The Costume Institute's Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library
The Costume Institute's Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library collection contains thirty thousand books and periodicals as well as over one thousand and five hundred designer files all pertaining to the history of fashion, haute couture, regional clothing, and costume from around the world, dated from the sixteenth century to today. Extensive special collections include fashion plates, photographs, illustrations and sketches, textile swatches, lookbooks, archives, and related ephemera. Some special collections materials can be found on the Museum Libraries' Digital Collections website.
Before making an appointment, outside researchers are encouraged to search the holdings of The Costume Institute Library in Watsonline, the Museum's online catalog. We recommend that visitors conduct as much research as possible at other institutions prior to requesting an appointment at our facility.
Collection Development Policy
The Metropolitan Museum of Art libraries have created the following collection development policy as a planning guide for developing the Costume Institute Library collection, and to clarify the selection criteria used to build and maintain that collection.
The Library's holdings largely reflects the scope of The Costume Institute Collection's more than thirty-five thousand costumes and accessories representing five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes, and accessories for men, women, and children. Current curatorial collecting practices focus on masterworks of those designers widely recognized by fashion historians as the great style-makers of the twentieth century, including but not limited to Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Vionnet, Schiaparelli, and Miyake. (For more references please consult Caroline Milbank's "Couture" book.) Important late twentieth-century designers include Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier. Ultimately, the designation "well-known" or "important" is at the discretion of the curators.
Furthermore, the library collects reference materials about types of clothing, fashion, related topics, and even different formats of materials not currently nor generally acquired for The Costume Institute collection. Among those library topics not covered by the Costume Institute collection are: separates, wearable art objects, boutique objects, study objects, fur, wedding dresses, children's clothing, and ephemera or works on paper.Read the complete policy.
Tuesday through Thursday: 10 am to 4 pm (by appointment only)