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Art/ Libraries and Research Centers/ The Costume Institute's Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library
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The Costume Institute's Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library

The Costume Institute’s Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library collection contains over thirty thousand books, nearly seven hundred periodical titles as well as over one thousand and five hundred designer files all pertaining to the history of fashion and clothing from around the world, dating from the sixteenth century to today. Extensive special collections include artist books, exhibition history documentation, designer archives, fashion plates, lookbooks, photography collections, scrapbooks, sketches, textiles samples, and related fashion 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. Access to The Costume Institute Library materials can also be requested through Watsonline for use at Thomas J. Watson Library. No appointment is needed for access to Watson Library, which is open four days a week to registered library visitors college-age and above. Fashion-related electronic resources are also available onsite in the main library. 

Related Links

Digital Collections

Fashion E-Resources

Fashion Resources Guide (PDF)

Costume Institute Library Special Collections (PDF)

Costume Institute Met Publications available in Full Text

Costume Institute Timeline Essays

Costume Institute Library Instagram

The Costume Institute Conservation Center

The Costume Institute Collection holdings and contact email:

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.

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