An important distinction between digital collections of museum, libraries, and archives: no purchase buttons, shopping carts, or Paypal options. This sacred lack of e-commerce allows me to safely view the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2009, the renowned Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection was donated to the Costume Institute at the Met, resulting in a collection of over 35,000 costumes and accessories, spanning 700 years and five continents. Due to delicate fabrics, the collection is not on permanent public view. Although here are special exhibitions including costume materials. You’ll probably remember the kerfuffle surrounding the “PUNK Chaos to Couture” opening gala, where celebrities attended in cringe-worthy, less-than-punky attire. There is a strong representation of work from famous fashion designers who impacted trends in style of dress. To mention a few: House of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, House of Chanel, Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionne, House of Balenciaga, and last but not least my current obsession of platform sandals of the late 1930’s by Steven Arpad, Salvatore Ferragamo, and others.
The Met’s Costume Institute offers a massive collection of apparel, and thus, a valuable visual resource often used when researching historical fashions. When working reference, I’ve recommended this resource to students many times. The Met provides world-wide free access to the Costume Institute through this digital collection. The Berg Fashion Library aggregates its digital collection from several publicly accessible online collections (incl. the Met’s) then provides consolidated access in one location, but for a fee. Not to discredit the Berg Fashion Library as it offers other research sources and interactive features, as well as a gracious staff at their Bedford Square location in London (where I visited last summer). If searching the internet isn’t so off-putting, there are many museums around the world hosting online costume collections.
Unfortunately, the Met’s online collection interface is not all a bed of chiffon. In 2011 the Met’s website underwent major redesign, including revamping the online collection. While this undertaking was aimed at creating an easier navigation of total online collection (340,000 items), there are still a few tweaks that could improve a researcher’s experience. It’s not just me being critical, others have noticed this too. The current search feature is confusing and often causes redundant searches in order to refine results. Only keyword search is offered in combination with tabs to narrow results by: who, what, where, and when. Each of these tabs then provides hyper-linked categories to whittle until you reach what the desired items. The problems I encountered with this are having to go repeat the initial query steps each time to find the desired section of items. An advanced search feature would be ideal to query within the each of the ‘who, what, when, and where’ sections simultaneously (are you listening Met IT/Programmer Gods?). Perhaps the most glaring obstruction to research is the ‘when’ options. Dates are grouped by century only where as fickle fashion is changing by the day. Decade increments for the 20th century at least would be helpful, a custom date range even more so.
The images selected here in no way represent the extravagant floor-length evening dresses fit for royalty to be found in the Costume Institute at the Met, rather items I could easily see myself in. Current wardrobe trends: minimalist construction, block colors, platform shoes, and something African (which isn’t part of the Met’s Costume Institute, but it is a part of mine). If only there was a purchase icon for this a-bit-goth, 1937 cape, this Frankenstein would be Puttin’ on the Ritz.