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Romance of garments from a bygone era: Historic Costume Collection
Dr. Shu Hwa Lin and a Fashion Design and Merchandising student examine a kimono.

Romance of garments from a bygone era: Historic Costume Collection

The UH Mānoa Historic Costume Collection, begun in 1960, consists of approximately 18,000 historic and ethnographic garments, textiles, accessories, home-furnishing fabrics, and related materials and equipment dating back to the early 19th century. It is the largest collection of its kind at an American university.

1960s Aloha Shirt

1960s Aloha Shirt in the UH Manoa Historic Costume Collection. Photo by R. David Beales, University of Hawaii Photographer. © All Rights Reserved.

There are 4 sub-collections: Western, Asian, Hawaiian and Ethnic. The Asian collection includes a series of five Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) imperial dragon robes, which are the subject of a lavishly illustrated book and a companion documentary DVD. It also boasts a Japanese kosode, an ornate silk robe that was among the exchange of gifts during negotiations when Commander Perry opened up trade between the U.S. and Japan in 1854. The Collection’s holdings span a broad range from haute couture gowns to clothing worn by Hawai‘i’s Territory-era plantation workers in pineapple and sugarcane fields. There is an extensive collection of iconic aloha shirts and muumuus, as well as many bolts of Native Hawaiian kapa.

Research is an important focus of the Collection. It has become widely known to scholars throughout American universities for providing a visual record of cultural assimilation and change. While the Collection is primarily utilized by students, faculty and local industry professionals it has been used for research by visiting scholars and visiting apparel industry professionals.

The Collection has been described as a hidden treasure by the Hawaii State Legislature, which voted funding to support it in 2009. But the Collection’s continuing needs have led it to turn to crowdsourcing for a hoped-for sum of $10,000 to purchase necessary items for the upkeep and preservation of its irreplaceable holdings.

Uchikake Formal Bridal Kimono

Uchikake Formal Bridal Kimono in UH Manoa Historic Costume Collection. Photo by R. David Beales, University of Hawaii Photographer. © All Rights Reserved.

Museum-quality cabinets are needed, with large, wide drawers that will allow the garments to be stored flat and unfolded; so are textile-conservation materials such as acid-free boxes, paper, and wrapping material; muslin to pad the hangers and protect the shoulders of hanging garments; and display cases. The Collection has only a single display case at present, which can only accommodate two to three garments at a time, while most of its extensive holdings are rarely seen.

The Fashion Design and Merchandising (FDM) program in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources hopes that the romance of garments from a bygone era and their inspiration for fashion design today will combine with an understanding of the academic importance of textile conservation, museum curatorship and ethnographic studies to appeal to the crowdsourcing community to help them reach their goal.

The Costume Collection’s campaign may be viewed at Indiegogo here (be sure to check out the video!).

A Flickr gallery of the Collection’s holdings may be seen here.  

Source:  A UH Mānoa Press Release and the University of Hawai’i Historic Costume Museum Flickr site

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