The Ins and Outs of Being a Costume Historian


The Ins and Outs of Being a Costume Historian


Clothes make a statement. A costume tells a story.

                                                            —Mason Cooley


What is a costume historian, you ask?

Reese Buie’s Prezi presentation defines the costume historian as someone who “studies the clothing worn by the members of various societies and cultures throughout history.” They look up clothing styles and evaluate the historical accuracy of garments in costume collections. Because they spend their entire careers studying and learning the history of fashion, they know almost everything about the subject like the back of their hand, down to the smallest details.

About 70 percent of them work in these areas:

  • Museums—They’re usually the people responsible for overseeing museum exhibits, always on the lookout for trends that relate to historical styles and new research tools that become available. They can also be spotted in fashion exhibitions as well. If they aren’t assigned to work in a specific collection or institution, they mostly work on research and writing tasks.
  • Colleges and universities—If they’re not working for museums, costume historians can be found in educational institutions. They usually teach, write, and research. Some of them, however, have administrative duties to prioritize.

For those who want to pursue being a costume historian, Heather Vaughan gives a precaution: “Jobs are few and far between, so if you are considering one of these programs I would strongly recommend talking to a graduate of the given program to find out what their experience was, and what their job prospects have been.” She also recommends interested individuals to read up on Anne Hollander, Aileen Ribeiro, Valerie Steele, Lou Taylor, Christopher Breward, JoAnn Eicher, Roland Barthes (whom she calls the Fashion System), and Fred Davis to know what they want to do.

Fashion historian Joanna Abijaoude believes that the industry will continue to evolve. “Anyone entering the industry at this time will have consider all the digital elements of exhibiting fashion going forward,” she says. She shares a piece of advice for youngsters who plan on entering the industry: “Get involved! Conferences, lectures, and museum events are a great way to network and stay informed about the latest developments in this field. In addition to internships, these experiences will give you the chance to meet mentors who can advise you, and colleagues who you will remain connected to throughout your career.”




Buie, Reese. “Costume Historian by Reese Buie on Prezi.” Prezi. September 11, 2014. Accessed November 3, 2016.


Sandra. “Q&A with Vintage Fashion Historian Heather Vaughan | Debutante Clothing.” Debutante Clothing. August 29, 2009. Accessed November 03, 2016.


“Interview: Joanna Abijaoude, Fashion Historian.” Inside the Archive. April 29, 2014. Accessed November 03, 2016.




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