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Costume Collection

History Archive - Costume Collection

Costume is a word with roots in French (costume), Italian (costume) and Latin (costuma) that refers tot the dress or clothing, especially the distinctive clothing worn at different periods by different peoples or different classes of people.

The word appears in English in the 18th century, and was first applied to the correct representation, in literature and art, of the manners, dress, furniture and general surroundings of the scene represented. By the early part of the 19th century it became restricted to the fashion or style of personal apparel, including the head-dresses, jewelry and the like.

Many illustrated works from the 16th through 20th centuries focused on the costume of various cultures around the globe. Some of these represented works which were solely collections of costumes from entire cultures while others were illustrated works of travelers and adventurers who illustrated the people they met along the way.

These works provide priceless insight into the culture and dress of many long disappeared cultures and are very common. Next to scenery and landscape views, costumes are one of the most popular illustrations to be included in old books. This is likely because they were much cheaper to make; requiring far less materials and labor to produce each image than a vivid scenery view. Our collections on costume display the evolution of clothes and dress of a myriad of cultures spanning multiple centuries.


1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 7. pg 224-248

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