Sunday, December 4, 2011

V&A and Met collection searches

I wanted to make sure you are all aware of the immense store of costume (and other research) available from The Victoria and Albert Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection websites. I myself spend hours searching and saving costume photos.

 V&A Collections website
I prefer the search format of the V&A's site. If you click on "more search options" a group of fields will appear that help you narrow down your search quite nicely. I would search say "dress" from 1910-1919 to get the dresses of the 1910s. I also always click "only records with images" because it does me no good to see 25 pages of "no image available". The results will usually span a larger time period than you typed in as you can see. Because the V&A has an extensive Eastern clothing collection a lot of articles from outside of Europe will also appear, but I don't mind this.

What I really love about the V&A collection database is the descriptions of the articles and the fact that most have multiple views of the garment that you can enlarge and save. Let's take this beautiful little day dress that I may or may not be in love with and use in a show later in my career...
V&A page

The dress' page as 18 views which is wonderful! Not all garments have this many, but lots do, and later garments might even have accompanying photographs of the owner wearing them. Reading the "Summary" of the garments usually will either describe the garment in detail and/or the person who donated and/or wore it, giving a lovely glimpse into personal and specific history. I especially love the summaries for the wedding dresses (which are easily found by searching "wedding dress").

Fun fact, the "museum number" or accession number is the number that tells the museum what they specifically want to know by looking at it. In most cases it includes numbered or lettered codes that usually tell what department it's kept in or the category of item if you have a collection of only something like clothes, the donor, and the year in which it was donated. There is no standard order or way all museum's use, but once you know the basics you can pretty much guess what the museum/accession numbers mean.  For example, this day dress' museum number is T.17-1960. From its website we can see that "T" is for the Textile and Fashion Collection, that 1960 is the year it was donated and by reading the summary we could guess that 17 is the number assigned to Heather Firbank (her credit line).  Fun? I think so...

Now, the Met also has a great costume collection, they have a huge gala for it every year that celebrities and fashion world giants attend and the pictures always end up in Vogue.  Their collections search site I do not like as much as the V&A's, or much at all. It used to be much more like the V&A's, but has since changed to its current incarnation, much to my chagrin.

You still type in "dress" to get dresses. As you can see the results are displayed nicely, but narrowing down the results is obnoxious. Where we could search within any amount of time at the V&A, the Met restricts us to what categories they think we would like. Under "Who" it gives us possible designers, which is fine if we have one specifically in mind. I usually don't use this tab. "What" can help sometimes, I usually choose "Costume" because the other options don't tend to make sense if I just want dresses from a certain time. "Where" is actually nice because when you type "Europe" into "Place of origin" on the V&A site nothing comes up, bc I assume they want something more like "England". On the Met site clicking "Europe" under "Where" is rather helpful and narrows down the results very nicely, however you can't choose say "Europe" and "North and Central America". The tab that really gets my goat is "When" because it only offers centuries. An ENTIRE CENTURY?! Good grief, that's efficient. Blerg. The "In The Museum" tab give you options of different categories of the museum collections and in some searches give you the option of some the Met's off-campus locales. I suppose if you have a very specific item in mind that you'd like to find the Met would help you get there very easily, but for as a research tool it gets rather cumbersome.
zoom in on this one!

The garment descriptions can be very good, but some are almost nonexistant. The photography is much more consistent than the V&A and the garment photo is very large to begin with and zoom is available which is very nice, but not as many views are offered. When we compare numbers The Met has 4,329 result for "dress" from 1900-present with pictures while the V&A has only 742 under the same search parameters. If we take out the pictures only clause the V&A has 1065 results, the Met still has 4,329. I'm pretty sure this means the Met has a better online collection, but I sure wish it was easier to use!

Well, whether or not this was an interesting or a fun entry for you to read, I had fun writing it!

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