Costumes and Textiles

With more than 50,000 costumes and textiles dating from the eighteenth century to the present, the Museum’s world-renowned Costume and Textiles collection is noted for both its size and the quality of its holdings.

Costume materials include work by distinguished designers such as Charles Frederick Worth, Gabrielle Chanel, Mainbocher, Charles James, Christian Dior, Norman Norell, Geoffrey Beene, Pauline Trigère, Yves Saint Laurent, Hanae Mori, Halston, Gianni Versace, and Christian Lacroix. Costume holdings also represent the dressmakers, milliners, retailers, and manufacturers who made this city their home. Collection materials include clothing worn by former presidents and first ladies, sports stars, celebrities, and other luminaries, as well as by everyday Chicagoans. Together, these materials—both exceptional and commonplace—reflect the history of Chicago as an evolving urban center and document fashion history through the lens of Chicago and its people.

The Museum’s textile holdings include a significant representation of military flags, political banners, quilts and coverlets, samplers, rugs, and other household textiles. Highlights include mid-twentieth century textiles designed by Chicago-based artists, such as Ellenhank and Angelo Testa.

The Museum regularly displays objects from this collection in exhibitions and also loans frequently to national and international institutions. Images of the collection are circulated in a number of publications, while the Museum’s online portal features a selection of objects available for study.

Learn more about researching the Museum’s costume and research files in the video below.

Collection Tours

Behind-the-scenes tours of the Costume and Textiles collection may be requested by contacting the Adult Group Tours Office. Tours are offered for a fee on a limited basis based on the availability of appropriate Museum staff.

Research Inquiries and Collection Access

Researching Costumes and Textiles

Requests for information about the Museum’s Costume and Textiles objects may be submitted online using the Object Research Inquiry Form. The Museum’s staff will do its best to respond to your inquiry within two weeks. However, due to the high volume of inquiries—and depending upon the nature of your request—we may occasionally need additional time to respond.

Learn more about navigating the Museum’s Costume Research files here.

In-person access to Costume and Textile materials is available by appointment only

Due to the extensive resources required to handle and retrieve the Costume and Textiles holdings, access to these materials is limited to researchers who are able to demonstrate that in-person access is required to support substantive research, and that the results of that research will be disseminated widely. To request access, submit an Object Research Inquiry Form. Please also note that not all objects will be available for researcher access due to condition, location, staff availability, and/or other factors. Scheduling an appointment to view available material may require several additional weeks.

Image Requests

Images do not exist for all of the items in the Costume and Textiles Collection. Requests for new photography may occasionally be accommodated for an additional fee; however, the Museum reserves the right to limit new photography based on items’ condition, storage location, size, and other factors. For information about obtaining copies or high-quality digital image reproductions of collection materials, visit the About page on CHM Images. Note that the Museum’s ability to reproduce requested materials may be limited by US copyright law.

Donate to the Collection

The vast majority of the Costume and Textiles holdings were donated to the Museum. If you would like to donate an artifact to the Museum, please submit the Online Collection Donation Form.

Support the Collection

The Museum requires ongoing resources to maintain its collection of more than 23 million objects and documents. This work includes cataloging, storing, and preserving the collections – and the specialized activity necessary to make this unique resource available for use in exhibitions, publications, public programs, scholarly research, and loans to other institutions. We encourage you to consider making a financial contribution to help support this important work.

The Costume and Textiles collection is also supported through the generosity of the Museum’s Costume Council. The Costume Council supports the work of the Museum’s professional staff in caring for, conserving, interpreting, and displaying costume materials to further the public’s understanding of history through clothing.

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