In the early 1980’s it became obvious that a general change in museums’ policy and direction was threatening the survival of costume collections. Costume, being made largely of textiles, has a limited life and requires special treatment if it is to survive even in an ideal museum with specialised staff. Discussions were initiated, largely through the leadership of Chairperson Ingrid Bergman (Stockholm), at the ICOM triennial Meeting in Buenos Aires in 1983. The basis for the Guidelines was adopted unanimously by Costume Committee members at the next triennial in 1986, and published soon after. Subsequent additions have been made, notably to the Recommended Reading and the section on Photography.

Our aim was to provide a quick reference for busy curators, many of whom were suddenly given responsibility for costume without any training, for volunteers working in museums, as well as to support trained costume curators who found their standards under threat from new management oblivious to the fragility of costume. The Recommended Reading includes basic reading on cataloguing and conservation.

We remind readers of the stated opinion of Janet Arnold (1932-98), one of the most respected costume historians of this century: when a garment has been cleaned or conserved, it can cease to be a historic document.

The Committee welcomes comments and suggestions to these guidelines. Please send them to the Committee.

The Guidelines are available in different versions: