibility and welcomes students, faculty and visiting researchers.

Drexel University Historic Costume Collection: An online collection featuring detail closeups and 360 degree views of 129 selected pieces from the collection. Of particular note are the photos related to the conservation of an 1885 gown by Charles Frederick Worth (link here).

Chicago History Museum Costume & Textiles Collection: This museum's costume collection includes over 50,000 costumes and textile artifacts from the mid-18th century to the present, and is one of the largest in the world. Recently launched, the digital collection features multiple views of nearly 400 costume and textile artifacts.

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