What's On View
Due to the sensitive nature of textiles, the collection of The Costume Institute is not on permanent public view, but the department organizes special exhibitions each year. Throughout the year, members of The Costume Institute staff present a "Fashion in Art" tour, which discusses costume history within the context of the Museum's collections of armor, textiles, paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts. "Costume: The Art of Dress," a recorded Audio Guide narrated by the actress Sarah Jessica Parker, also highlights historical costume throughout the Museum's galleries.
History of the Department
The Costume Institute began as the Museum of Costume Art, an independent entity formed in 1937 and led by Neighborhood Playhouse founder Irene Lewisohn. In 1946, with the financial support of the fashion industry, the Museum of Costume Art merged with The Metropolitan Museum of Art as The Costume Institute, and in 1959 became a full-fledged curatorial department. The legendary fashion arbiter Diana Vreeland, who served as special consultant from 1972 until her death in 1989, created a memorable suite of costume exhibitions, including The World of Balenciaga (1973), Hollywood Design (1974), The Glory of Russian Costume (1976), and Vanity Fair (1977), galvanizing audiences and setting the standard for costume exhibitions both nationally and internationally.
In January 2009, the Brooklyn Museum transferred its renowned costume collection, amassed over more than a century, to The Costume Institute, where it is known as the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It includes the definitive collection of Charles James material, as well as the world's foremost holdings of American fashion from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The combined collections now constitute the largest and most comprehensive costume collection in the world, offering an unrivaled timeline of Western fashion history.
Renovation and Reinstallation
The Costume Institute's 5,000-square-feet galleries, which were last refurbished in 1992, are currently being renovated, as is the department's Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, one of the world's foremost fashion libraries. The library's collection includes more than thirty thousand noncirculating rare books, periodicals, and reference books, and extensive files of clippings pertaining to the art of adornment throughout the world. In addition, the library possesses fashion prints, drawings, photographs, sketchbooks, and design archives.
The fashion industry provides strong support for the work of The Costume Institute, including its exhibitions, acquisitions, and capital improvements. Each May, the annual Gala Benefit, its primary fund-raising event, celebrates the opening of the spring exhibition. Under the leadership of Trustee Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief of Vogue), who has been co-chair since 1995 (excluding 1996 and 1998), the gala has become one of the most visible and successful charity events, drawing a stellar list of attendees from the fashion, film, society, business, and music industries. The brainchild of publicity doyenne Eleanor Lambert, the benefit was introduced in 1948 as a midnight supper and dubbed "The Party of the Year." Co-chairs in past years have included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1977–1978) and Patricia Taylor Buckley (1979–1995).
In 2002, the Museum established the Friends of The Costume Institute, a group that supports the department's exhibition, acquisition, conservation, and publication programs. In promoting a more profound historical and theoretical understanding of costume, these programs advance fashion as an art form and encourage the study of fashion as a serious academic discipline.
The addition of The Costume Institute's records to the Collection Database was made possible in part by The John and Annamaria Phillips Foundation and Jane Hays Butler, Paul D. Schurgot Foundation.