UH Historic Costume Collection

The University of Hawaii's Historic Costume Collection is a valuable asset for instruction, research, and outreach programs.
University of Hawai'i Foundation
Honolulu, Hawaii
United States
4 Team Members

University of Hawaii at Manoa, Costume Museum

From Costume Collection to Historic Costume Museum

The Fabric of History

The UHM Historic Costume Collection, maintained by the Fashion Design and Merchandising (FDM) program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, has been described as a hidden treasure by the Hawaii State Legislature. The Collection consists of approximately 18,000 historic and ethnographic textiles, garments, accessories, home-furnishing fabrics, and related materials and equipment; these are not replicas but authentic pieces, from as far back as 1850.

There are 4 sub-collections: Western, Asian, Hawaiian, and Ethnic. The core of the Asian Costume Collection, the first to be created, was acquired by Oma Umbel in 1960, while over the years, students and friends of the University in the Islands, throughout the United States, and in Asian countries have continued to donate artifacts. Some of the jewels of the Asian Collection are a series of five Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) imperial dragon robes, the subject of a lavishly illustrated book and a companion documentary DVD describing their historical significance, the philosophical and religious meaning of their complicated iconography, and the intricate techniques of their workmanship. Another Asian gem is a Japanese kosode, an ornate silk robe that was among the exchange of gifts during negotiations when Commander Perry opened up trade between the US and Japan in 1854.

These sumptuous garments are joined by a broad array of kimono, along with numerous other articles of clothing in the Western, Hawaiian, and Ethnic Collections, ranging from one-of-a-kind haute couture gowns to the tunics, veils, and leggings worn by Hawai‘i’s Territory-era plantation workers in pineapple and sugarcane fields. We have an extensive collection of iconic aloha shirts and muumuus, next to bolts of Polynesian tapa cloth pounded from mulberry bark and inscribed with intricate designs. Boxes and boxes of shoes and hats complete the gathering. Each garment and textile tells its own unique story, made tangible in its warp and woof.

The mission of the Collection is to preserve these ethnographic costume artifacts in order to support teaching in FDM as well as other programs and departments at the University of Hawai‘i; promote research by students, faculty, and visiting scholars; and provide artifacts for use in class and exhibition. UH faculty members use Collection holdings in classroom instruction, whether for historical instruction or to provide inspiration for textile and design students. Objects may also be treated by students in a textile conservation class. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and visiting scholars may request objects for research, and students in curatorship classes and members of other institutions periodically borrow articles for exhibit either on campus or in other venues.

Our goals in turning to the Indiegogo community are two-fold: conservation and display. We hope to both better protect these irreplaceable artifacts and to allow more people to view them. We need to purchase several museum-quality cabinets to store the clothing, as well as the textile-conservation materials necessary to better protect it. Large, flat drawers will allow the garments to be stored flat and unfolded, while acid-free boxes, paper, and wrapping material will safeguard their quality for future generations. Muslin is needed to pad the hangers and protect the shoulders of hanging garments. We also need more display cases that can accommodate the clothing so that the University community and the general public can have the opportunity to view the clothes of yesteryear. At the moment we have only one display case on campus; it is able to accommodate two to three garments at a time, but otherwise they are only seen by individuals requesting access to a particular article.

Our ultimate dream—possibly the subject of a future Indiegogo appeal!—is to set up a suite of rooms as a permanent exhibition hall for a rotating portion of the Collection, as we now have no permanent exhibition venue for the costumes. We believe this situation is unacceptable, with all that the Collection has to teach and all the pleasure that viewing it can bring. For while the Collection is indeed a treasure, we believe it should be hidden no longer.

Music used in video: "Perspectives," by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com).

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This campaign ended on January 31, 2014
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