The Costume Institute
The Costume Institute's collection of more than thirty-three thousand objects represents seven centuries of fashionable dress and accessories for men, women, and children, from the fifteenth century to the present.
The redesigned Costume Institute space reopened in May 2014, after a two-year renovation, as the Anna Wintour Costume Center with the exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion. The complex includes the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery, the main showcase space with a flexible design that lends itself to frequent transformation with video, sound, and wireless technology. The Center also includes the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery to orient visitors to The Costume Institute's exhibitions. Behind the scenes is a state-of-the-art costume conservation laboratory; a study/storage facility to house the combined holdings of The Costume Institute and Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection; and The Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, one of the world's foremost fashion libraries.
The Costume Institute began as the Museum of Costume Art, an independent entity formed in 1937 and led by Neighborhood Playhouse founder Irene Lewisohn. In 1946, with the financial support of the fashion industry, the Museum of Costume Art merged with The Metropolitan Museum of Art as The Costume Institute, and in 1959 became a curatorial department. The legendary fashion arbiter Diana Vreeland, who served as special consultant from 1972 until her death in 1989, created a memorable suite of exhibitions, including The World of Balenciaga (1973), The Glory of Russian Costume (1976), and Vanity Fair (1977), galvanizing audiences and setting the standard for costume exhibitions globally.
In 1989, Richard Martin took the helm, with the support of Harold Koda, and began a rotating cycle of thematic exhibitions including Infra-Apparel, Waist Not, The Four Seasons, and Cubism and Fashion. Martin's tenure culminated in Rock Style, the last exhibition before his death in 1999. Mr. Koda, who had previously departed from the Museum, rejoined The Met in 2000 as curator in charge, hiring Andrew Bolton in 2002. Upon Mr. Koda's retirement in January 2016, Mr. Bolton became curator in charge, and in March 2018, upon the endowment of the postion, he was named the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge.
The Costume Institute organizes one or two special exhibitions each year. Recent monographic exhibitions have included Chanel (2005), Poiret: King of Fashion (2007), Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), Charles James: Beyond Fashion (2014), and Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between (2017).
Recent thematic exhibitions have included AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion (2006); Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (2008); The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion (2009); American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity (2010); Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (2012); PUNK: Chaos to Couture (2013); China: Through the Looking Glass (2015); Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology (2016); Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination (2018); and Camp: Notes on Fashion (2019).
Heavenly Bodies attracted more than 1.65 million visitors to The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters, making it The Met's most visited exhibition. Previous Costume Institute exhibitions among The Met's most attended include Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty; China: Through the Looking Glass; Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology; and Camp: Notes on Fashion. All five exhibitions were curated by Bolton.
In January 2009, the Brooklyn Museum transferred its renowned costume collection to The Costume Institute, where it is known as the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It includes the definitive collection of Charles James material, as well as the world's foremost holdings of American fashion from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The combined collections now constitute the largest and most comprehensive costume collection in the world, offering an unrivaled timeline of Western fashion history.
The Costume Institute relies on the generosity of collectors, designers, and the public to expand its collection. If you have a piece that you believe might be of interest or could enhance our department’s holdings, please email CostumeInstitute.Acquisitions@metmuseum.org with a photo and brief description of your object, including its history of ownership.
The Costume Institute Benefit (also known as The Met Gala) is the main source of annual funding for the department's exhibitions, acquisitions, and capital improvements. Each May, the gala celebrates the opening of the spring exhibition. Under the leadership of Trustee Anna Wintour (Artistic Director of Condé Nast and Editor-in-Chief of Vogue), who has been co-chair since 1995 (excluding 1996 and 1998), the gala has become one of the most visible and successful charity events, drawing attendees from the worlds of fashion, film, society, sports, business, and music. The brainchild of publicity doyenne Eleanor Lambert, the benefit was introduced in 1948 as a midnight supper and dubbed "The Party of the Year." Co-chairs in past years included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1977–1978) and Patricia Taylor Buckley (1979–1995).
In 2002, the Museum established the Friends of The Costume Institute, a group that supports the department's exhibition, acquisition, conservation, and publication programs. In promoting a more profound historical and theoretical understanding of costume, these programs advance fashion as an art form and encourage the study of fashion as a serious academic discipline.
Due to the sensitive nature of textiles, The Costume Institute's collection is not on permanent public view. Please visit the exhibition webpage for more information about upcoming programming and related tour offerings.
The Costume Institute Collection is accessible to students, scholars, and designers by appointment. It is encouraged to search the holdings of The Costume Institute Collection to access images and information regarding these objects. For further information, please contact CostumeInstitute.Collections@metmuseum.org.
Explore the Collection
Discover how The Costume Institute's conservation department blends art and science to preserve the collection for the future.
Discover The Met's many publications on the Costume Institute collection.
Browse richly illustrated essays on objects in the Costume Institute collection.
Read fresh perspectives on the Costume Institute collection from curators and and others at the Museum.
Watch videos about the Costume Institute—lectures, interviews, exhibition previews, and more.
Get to know the people who care for the art.
Meet the Fellows of The Costume Institute.
Friends of The Costume Institute brings together patrons and collectors in support of the department.