Costume and Fashion Research
This guide is designed to be an introduction to doing Costume and Fashion historical research. The resources listed here are available at the Irene Lewishon Costume Reference Library, but may also be available at other libraries. To schedule an appointment to use the Costume Institute Library, please contact Julie Tran Le. Some materials can also be paged for use to The Thomas J. Watson Library which is open to users doing undergraduate work or above.
Fashion research is specialized because researchers must use a wide variety of sources in order to find the information that they need. These sources include books, periodicals, lookbooks, vertical files, and electronic sources.
There are many books about fashion and costume history. This Bibliography is arranged topically and covers a sampling of the available literature including Reference Works, Fashion Theory, Fashion Photography, and books by time period from the Medieval Ages through the 21st Century. There have also been a number of publications produced by Costume Institute staff. Please check WATSONLINE for the availability and location of the title you are interested in. Books located at the Watson, Nolen, and Costume Institute library may be used in that location. Books located at other libraries may be requested through Watson. Books located off-site must be ordered a least one business day in advance and may be used at Watson.
The Costume Institute has had exhibitions for public display since 1939. Exhibition catalogs are meant to capture this experience in a print format. The Met Libraries have exhibition catalogs from 1967-today. Use WATSONLINE to find the Costume Institue Exhibition Catalogs.
Researchers find that sometimes the best way to locate fashion images is by looking through older fashion periodicals. These images and other information may be presented in advertisements, editorial photography spreads, articles, or as cover art. Some examples of bound journals the Costume Institute owns are:
- Ars Sutoria 1952-2005
- L'Art et la Mode 1887-1969
- Elle 1949-55, 1986-2008
- The Face 1980-2004
- Harper's Bazaar 1901-2010
- Life Magazine 1937-1982
- L'Officiel 1934-2010 (Available for free online from 1921-2010)
- Seventeen 1945-1950, 1977-2004
- Vanity Fair 1913-36, 1983-2009
- Vogue 1913-2010
- Vogue British 1950-54, 1969-2010
- Vogue Italia 1976-2010
- Vogue Paris 1930-2010
Please consult WATSONLINE for additional titles and to locate specific volumes or years.
The Costume Institute Library also currently subscribes to a variety of fashion periodicals. These titles include:
Periodicals Availble Electronically
The following periodicals are available in Full text from American Periodicals Series on-site or with a Watson Library Card.
- Godey's Lady Book 1840-1858
- Harper's Bazaar 1867-1912
- Harper's New Monthly Magazine 1850-c1900
- The Lady's World 1843-1843
- Peterson's Magazine 1848-1892
The Costume Institute's Collection Database & the Brooklyn Museum Collection Database contain images of the objects in these two collections. In 2009, the Brooklyn Art Museum's collection was transfered to the Costume Institute.
New York Public Library has many digital collections; two are very relevant to Costume and Fashion research. Customs and Costume: Surveys and Examples of National Studies to 1900 has 2 dozen+ plate books of a 19th Century survey of costumes and culture worldwide. The Dress and Fashion: Design and Manufacture collection rare and unusual items of western dress and fashion from the 19th to early 20th Century.
The Berg Fashion Library is a digital library that has a variety of electronic resources including electronic journals, images, and The Berg Encyclopedia of World Fashion and Dress. It can be accessed with a Watson Library Card.
The Drexel Historic Costume Collection is a free searchable database that indexes images from the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Images included garment details and can be viewed in a 3-D panaroma.
The University of Washington has a Digital Fashion Plate Collection which has 417 plates from 1809-1915. The collection is both searchable and browseable.
The Tirocchi Dressmakers project is an online project born of the exhibit by the same name. It includes archival materials of the Tirocchi family's dressmaking shop including correspondence, transactions, measurements, and objects.
Harvard University has several digital collections of turn of the century retail catalogs. These collections include the Allen, Brock, and Smith shoe collection, Warner Brothers Corset Collection, United Shirt & Collar Co. Catalogue of Ladies' Collar and Cuffs, Chemisettes, Cape and Sailor Collars, The Ambercrombie & Fitch 1913 Styles Collection, The Jordan, Marsh, and Co. Catalogue, and The B. Altman & Co. Catalogue.
The Bard Graduate Center indexes the citations of the Dissertations and Theseses of their Master and PhD students. Please contact the Bard Library to find out how to access these papers in full-text.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has a newly devloped Wedding Dress database containg weddings fashion from the Victorian era through the 21st Century.
The Kyoto Costume Institute has a Digital Archive of 11,000 items from their collection.
UCLA curates the Bonnie Cashin Collection of Fashion, Theater, and Film Costume Design featuring images from 1913-2000.
Bath's Fashion Museum has a searchable image databse of the items in their collection. This collection covers the 1920s-1990s.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a digital collection called All Sewn Up which is dedicated historical books about millinery and dressmaking that have been digitzed.
Claremont Colleges has a digital Fashion Plate Collection. This collection has over 650 images from 1789-1914.
The Pratt Institute has also has a small digital collection of fashion plates. These images are from La Gazette du Bon Ton from 1914 to 1922.
The Costume Institute Library has nearly 2,000 vertical files for designers, companies, models, and other persons of interest in the fashion world and over 1,000 subject files that range from materials used to types of clothes to topics of interest. Only some of the vertical files are cataloged. There is a special section for searching the Costume Institute Vertical Files in WATSONLINE by designer or company name. The Vertical Files contain a variety of information including press releases, reviews, news clippings, advertisements, and more. The Costume Institute no longer collects items for these files. It was last updated in 2007. Vertical Files may only be used on-site in the Costume Institute Library.
Lookbooks are a collection of photographs representing a designer's line. They were especially popular for designers to produce in the 1980s and 90s and often are a design piece in of themselves. The Costume Institute Library has a number of lookbooks, many of which are not in WATSONLINE. Calvin Klein, Chanel, DKNY, Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Oscar de la Renta, Prada, and Yves Saint-Laurent are just some of the designers who have lookbooks at the Costume Institute Library. Most of the lookbooks at the Costume Institute Library pre-date 2000. Style.com is a good resource for recent runway show photos.
Sketches and Plates
The Costume Institute Library has many sketches and plates. Two majors collections are the Woodman Thompson Fashion Plate Collection and the Bergdorf Goodman Fashion Sketches. These collections have not been cataloged but are physically browsable on-site.
There are many libraries in the New York City area that may be helpful to fashion and costume researchers. We recommend the following libraries to get the most comprehensive set of resources possible:
- The New York Public Library for the Performing Art
- The New York Public Library Picture Collection
- Gladys Marcus Library at the Fashion Institute of Technology
- Adam & Sophie Gimbel Design Library at Parsons School of Design
- The Bard Graduate Center Library of Bard College
Julie Tran Le