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Costume and Fashion in Chicago

A guide for researching the history of clothing and fashion in Chicago and beyond

How to Research Costume & Fashion at the Chicago History Museum

View the Chicago History Museum Costume Collection Online

A selection of CHM's digital costume and textile images are also accessible via CARLI Digital Collections, which offers users the capability of zooming in and downloading low-res files of certain. 

To find relevant images of clothing in the Digital collections or through our main image database, try one or more of these search strategies:

• Search by year, decade (1887 or 1770)

• Search by the designer (Halston, Bes-Ben)

• Search by article of clothing/accessory name (corset, watch)

• Search by material (silk, fur)

Glossary of Terms

Clothing - This word is used to mean any sort of textile/garment worn on the body.  

Dress – Though many people’s first associations with this term might be the type of garment (a dress), it can also serve as a general description for clothing practices and accessories. Many contemporary academics who study clothing use the term “dress studies” to describe their field.   

Costume – This word evokes clothing that is special or unusual in some regard, though it is also frequently used in museums and academic scholarship in place of “clothing”. “Costume” as an analytic term helps capture other aspects of daily dress that fall outside the realm of fashion, such as military uniforms or ceremonial garb.  

Fashion - Fashion is a cultural process/ecosystem of consumption that includes “designers, their clientele, shopkeepers, magazine editors, and department store buyers” (Diana Crane, Fashion and Its Social Worlds, p.168 n2).  In general, it is used to talk about the way clothing trends change over time. The term “fashion” as opposed to “clothing” can also be helpful in describing the dynamic ways clothing consumption choices are connected to age, gender, class, race, and nationality.  

Dry Goods Store – This appears frequently in 19th and 20th-century materials related to the sale of clothing and textiles. These stores sold fabric and other goods that were measured with “dry” measurements or standardized quantities, rather than by volume. “Dry Goods” can also be a collective term for clothing, fabric, and textiles. 


Note: The Chicago History Museum's fashion collection is referred to as the Costume Collection, so the term "costume" may be seen more frequently when searching our institutional archives. 

Useful Subject Headings for Research

A Note on Library of Congress Subject Headings 

The study of the history of clothing was originally closely connected to research for constructing theatrical costumes. As a result, early books and resources about historical clothing usually have “costume” in the title. The Library of Congress has recently made a distinction between the subject headings “clothing and dress”  and "costume." The subject heading Clothing and Dress is assigned anything pertaining to clothing as an everyday practice, while Costume is used to reference garb worn for stage, screen, or ceremonial purposes. In the Library of Congress system, the subject heading Fashion is used to refer to the industry that makes clothing for consumers and usually pertains to resources about fashion designers.  

Click on any of the following links to access a list of items in the Research Center within that category. 

Clothing and dress  






Dress Accessories






Clothing and Textile Workers Unions 

Selected Publications Available in the Research Center

Primary Sources
Secondary Sources

Please note: This is by no means an exhaustive list. To discover more fashion-related publications at CHM, search our online catalog ARCHIE. 

Archives and Manuscripts

Please note: This is by no means an exhaustive list. To discover more archival collections related to clothing and dress, search our online catalog ARCHIE.