The University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection

The University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection is a digital collection developed in 2018 by the university libraries in cooperation with the College of Business’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design.

The physical collection, established in 1951, includes textiles, costumes and ephemera from Rhode Island and all over the world, spanning in time from ancient Egyptian cloth to garments by 20th century designers. It was developed to support teaching at the university, encourage research, and provide artifacts for use in classes and exhibitions. Only a small portion of the physical collection—which numbers more than 25,000 objects—have been photographed or digitised for inclusion in the digital collection.

One of the goals of this digital initiative is to publicise the collection and make it more accessible in an online format. In Historic Textile and Costume Collection in the Academic Setting Linda Welters and Margaret Ordoñez note that digital fashion, textile and costume collections provide for greater collection access, detailed imagery and the ability to view the collection, whilst minimising handling of the actual objects. Additionally, they point out that linked data and further information such as donor records, exhibition history and conservation issues make a digital collection more complete.

Digital fashion, textile and costume collections provide for greater collection access, detailed imagery and the ability to view the collection, whilst minimising handling of the actual objects.

Linda Welters and Margaret Ordoñez

The collection uses the Omeka content management system, which allows libraries, archives and museums, as well as scholarly collections to host visual content and develop digital exhibitions. The platform is customisable to the needs of the developer, allowing a plug-and-play system without the need for advanced computer coding knowledge. 

The landing page features university branding, a search bar and five main subpages: About, Browse Collections, Exhibitions, News and Contact Us. Next a visual header from an item in the collection, recently added items, a featured item, featured [sub]collection and a featured exhibit. Administrative data regarding ownership, funding information and a copyright notice are located at the foot of the page.

As of September 2021, the digital Historic Textile and Costume Collection collection has 19 thematic subcollections, with titles such as “Accessories” and “Materials of the future” which contain as few as two or as many as 70 items. Each subcollections contains metadata such as subject, title, date range, description and contributor, in addition to images and links to the digital objects. Social media links, not visible on the collection homepage do appear within the subcollection record.

“Cubism” University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection

The digital object record includes entries on subject, data, format, description, source, accession identifier, collection contributor, (original) creator, medium, provenance as well as an indexical subcollection hyperlink, the suggested citation and social bookmarking links. The source entry contains information related to the physical item’s donor, and in some records notates that it was a university purchase. Some objects’ records list just a name, while others have a more complete record of the item’s provenance and include information about the item’s initial appraisal. Object description ranges from a few sentences to fully-researched entries with accompanying bibliographic information. 

Regarding imagery, besides a digital photograph of the full textile, there are a variety of images included in the different records. For example, the Cubist textile record from ​​the Tirocchi subcollection contains just one image and is enlargeable. The record for the Woman’s Velveteen Top by Pucci contains a full image of the garment, and also one close-up photo of the collar and label. An enlargement of the Pucci image shows that the photo is not in a high enough resolution to allow for a closer look. However, the record for Woman’s Apron, Hutsul Culture, Ukraine, features two additional high-resolution close-up photos allowing for a very detailed inspection.

An analysis of contributors to the objects’ scholarship and description reveals a mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as faculty from the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, highlighting the use of this digital collection as an important education tool used to support scholarship in the fields of fashion, textile and costume studies.

Besides the digital collection, which is accessible via the library’s digital collections website, the only other access point for the physical collection is the Quinn Hall Textile Gallery, a small rotating exhibition space on campus. The digital collection supports the gallery through digital documentation of current and previous exhibitions and allows for greater access to the collection material. For example, the most recent exhibit, Jessica Strubel’s The Kaleidoscope of Textiles: Dress as Multidimensional Cultural Documents has also been digitally curated within the collection allowing for the exhibit to be seen by a worldwide audience.

In an Analysis of University Historic Clothing and Textile Websites Catherine Murphy suggests a successful digital collection includes images, accompanying text, exhibitions, and social networking links, as well as funding, copyright and site developer information. The digital Historic Textile and Costume Collection includes all of this information and is an example of a successful digital collection. Some recommended improvements would be to develop a standard for imagery including multiple views and closeups within the digital object records, standardisation of metadata fields throughout the collection, provide links to related resources and an increase of information in the entries for some of the objects who lack detailed information.

The strength of this collection is its function—not only as a digital surrogate of the physical collection, but the department’s integration of the collection as a digital humanities laboratory and the creation, transmission and preservation of departmental scholarship.

*Header “Arts and Crafts Movement,” University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection

Some Digital Fashion Archives

Here is a handful of interesting, perhaps lesser-known archives of interest to fashion researchers.

Barnett Hook Papers and Needlework, Ohio University.

“Many people viewed master needleworker Barnett A. Hook of rural McArthur, Ohio as a curiosity during his lifetime—in fact, he sometimes made his living highlighting his status as one of “only four men in the United States who teach embroidery.” Ohio U has digitized his papers and needlework samples. (Ok, a little local promo here.)

