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Clothing History from Afar

You can view this dress by Madame Gres, 1951, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art's online collections database.

No matter where in the country-or world-you are, you can view items from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume and garment collection in detail. The Met holds an extraordinary collection of garments that date from as early as the 1st Century A.D. all the way through the present day. Many of the items in the collections database are not on display in the museum. If you can’t visit the museum in person, visiting the online collections database is the next best thing. Visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collections database.

There are nearly 40,000 catalogued items in the costume collection, including items such as jewelry, shoes, scarves, hats, masks, parasols, purses, and hair adornments. Narrow your search by who (designer), where (geographic origin), what (item type, material, or technique), when (time period/era), and by museum department. The easiest way to find what you’re looking for-let’s say, a dress-is to enter the garment type and a few qualifiers (dress, dance) into the search and narrow down the results further by using the “what” and “when” tab.

You can scroll through the search results and click on individual items to view a detail page. Most of the costume detail pages in the database offer several views of the garment that can be enlarged and even downloaded for personal reference. Details give the item’s date of creation (or approximate), culture of origin, its medium (materials), dimensions, a description of the garment and brief history of its creators (if available).

I can spend hours searching through the Met’s costume collection database for garments from other eras. It’s an amazing source of inspiration and information, both on fashions of different time periods and on construction methods-and it’s a whole lot easier than going to the museum itself.

Do you like to peruse museum collections online? What are your favorite museums with online collections databases? Does looking at garments in a museum inspire your own sewing?


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  1. User avater
    maddie964 | | #1

    Thanks so much for sharing this Stephani! I had no idea it existed. Viewing garment in person or online definitely inspires me in my own creations. Thanks again!

  2. yonana5 | | #2

    Really awesome. Love it.

  3. sewcietymaven | | #3

    Absolutely! I wish I had access to the MMA here on the west coast!

  4. loscoz | | #4

    OH MY!!! When I lived in NYC the Met was my favorite place to visit esp the Costume Institute ... its mind-boggling the hours I've 'lost' visiting there! I can see many future hours being spent on the computer looking, learning, exploring, gaining inspiration, & insight into fashion. -thank you!

  5. jeanann | | #5

    Beautiful. Computers are the next best thing to living in NYC.

  6. Snowlover | | #6

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. What a wonderful gift of this "site".

  7. morasar | | #7

    Great resource, even for those of us who don't wear couture!

  8. User avater
    Kayle9 | | #8

    I'm so glad to see the magazine pursue online links to costume institutes and museums. I've gone through this link to look at some inspiration for my next Victorian dress.

    The Museo de Traje (Museum of Clothing) in Madrid, Spain has its permanent exhibition and most of the past temporary exhibits online: http://museodeltraje.mcu.es/

    I particularly love the purple Victorian dress with the elongated bustle.

  9. EmSewCrazy | | #9

    Thanks for this link!! Getting to see amazing museum exhibits while sitting at home is great!!

  10. CARLAJ01 | | #10

    I am definitely inspired by 1920-1930's fashion. My grandmother died very young in 1935, and I think I "inherited" her sense of style from that period. My favorite designer is Erte, and love to infuse his skills into my own garments. I love everything Art Deco, and the fashion of that period in history is unbelievable.

  11. lapark | | #11

    i live in small town hicksville usa....there are no museums close by and i don't really think i would pay to visit one..but i do enjoy seeing articles here about costumes and clothing from other decades...i really enjoyed the video on the spider silk cape...it was fastiniating...i will continue to rely on your newsletter and magazine to inspire me...thanks!

  12. lennie77 | | #12

    I inherited a sewing gadget made by Singer, but I don't know what it is. I took it to a local sewing store and they do not know either. Can you help me identify it? How do I upload the photos I took from the front and back view?

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