Fashion Archives

Fashion, like all other arts, has a story to tell.

Clothing represents a moment in time – a maker, a wearer and the world they occupied. Every garment possesses a history all its own. Fashion is a dialogue between past and present, one of the most powerful tools we have to look at history both backwards and forwards. At the Maryland Historical Society, thousands of garments spanning four centuries of history rest in storage, their stories yet to be told. Beautiful, utilitarian, and remarkably well-preserved, this clothing owned and worn by Marylanders represents a trove of history. It holds the power not only to engage contemporary audiences, but the artistry and craftsmanship extraordinary enough to inspire contemporary designers.

 

Our Story

The Fashion Archives was born from the rediscovery of our costume collection at the Maryland Historical Society.  This collection was integral in our interpretive planning for a large part of our history but has since fallen to disuse. For nearly 30 years it has mostly stayed in its storage rooms in the historic Pratt House like a time capsule waiting to be reopened.  In the summer of 2015, we started our mission to rescue, rehouse, and revitalize this collection.  As the garments were last cataloged in the 1970s, we had no digital records or way to really know what we had; we only knew that we had five rooms stacked to the ceiling with boxes of clothing that needed our help.  As we began our journey, we quickly learned two things- first, the collection was in great condition despite its storage situation, and second, the depth of this collection was beyond what we ever could have dreamed. 

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Not only do we have examples of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing and accessories from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, but the breadth of each collection was nearly encyclopedic.  Rare examples of styles and fabrics that other institutions might wish for we had here, waiting to be rediscovered.  From this realization, the Fashion Archives was born. 

 Our drive to re-house and digitally catalog the collection grew with our desire to make sure this collection lives on in perpetuity.  

We wanted to not only preserve the fashion collection for future generations but to share it with the community now.  As of 2017, nearly 1500 objects have been vacuumed, cataloged, and rehoused, but that is perhaps 15% of the fashion collection as a whole.  It is only with continued support from our community and the Adopt-A-Box program that the Fashion Archives at the Maryland Historical Society can preserve and share our truly special fashion collection.

 

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The Fashion Archives at the Maryland Historical Society contains clothing and accessories that span four centuries of Maryland history.  The collection includes men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing as well as underpinnings, hats, shoes, fans, parasols, stockings, shawls, and lace that illuminate the life of Marylanders throughout history. Rare examples of 18th century painted silk, frock coats, and banyans as well as 19th century maternity corsetry, riding habits and athletic wear, and 20th century evening wear from the 1910s and roaring twenties, and designs made or bought at Huztler Brothers Department Store are preserved in this archive.  Among these include clothing worn by recognized Maryland figures, including Solomon Etting and the Cohen family, Charles Carroll the Barrister, the Ridgely family of Hampton, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, and the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson.The Fashion Archives is also home to one of the largest collections of Claire McCardell designs, including dresses worn by the Frederick designer herself. The archive also boasts an extensive collection of uniforms from the Civil War as well as one of only three surviving Revolutionary War officer's uniforms in America, and a comprehensive collection of military and civilian men’s and women’s uniforms throughout both World Wars and beyond.


Every box in our world class Fashion Archives contains amazing discoveries. Help us purchase supplies like new archival boxes and acid-free tissue to safely store these fragile pieces of history.

Adopt a Box Project


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