It's been a long time since we've talked about research resources! Our last post on this topic was in February 2010--practically a millenia in terms of how fast information appears on the internet. All of the resources we suggested in that post are still excellent starting points for fashion history research. See what we recommended in February 2010 here. In the time since we wrote that post, more and more information is available on the internet, particularly primary sources.
This list of resources is only a small sampling of what's actually available, both online and offline. Because our readers are scattered all over the world, we're focusing primarily on what is available online. But, we know there are MANY great research resources out there. Leave a comment telling us what we've missed. You might just leave a tip that leads a fellow researcher to a breakthrough!
We hate to post without including an image, so here's a FABULOUS! teaser. Pictured below is the full eleven-foot train of our 1907 Redfern court gown. Look forward to a post on this confection sometime in the next few weeks.
I had high hopes for this new Vogue website, but haven't found it particularly useful. Rumor has it that Vogue is preparing to launch a digital archive of ALL past issues in December 2011. This would be HUGE news for researchers and fashion lovers alike. Conde Nast (Vogue publisher) already offers a digital archive of The New Yorker. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a similar archive from Vogue!
Though we mentioned this source in our last post on research resources, it is worth mentioning again. In existence since 1921, L'Officiel de la Couture et de la Mode de Paris has an online archive of all past issues. Of course, as this is a French magazine, it helps if you can read French. But even if French is a struggle, you can search for specific designers and see the resulting images. We found a wonderful image of our Roger Vivier kingfisher feather shoes in a 1959 issue of L'Officiel.
Numerous magazines are available in full-page, searchable format via Google Books. In particular, I've found back issues of Life and Ebony useful for fashion history research. The search function in Google Books is clunky, but despite this drawback, the wealth of information and images available make it worth the effort. This 1980 Ebony article on Stephen Burrows was written by Andre Leon Tally. Claire McCardell designs are featured in this 1954 photo spread from Life.
Online Fashion Plates
At least two institutions host extensive online collections of fashion plates. The Casey Fashion Plate Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library consists of "over 6,200 hand-colored, finely detailed fashion illustrations produced between 1780 and 1880 for British and American fashion magazines."1 This plate from 1801 features two women dressed in the classically influenced gowns of the Empire period.
The Fashion Plate Collection at the University of Washington is a collection of 417 fashion plates, dating from 1800-1915. This is only a portion of their fashion plate holdings; a large group remain unscanned. This 1914 plate from the French fashion magazine Journal des dames et des modes showcases a patterned kimono-style coat.
Online Photo Archives
Public libraries and historical societies often have photo archives. Many are available for browsing online, including the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Like many photo archives, this collection focuses on the landmarks, people and culture of its local area. Here's a photo from the LAPL collection portraying Marlene Dietrich dancing cheek-to-cheek with a sailor in 1943 at the Hollywood Canteen.
The New York Public Library Digital Gallery features a combination of photographs and images pulled from periodicals. This collection is extensive; if you can name it, you'll probably find at least one mention of it here. This photo pictures a model wearing "Baccanate," a 1915 design by Paquin.
Of Another Fashion is "a crowdsourced digital photo archive of the not-quite-hidden but too often neglected fashion histories of U.S. women of color."2 A work-in-progress, Of Another Fashion is shaping up to be a great image resource for those researching both everyday and formal dress in the twentieth-century. Readers submit photos, often portraying family members, and list what they know about the time/place/situation in which the photo was taken. This 1943 photo of three Latina women with great hair is a representative example of the photos submitted.
1 Los Angeles Public Library website
2 Of Another Fashion website