Clothing Page Dress

Did you ever wonder why museums collect clothing? You might be wearing something that will one day be in a museum collection.

What makes clothing important? Clothing and accessories are an important tool for studying popular culture and social history. These artifacts help tell the story of status differences and class aspirations through the materials used and the cut of a garment. Clothing reflects gender differences and social mores that have changed over time. Clothing reflects behavior standards, manners, and the culture itself. Clothes provide examples of America’s shifting economy and changing production techniques.

The American Textile History Museum’s costume collection is the most recent collection to be established (1996). It includes a significant group of garments worn by Americans from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. The collection includes men’s highly ornamented waistcoats and women’s pockets from the eighteenth century; nineteenth-century girls’ printed cotton everyday dresses and men’s work-shirts, as well as 1970s double-knit bell bottom trousers and a 1960s paper jumpsuit. About one-third of the collection is comprised of accessories. The Museum’s main collecting focus is everyday clothing and the stories of the people who owned them.

Another collecting focus is clothing made of printed cotton throughout the 19th, 20th and, now the 21st centuries. This is a natural link to the Museum’s collection of mass-produced printed samples, which is particularly strong between 1870 and 1940.

Americans continue to be fascinated with costume. The American Textile History Museum uses costumes in its public programs and exhibitions to tell important stories about the role of textiles in American culture.

To learn more about all aspects of costume history check out the Costume Society of America at

Note: As ATHM undergoes a major transformation, our Curatorial Department is no longer able to accept new object donations or research appointments.