The Costume Institute Conservation
The Costume Institute’s conservation department supports an active curatorial program of exhibitions, publications, and loans through its preservation, conservation, and technical research of the 33,000 objects in The Costume Institute’s collection, spanning from the fifteenth century to present.
The complex construction of garments and accessories, with diverse and sometimes incompatible materials joined into a single object, complicates their preservation. Consumable and ever-changing, fashionable clothing is seldom made with a primary concern for longevity. Cutting-edge designers often experiment with innovative materials that have unknown and unpredictable aging properties. Since most garments require the presence of a body to realize their intended appearance, conservation treatments and mounts must restore structural integrity and dimensionality to the garment as worn while not interfering with the natural drape of the fabric.
Conservators in The Costume Institute excel in the practices and theories of costume and textile conservation, with specific expertise in haute couture garment construction, the creation of custom mounts for storage and exhibition, digital documentation methods, and technical analyses. They are responsible for setting guidelines for the storage, handling, and display of the collection. They are also active in conservation education, providing lectures for specialized groups, students, and the public. The department was a forerunner in establishing a robust integrated pest management program and a key collaborator in the creation of the museum’s freezer facility for pest mitigation.
The renovated Conservation Laboratory opened in the Anna Wintour Costume Center in spring 2014 and is a flexible, state-of-the-art studio equipped for a full range of activities. Just over 1,500 square feet, the workspace includes custom-built movable work tables, suction table, and light table. An attached wet room provides space for wet and ventilated solvent treatments and dyeing facilities for the preparation of custom support materials. The lab is equipped with a selection of both optical and digital microscopes, including a Zeiss Axio polarized light microscope with digital image output. An X-rite Pantone Ci62 spectrophotometer provides for accurate color measurement. Supporting the aims of preventative conservation, the lab is equipped with a supply of Onset Hobo environmental monitors and has its own anoxic pest treatment apparatus including a Systech Illinois EC900 Oxygen Analyzer.
The Costume Institute welcomes pre-program and current conservation students as well as recent graduates of conservation programs as interns and fellows in the lab. Interns and fellows become integral members of the conservation team, learning from the professional expertise of The Costume Institute’s conservators and engaging in the active schedule of the department.
Behind-the-scenes efforts of the Costume Institute installation and conservation teams to prepare garments for display.
To preserve structured Charles James evening gowns, conservators created storage forms using an innovative technique with 3D scanning and a CNC router.
Explore a selection of the department’s conservation and research activities.
Who We Are
Get to know the people who care for the art.
Learn about current and past fellows, and their research.
Discover The Costume Institute’s collection of more than 33,000 costumes and accessories, representing five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress and accessories for men, women, and children, from the fifteenth century to the present.