The Maryland Historical Society is unlocking one of its greatest archival treasures in a new exhibition, Spectrum of Fashion, opening October 5. The visually stunning installation highlights the extraordinary breadth of the MdHS costume collection across four centuries and features nearly 100 examples of women’s and men’s clothing and accessories, as well as decorative arts.

Spectrum of Fashion tells a social history that is rooted in Maryland but encompasses a broader American narrative. The clothing has connections to presidents and to the formerly enslaved, to the internationally famous, and to everyday Marylanders, all of whom have important stories to tell. 

Designers represented include Maryland-born Claire McCardell, Hermès, Pierre Cardin, and Worth, to name a few. Rare survivals, such as livery worn by formerly enslaved individuals at Hampton Mansion in Towson, and a gown worn to George Washington’s inaugural ball, are also included. Additionally, clothing worn by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor will be on view.

The exhibition opens October 5, 7 p.m. to midnight, with a gala, fashion show and dance party at the Maryland Historical Society. Celebrity designer Christian Siriano will serve as emcee of the fashion show.

Tickets to the gala are available beginning June 1 for MdHS members, and June 15 for non-members. Purchase tickets here and learn about sponsorship opportunities.

The exhibition, accompanied by a full-color catalogue, runs through October 2020.

The Spectrum of Fashion exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Richard C. Von Hess Foundation, The Helen Clay Frick Foundation, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, PNC Bank, Barbara P. Katz and many additional individual donors.

An Adopt-a-Mannequin fund-raising effort is also underway to support the expense of customizing and mounting each of the historic garments.


The MdHS Fashion Archive was born from the rediscovery of the museum’s costume collection, beginning in 2008. For nearly 30 years, thousands of treasures, dating from the 18th to the 21st century, remained in storage like a time capsule waiting to be reopened. 

In 2011, exhibitions throughout the institution began to incorporate glimpses of the costume collection and the public response was overwhelmingly positive. By 2012, the dream of creating a world-class costume exhibition was conceived. In summer 2015, the curatorial staff launched an initiative to revitalize this collection and quickly learned two things—first, the collection was in excellent condition and, second, the depth of this collection was beyond what the curatorial staff had previously imagined.

The Fashion Archive contains more than 12,000 articles of clothing and accessories spanning four centuries. It is the largest and most comprehensive fashion archive in the state, and one of the preeminent costume collections in the nation.


Behind-the-Scenes Tours: Get a glimpse of the clothing and accessories being prepared for the Spectrum of Fashion. Contact Allison Tolman to schedule a tour – atolman@mdhs.org. To schedule a group tour of Spectrum of Fashion after it has opened (beginning in October 2019), click here

Adopt-a-Mannequin: Dressing a mannequin involves more than putting clothes on a form. Each mannequin is customized to fit the historic garments correctly and, in most instances, require hours of conservation to prepare them for exhibition. Sponsor a mannequin and support all aspects of taking a historic garment from its storage box to the exhibition, preserving it for future generations. Learn more about adopting a mannequin.

Fashion Archives Blog: Follow the discoveries the MdHS staff and interns are making every day in the Fashion Archives. Read it here.