Skip to main content

Costume & Textiles

The museum’s Costume and Textiles collection is one of the oldest and largest in the United States, with diverse and significant objects ranging from 2,000-year-old archeological textiles to contemporary cutting-edge couture.

About the Collection

The Intriguing World of Textiles and Dress

Since its founding in 1876, the museum has been an early and important collector of textiles and costumes, with initial acquisitions coming from Philadelphia’s milestone Centennial Exhibition. The Department of Textiles, Lace, and Embroidery became one of the first three museum departments in 1893, originally serving as a design and technical resource for the textile industry and students at the Museum School. The textile holdings have continued to develop in depth and breadth with acquisitions of important woven and printed textiles from around the world, including French printed textiles, Ottoman velvets, American quilts and coverlets, lace, and embroidered textiles including samplers.

After 1947, the department began building on early twentieth-century donations of eighteenth-century American clothing and nineteenth-century French fashion to expand its focus to include both historic costume and contemporary fashion after 1947. The museum continues to enhance the diversity of its holdings, which now encompass textiles and clothing from East Asia, South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Other strengths of the collection range from Art to Wear and Fiber Art to haute couture and avant-garde design.

The department showcases its collections in major exhibitions, more focused installations, and in the museum’s galleries. Only a small percentage of the extensive collection of more than 30,000 historic and contemporary objects from around the world is on display at any time, but many of the objects not on view are available for study by appointment in the Hamilton Center for Costume and Textiles in the Perelman Building. The collection continues to serve as a rich source of inspiration, a resource for scholarly research, and a prime attraction for museum visitors of all ages.

Notable Objects

Some of the most fascinating objects in the collection include:

  • Sarah Mary Taylor’s Hands quilt, a version of which was commissioned for the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple.
  • Elsa Schiaparelli’s Lobster Dress, which was made in collaboration with Salvador Dalí.
  • Masterful textiles woven and worn by the Zo people of Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh.
  • The wedding dress worn by Princess of Monaco (and Philadelphia native), Grace Kelly.
  • Kanthas, the embroidered quilts from Bangladesh and West Bengal, India.
  • Victorian fashion dolls, each with her own extensive wardrobe.
  • A Persian tomb cover from the late 1600s woven with devotional calligraphic inscriptions.
  • A bedcover from about 1790–1810 printed by John Hewson in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.
  • Exuberant ensembles from the 1980s by the pioneering Black designer Patrick Kelly.