Fashion Throughout History

Sources for Researching Historical Clothing, Fashion and Accessories

What people wore, how the clothing was made, and who made it, can offer important insights into social and personal history. Clothing and fashion accessories, as well as hairstyles and makeup often convey a great deal about the men, women and children who wore them, and about the society in which they lived. Whether you want to learn more about the clothing worn by your ancestors, research clothing of a particular era for a book or character, or use clothing styles to help assign a time frame to a vintage family photograph, these research sources and timelines of fashion and costume history may have the answers you seek.

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The Canadian Museum of History has a beautiful online exhibition on women's clothing and fashion during the Confederation Era, 1840–1890
Canadian Museum of History

This well-done online exhibition from the Canadian Museum of History in Québec includes information and accompanying photos on women's fashion in Canada during the Confederation Era (1840–1890), including everyday clothing, fancy clothing, outerwear and accessories. Explore further and you'll also find sections on men's wear, children's wear and working wear.

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The FIDM Museum and Galleries in Los Angeles, California, focuses exclusively on historic fashion.
FIDM Museum & Galleries

The FIDM Museum and Library in Los Angeles, California, offers a wide array of resources for researchers of historic fashion, accessories, textiles, jewelry, fragrance, and related ephemera for women, men and children. Select exhibitions can be viewed online, such as this one for womenswear.

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The Vintage Fashion Guild offers several guides to fashion history, including a fashion history timeline, and guides to individual clothing types.
Vintage Fashion Guild

The Vintage Fashion Guild features a number of helpful resources for identifying clothing and other fashion items, including a fashion timeline covering every decade from 1800 through the 1990s. Additional resources include articles on specific clothing items, such as this History of Hats for Women, a lingerie guide, and a fabric resource guide.

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The Costumer's Manifesto began in August 1996 and provides a wealth of content on fashion and costume history around the world.
The Costumer's Manifesto

This free wiki explores western costume history by time period, from pre-historic times through the present day. Select a time period to explore a wealth of information and photographs, including research sources, and fashion items such as clothing, shoes, jewelry, hats, and underwear, plus links to patterns and reproduction clothing.

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The Berg Fashion Library is a huge online resource for information and photos of historic fashion worldwide, available through subscription.
Berg Fashion Library

Explore by time or location to explore the large image bank of clothing from all periods of history hosted by the Berg Fashion Library. In addition to the photos of clothing, accessories, and other fashion, the site is loaded with informational articles, lesson plans, and research guides related to historical fashion. Some content is free, but most available only through a personal or institutional subscription, including the "Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion."

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The Landscape Change Program, sponsored by the University of Vermont, includes great information on clothing, hairstyles and fashion accessories, organized by decade
University of Vermont: Landscape Change Program

The University of Vermont's Landscape Change Program includes a great exhibit of information and photographs on women's clothing, hats, hairstyles and fashion accessories, as well as men's fashions, broken down by decade.
1850s | 1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s

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The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has the world's largest collection of dress , spanning four centuries.
Victoria and Albert Museum

This London museum's fashion collection is the largest and most comprehensive collection of dress in the world. Their website features a great deal of instructional content, illustrated with photographs of items from their collection, to illustrate dominant fashion trends between 1840 and 1960.

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The Fashion History Library from Vintage Victorian covers all types of dress, from underclothes to hats.
Vintage Victorian

Through a variety of articles, period sketches and photographs, VintageVictorian.com offers information on clothing styles from the 1850s through the 1910s. Topics include day and evening attire for both women and men, hairstyles and headdresses, and even bathing costumes and undergarments.

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The website Corsets and Crinolines features a fashion timeline of dress, bodices, skirts, outerwear, shoes, hats, underwear and accessories.
Corsets and Crinolines

In addition to selling vintage clothing, Corsets and Crinolines offers a great fashion timeline of dress, bodices, skirts, outerwear, shoes, hats, underwear and accessories, complete with photos. Select a decade to view real costume examples and photographs between 1839 and 1920. 
1839-1850s | 1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s | 1900s | 1910s

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Explore clothing and fashions of the 19th and 20th centuries, and learn how to use costume history to date old photos.
Fashion-Era

Explore over 890 pages of illustrated content related to fashion history, costume history, clothing fashions and social history. The content is focused primarily on 19th and 20th century dress, and includes a great 3-part tutorial on using costume history to help date old photographs.