One of the best aspects of working in a museum is the constant discoveries we make about our objects. In addition to preserving and protecting the objects in our care, we also spend a lot of time researching objects in our collection. Each object embodies a specific narrative, and it's our job to document and relate this story. One of our goals in starting this blog was to make these narratives widely available. We also share our research through regular exhibitions in our gallery, presentations at academic and community venues, and through our interactions with the faculty and students of FIDM.
When we're researching objects, we utilize a variety of resources. In our post today, we're going to reveal some of our sources! Readers, we'd also love to hear from you. Where do you turn when you are trying to find out more about a particular garment or designer?
Back issues of fashion periodicals
This almost goes without saying, right? Back issues of Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and other fashion periodicals are often the first place we turn for information. Many libraries have actual hard copies, but others have microfilm versions. If you have the option of looking at the actual magazines, do it! Though microfilm is useful, looking through actual back issues is always a treat.
We recently discovered an online archive for the French fashion magazine L'Officiel. Even if you don't read French, it's still a great image resource.
If you're interested in fashion before about 1900, you'll want to look for Godey's Lady's Book, Peterson's or even Ladies' Home Journal. Again, these are probably available via microfilm at your local public or university library.
If you look at the footnotes included in our posts, you've probably noticed many articles from the New York Times and other newspapers. Newspapers are a good source of information about specific time periods, styles or designers. At the FIDM Museum, we access historic newspapers via Proquest, an academic database available via subscription. Even if you don't have a college or university affiliation, most public libraries subscribe to Proquest.
Many museums have websites that feature images, commentary or exhibitions. In addition to images, there is often contextual information about specific objects. As museums strive to present authoritative information, you can be sure what you're reading is accurate and well-researched.
Helibrunn Timeline of Art History This timeline from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a fantastic resource for all types of art history research.
Do you have any patterns from decades past? These are often dated with a copyright mark, which can help pinpoint when a particular style was popular.
Archive.org can sometimes be a good source for out-of-print books relating to fashion.
Wikimedia Commons has interesting imagery, including this fantastic image of a bat fancy dress costume. Like Wikipedia, however, you should probably take any textual information you find here with a grain (maybe even several grains) of salt.
We've surely missed some resources in this post, so feel free to comment with resources that you find useful!
In case you thought we'd leave you without an image, here's another garment featured in our recent exhibition, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture. This garment was pictured in L'Officiel issue # 547. Enjoy!
Double-layer, bias-cut organza strips spiral around the china silk foundation to form an evening dress in a virtuosic display of patterning skills. Many of these strips are long enough to encircle the dress multiple times during their descent from neckline to hem. This design necessitated a liberal use of fabric. Hundreds of small curved pieces were cut away to form diagonal scallops across the body, imparting a sense of movement even when the wearer was standing still.