We all know how important primary research into fashion is to designers and makers, and is vital to students and others studying costume or fashion. However sometimes the logistics of going to visit a collection or exhibition mean that visiting in person is out of the question. As a student originally from Devon and studying in South Wales, I found that I was restricted by distance, public transport, and money as to which collections or exhibitions I could attend. I was glad to discover that many museums let you browse their collection through their online databases, and some even have online versions of their current exhibitions.
One could say that these museums have had to adapt to the 21st Century by creating these searchable online versions of their collections, many now even using image sharing social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest. These sites have made it a lot easier to publicise exhibitions and collections, and I am myself an enthusiastic user of both. After a bit of browsing I have found that the V&A have had an online exclusive preview but detailed version of their upcoming Bridal exhibition on Pinterest since March. Other museums including Macclesfield Silk Museum use direct photos of their current exhibition displays on their social media pages . The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection in Pennsylvania, USA use behind the scenes photos and teasing close up shots of their collection via Instagram. Many museums regularly post images from their collections on blogs, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest in order to publicise the treasures from their collections.
Although being able to visit in person and to be able to handle garments can be argued as more exiting and beneficial to your research; being able to use these online sources can help to give you an overview of what each museum contains, especially so you can then try to visit in person for more in depth research. Most of these online searchable collections include highly detailed descriptions including dates of construction, measurements of item, materials and techniques used, names of the maker, wearer and donor, as well as the catalogue number within the museum. These are all important pieces of information to know when accurately researching costume, and make it easier to select items for a research visit in person.
To anybody interested in researching fashion I would recommend looking at these pages; I personally used many of these throughout my costume making degree, and I have been visiting a few of the American collections this summer. I hope they may inspire you, like they have for me, to explore the great fashion collections in the UK and those around the globe:
BOWES MUSEUM, CO. DURHAM, UK
CHARLESTON MUSEUM, SOUTH CAROLINA, USA
EUROPEANA FASHION PORTAL, EUROPEAN CROSS-MUSEUM SEARCH
GALLERY OF COSTUME, PLATT HALL, MANCHESTER, UK
GLASGOW MUSEUMS' COSTUME AND TEXTILES COLLECTION, GLASGOW, UK
KENT STATE UNIVERSITY MUSEUM, OHIO, USA
MUS.E FIRENZE, PALEZZO VECCHIO, FLORENCE, ITALY
MUSEUM AT FIT, NEW YORK CITY, USA
NATIONAL TRUST COLLECTIONS, UK
THE ROBERT AND PENNY FOX HISTORIC COSTUME COLLECTION, DREXEL UNIVERSITY, PENNSYLVANIA, USA
VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM, LONDON, UK
WALKER ART GALLERY, LIVERPOOL, UK