The Maryland Historical Society has unlocked one of its greatest archival treasures in a new exhibition, Spectrum of Fashion, open October 2019 through October 2020. 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 are on view.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue available in the MdHS museum store or online.

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, Baltimore National Heritage Area, PNC Bank, Barbara P. Katz and many additional individual donors.

An Adopt-a-Mannequin fund-raising effort also helped support the expense of customizing and mounting each of the historic garments for the exhibition.

The exhibition opened October 5, 2019, with a gala and fashion showView a list of the Maryland designers, boutiques and vintage dealers who participated in the fashion show. 

**** Spotlight on Maryland Design Installation (on view February-October 2020) ****

Spotlight on Maryland Design is an installation that opened in February 2020 as an outgrowth of the Spectrum of Fashion exhibition to highlight contemporary Maryland designers whose work is elevating Maryland in the world of fashion. The installation will feature a new designer each month through October 2020.

The first designer on view in Spotlight is Baltimore-based and self-taught fashion designer Bishme Cromartie. Cromartie has described his creations as love letters to Baltimore. In return, the Maryland Historical Society opened Spotlight on Maryland Design on February 14, Valentine's Day, as a love letter to Cromartie in appreciation for his lifting the City of Baltimore through his artistry. Read more.



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 14,000 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.


Group Tours: Get an up-close look at Spectrum of Fashion and hear about the stories behind the garments with one of our museum staff.  Schedule your tour 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 have made in the Fashion Archives. Read it here.