Needlework by Barnett Hook in the collection of Ohio University Libraries

Pantograph Negative Collection, 1940-1945, Illinois Digital Archives

“This collection of images from the Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Illinois newspaper dating back to 1846, records the history of Central Illinois through the work of Pantagraph photographer-reporters between 1940 and 1945. The Pantagraph was known for its coverage of agricultural concerns as well as local sports and social events in 10 counties surrounding McLean County. ”

A search on “fashion” or “apparel” yields a set of black and white photographs with styles from the era. “Campus Fads, Illlinois State Normal University,” shows off jump suits, cuff bracelets, plain pumps, and an alligator clutch bag.

From the “Fashion” subject set of the Pantograph negative collection, 1940-1945

Europeana: Fashion Collections

“Europeana works with thousands of European archives, libraries and museums to share cultural heritage for enjoyment, education and research.”

You probably already know about Europeana: catwalks, individual designers, costumes, jewelry items… nearly 800,000 items.

But I enjoyed discovering their “Fashion Stories”: having all these digital objects to choose from means they can create digital collections such as Masks and Head Coverings, which seems apropos of the moment, and Corsets, a popular research topic among undergraduates I work with.

Phillip Lim, S/S 2009, from

Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collection: Fashion AND Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collection: Clothing

” The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection contains images from the 1850s to the present, documenting all aspects of life in Southern California, with an emphasis on Los Angeles.”

Subsets of a larger collection of photographs, circa 1930-1964.

A Los Angeles fashion show, about 1930.

3-D Tour of the Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

This “Street View” tour from the Museum’s Google Culture pages lets you walk through the museum and look at the exhibits. Zoom in to see more details in each display case. Included are outfits, jewelry, shoes, and even weaving looms.

The Purple Prince

At the ARLIS conference today I attended a session entitled Confluent Practices: Non-Traditional Research Methodologies in Art Librarianship that featured The Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson and Burnham Library‘s Kevin Talmer Whiteneir Jr., a library and information science student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Whiteneir’s engaging presentation was on Scholarship as Embodied Practice in art historical praxis which drew me to his website and his bibliography, including an analysis of Prince’s use of costume to subvert gender norms.

Whiteneir, Kevin. (2016). The Purple Prince. Dress, 42(2), 75–88.

In this project, I explore the artistic approach of musician Prince Roger Nelson and how his visual style subverts American conventions of masculinity in the 1980s. Combining an explicit form of sexuality in his performances and a then-effeminate flamboyance in his costumes, Prince challenged notions of hegemonic masculinity—especially Black masculinity—perpetuated within American society and by his male contemporaries, particularly Michael Jackson. Prince’s sensual styling has left a subversive mark upon popular culture, one that expands expression of gender and eroticism for both musical performers and the consumers of his image and music beyond the accepted. Ultimately, I aim to make discuss the phenomenon of gender subversion as accomplished by Prince’s use of costume, especially that of lace, in conjunction with his sex appeal and stage antics.

Photo Nicolas Genin via flickr

New Books: Bloomsbury 2020

We haven’t had a new books post in a while, so here are some that are on my if-they-ever-let-me-buy-books-again list, all from Bloomsbury.

A Guide to Changing Men’s Fashion from the 17th to the 20th Century

By: Lydia Edwards

I want this as a companion to How to Read a Dress, which impressed me.

Fashion, Dress and Post-postmodernism

Editor(s): José Blanco F., Andrew Reilly

This is a topic that fashion and gender studies both would be interested in.

Reading Fashion in Art

By: Ingrid E. Mida

Some cross-over here for both art and theater costume students.

Costing for the Fashion Industry

By: Nathalie Evans, Michael Jeffrey, Susan Craig

I’ve had a hard time finding books that cover costing garments, and it is part of an assignment given every semester.

Busks, Basques and Brush-Braid: British dressmaking in the 18th and 19th centuries

By: Pam Inder

This one’s for me: 18th c costume details love love.

Communicating Fashion: Clothing, Culture, and Media

By: Myles Ethan Lascity

The intersection between communication, fashion, and culture is of growing interest to the students I work with.

Fashion, History, Museums: Inventing the Display of Dress

By: Julia Petro

We have a fledgling museum program, but they don’t talk much about mounting fashion exhibits. Maybe they should.

Cosplay Resources

I made a page for my Costume History LibGuide about Cosplay. I was surprised how hard it was to find good sources — so I’m sharing and hoping you will help me grow this list. Feel free to copy!

Word List

This word list, which isn’t in my guide, should be useful for all you librarians. I’ve marked the LCSHs with an asterisk.

With this wordlist, I’ve had success in databases finding useful articles from about 2002 forward.

Cosplay*costume design*characters
alternative histories*fashion*video games*
fans (persons)*clothing and dress*comic strip characters*
steampunk culture*gearcartoon characters*
role playing*gadgetvideo game characters*
victorian futurismmodels and modelmaking*dungeons and dragons*
cybergothic, cyberpunktechnology in art*women superfheroes*
fandomwearable technologygraphic novels*
subculture*dress upanime
geeks (computer enthusiasts)*comic books, strips, etc.*
street style

Books about Cosplay and Steampunk

Here are a few good books we have in our library; do you have others you can recommend?

Some Cosplay Websites

I only found a few that were not sales-oriented. What others are you aware of?


After Comic-con International, (San Diego), the list of orgs and events should probably be local. On my guide, I have the nearest large convention and several local groups.