HCC’s Historical Fashion Archive goes digital to meet 21st Century student needs

Aug 31, 2018

Jeweled shoes from the 1700s. Fragile dresses from the 1800s. Avant Garde designer clothing from the 1900s. These are just a few of the historic garments now viewable in never-before-seen photographs on a new searchable website created by Houston Community College with a $25,000 grant from the Texas State Libraries and Archive Commission.

The digitizing project called Texas Treasures - a first for HCC - involved far more than taking simple, straight-on photographs. Different angles and perspectives as well as extreme details of 220 of the most significant items in the 6,000-piece archive were captured using state-of-the-art, high definition photographic methods, making the collection highly useful to fashion students and the public.

The yearlong effort involved collaboration between the HCC Central library and the college’s award-winning, internationally recognized fashion design and fashion merchandising programs

“Creating a searchable database for this collection is an innovative marriage of technology and history,” says Erica Hubbard, director, library services, at HCC Central Campus. “We are using 21st Century expertise to make these important, historical garments accessible to all. There is nothing like this in Houston.”

“The HCC Historical Fashion Archive has historically significant western pieces in it that are not typically seen in an academic institution’s collection,” says Laura Winslow, curator. “It’s been a labor of love that will benefit people both within and outside the fashion world. They will see that in fashion nothing is new under the sun.”

The HCC Historical Fashion Archive began in 1988 under the direction of Kay King, the former, long-time chair of the HCC Fashion Department. It is divided into two sections: The Historical Costume Collection and the National Dress Collection.

The Historical Costume Collection is largely comprised of 4,000 pieces donated in 2009 by the late Elizabeth S. Brown, one of the founding members of the Costume Society of America and a nationally known fashion historian. This collection is comprised of dresses, menswear, outerwear, undergarments, shoes, and handbags handmade by couturiers, dressmakers, artisans and homemakers.  Three significant pieces - a 1760s men’s embroidered linen waistcoat, a 1950s Charles James “cloverleaf” gown, and a 1990s Chanel Couture dress and jacket ensemble - provide excellent examples of design, apparel construction and textiles.

The National Dress Collection includes debutante gowns, military uniforms, wedding gowns and other formal, special-occasion costumes, many with ornamental details. A substantial number of garments in this collection have been worn by Texas debutants and international socialites, including Lynn Wyatt, Julia Frankel and Carol Isaak Bardon.

“Our slogan – Know Your History. Fashion Your Future – is very appropriate,” says Suzette Brimmer, chair of the HCC Consumer Arts & Sciences Center of Excellence. “We are so grateful to those who have donated to the archive.” 

Other contemporary pieces in the collection have been designed by Texas-based fashion designers, such as Reza Khan, Chloe Dao, Ruby Marquez, Ken Simmons, Myrtle Moore, Paul Peacock, Viet Kent Nguyen, Vi Hua and Victor Costa.

Excessive handling over the years has damaged many of the fragile, historic garments and dresses in the 30-year-old collection. Therefore, access has been restricted to HCC faculty for the past two years for preservation purposes.

The HCC Historical Fashion Archive is housed in a 1,200 square-foot room at the college’s Fannin Street building. Eventually, HCC envisions starting a campaign to construct a larger, museum-quality facility to house and showcase the collection.

“This is a fashion collection that deserves to be properly preserved, protected and promoted,” says Alexander Chapman, fashion design professor. “It is a rare treasure for HCC and for Houston.”

The website is accessible here.

Historical Fashion Archive

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