The Costume and Textile Collection, comprising about 40,000 pieces, enjoys an international reputation and is the largest collection of its kind in the South. Although the History Center's primary collecting concentration is objects related to Richmond, the Costume and Textile collection's focus is broader, including items worn, used, made or sold in Virginia from the 1600s to the present.
Because of the size and scope of the collection, it is regarded as the unofficial costume and textile collection of Virginia. You'll see items from this collection in the Center's general history exhibitions and occasionally starring in their own temporary exhibitions, or you can make a date with history and schedule a research appointment to see specific objects.
The Costume Collection contains clothing and accessories worn by Virginians of all ages and social class for private and public occasions. Every major silhouette in women's fashion from the 1770s through the present day is found in the collection. Men's and children's clothing is also well represented from the late 18th century through the 20th century. This collection also includes accessories such as hats, shoes, gloves and purses.
Items of interest:
- Over 20 women's gowns from the 18th century, including one worn by Mary Ball Washington, mother of George Washington
- The surviving wardrobe of late-18th century Virginian, General Lewis Littlepage, who served as ambassador from the court of Poland to the court of Russia in the 1790s
- A man's fringed and embroidered deerskin hunting jacket from the late-18th century
- General Robert E. Lee's boots from his time at West Point
- A large collection of women's clothing from 1800 to 1840, including three dresses worn at Virginia balls honoring the Marquis de Lafayette during his 1824-25 tour of America
- Cotton daytime dresses from the 18th-20th centuries, including maternity wear
- Civilian clothing from the Civil War era
- Women's 20th-century work clothing from professions ranging from maid to business executive
- Items relating to Virginia's governors and their families, including the inaugural suit worn by L. Douglas Wilder, the first elected black governor in the United States
- Designer clothing from the late-19th century to the present
- A large fashion-related picture collection of 19th-century fashion plates and 20th-century clippings from fashion magazines
The Textile Collection includes important groups of 18th and 19th century quilts, woven coverlets and embroidered samplers, as well as a wide range of household flat textiles.
Notable items from the Textile Collection include:
- Nearly 200 quilts, with examples of all styles popular between the late-18th century and the present, including three pre-Civil War quilts said to have been made by slaves
- Over 100 woven coverlets, including overshot, double cloth, summer/winter and jacquard weaves
- Over 70 samplers, including one commemorating the Richmond theatre fire of 1811 and another the 1824-25 visit of the Marquis de Lafayette
- 19th-century draperies used in Virginia homes
Accessing the Collection
Accessing the collection is by appointment only. For hours, fees and available services, see Research.
To access the collections online, see Search the Online Collections Database.
Submit a Research Request
For information about donating objects to the History Center’s collection, see Donate an Object.
Submit an Object Donation Request