Earlier this year the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) put online a Fashion History Timeline. The project is described on their website as “an open-access source for fashion history knowledge, featuring objects and artworks from over a hundred museums and libraries that span the globe.” Which, after poking around for a bit seems to be a fairly accurate description.
There’s a lot to like about this project. The open source aspect is important, given the high cost of the sort of survey text books this resource could replace. This project also has the potential to be a direct competitor to the Berg Fashion Library from Bloomsbury, which is currently only available through libraries that pay a (probably not inconsiderable) subscription fee.
The website can be browsed by time period, which is broken down by decade after the 15th century, but organized more broadly before. There are topical essays to browse, which include pieces on specific themes as well as garment, film, and artwork analysis. There is also a section on pre-20th century designers and a blog. There are gorgeous images throughout the entire website as well.
Most interesting, to me at least, is the Source Database. This is a collection of books organized by theme and time period. While the text isn’t included, this would be a great palace to start researching a new topic. Even better, is the Zotero database. It takes a little clicking around to find, but it includes even more sources. Since my entire life is in Zotero, this has me pretty excited.
There are, however, some issues. The Timeline is still very much a work in progress, so there are areas with little or no information. That doesn’t bother me. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the fact that a large amount of the text is attributed to Wikipedia. Given how hard it can be to teach high school and college students how to evaluate sources, this feels…not good.
So, who would get the most out of this website?
If you’re looking for a fun internet rabbit hole or a place to get some inspiration for a costume, I highly recommend it. I also think this is a valuable resource for researchers experienced enough to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable sources. As a teacher, I might send students here to look at specific – well researched – pages, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a general source.
I also am looking forward to seeing how this evolves and grows over the coming years. Fleshing out the content will require a massive amount of time and effort. As an open source project, it will be relying on the free labor of the fashion community. Information on how to contribute can be found here.
Ps. That adorable thing hanging out by my computer is my research assistant Clara. She, like all cats, is very helpful. By which I mean not helpful at all 😉