Celebrating Research


Digital Dress: 200 Years of Urban Style

Wayne State University Libraries

Collection Profile

Digital Dress: 200 Years of Urban Style is the result of collaboration among the Wayne State University Library System, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Henry Ford, and Meadow Brook Hall, funded with an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant in 2003. Each of the member partners contributed collections to the initiative to create a study and research collection of urban dress resources now numbering in excess of 5,000 images. This collection includes examples of men's, women's, and children's clothing used for work, play, and formal occasions. The pieces chosen for the digital collection originated in America and Europe with bulk manufacturers, couture designers, and home-based clothing makers.

The catalyst for this particular digital collection came from the Wayne State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Department of Art and Art History, and its Fashion Design and Merchandising Area, home to the Dorothea June Grossbart Historic Costume Collection. This collection, which emphasizes women's garments and accessories, is used for study and teaching, although access is limited given the fragility of the clothes and the manner in which they are stored for preservation. The capturing of these items with digital images allowed many more students to study the pieces in detail or examine them generally without putting the clothes in further jeopardy.

The Henry Ford's contributions to Digital Dress come from a collection of over 10,000 resources that has received the recognition of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Henry Ford contributed images to the special collection in the areas it considers its strengths including men's clothing from the 1770s to 1860, undergarments, shoes, couture from the 1940s and 1950s, and children's wear from the 1770s to 1880s.

Meadow Brook Hall was the creation of Matilda Dodge Wilson, a woman who both enjoyed wearing couture clothing and could afford to purchase it. Owing to Mrs. Dodge's interest in particular kinds of clothes, Meadow Brook Hall was able to contribute resources in three important areas for the digital collection: couture from the 1920s and 1930s, Peggy Hoyt-designed clothes, and photographs of the Dodge family in their personal garments.

The Detroit Historical Museum and its clothing collections, in excess of 30,000 items, is particularly representative of Detroit. The selections from this institution reflect five collecting areas: Detroit-made garments, accessories, 20th-century items with an emphasis on the 1940s and 1950s, men's clothing and accessories, and wedding gowns. These are among the special items included: a wedding gown worn in 1821 at a church now located on the Wayne State University campus, the suit worn by G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams for his inauguration as Michigan Governor, and a child's satin flag costume from 1904. The distinct character of this part of the digital collection is found in the mundane rather than the expensive or unique—with such items as pajamas, hats, shoes, and bathing suits—and as a reflection of Detroit as a center of fur processing in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Collection Profile and Overview: Barton Lessin
Illustrations: Tim Thayer and Robert Hensleigh for Meadow Brook Hall, Mary Jane Murawka and Rick Bielaczyc for Wayne State University and the Detroit Historical Museum, Alan Harvey for the Henry Ford

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