Learn More about the Collection
Fashion, like other arts, has deep and varied stories 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, with a view to the past as well as the future.
Images: Gold silk taffeta ball gown featuring floral motifs, 1868, by an unknown maker, Gift of Sylvia Wallis; Wedding apron (inset), 1724, Mrs. Philip Thomas, née Anne Chew, 1931.5.1.
At the Maryland Center for History and Culture, 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.
Visit our Digital Collections to view a sampling of materials from the Fashion Archives.
Read an in-depth, cross-section of stories from to the Fashion Archives in the Spectrum of Fashion exhibition catalogue.
The Fashion Archives was born from the rediscovery of our costume collection at the Maryland Center for History and Culture. This collection was integral in our interpretive planning for a large part of our history, but had fallen to disuse. For nearly 30 years it sat in 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, re-house 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.
Not only do we have examples of women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and accessories from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, but the breadth of each collection is nearly encyclopedic. We have rare examples of styles and fabrics waiting to be rediscovered. From this realization, the Fashion Archives was born.
Preserving the Collection
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 not only to preserve the fashion collection for future generations but to share it with the community now. As of 2019, thousands of objects have been vacuumed, cataloged, and rehoused, but that is a fraction of the collection, and this work continues to be a concerted effort for the collection staff. It is only with continued support from our community and the Adopt-A-Box project that the Fashion Archives at the MCHC can preserve and share our truly special fashion collection.
Learn more about the Adopt-A-Box project.
What’s inside the Fashion Archives
The Fashion Archives at the MCHC 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.
Preserved in this archive are 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 '20s, and designs made or bought at the Hutzler Brothers Department Store. Among these is 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-born designer herself. In addition, the archive boasts an extensive collection of uniforms from the Civil War, as well as one of only three surviving Revolutionary War officers’ uniforms in America, and a comprehensive collection of military and civilian men’s and women’s uniforms throughout both World Wars and beyond.