The Vocabulary of Basic Terms for the Cataloguing of Costume (English, French, German, Spanish) is available on an external link:


At the meeting of ICOM in Paris in 1971 the Committee set up a working group on the cataloguing of costume. With the development of information retrieval systems it had become more than ever necessary to examine the cataloguing of costume to ensure that the information contained in each garment in our collections was recorded clearly in a form that was internationally acceptable. From our first discussions it became clear that our work was not to devise a particular system of cataloguing for many major collections had their own well-established systems and new general systems were being developed with which other costume collections had to conform. What was needed in our field was something more fundamental, the identification of garments for recording and the basic information which should be recorded from them. The first stage of the work was to analyse the information, internal and external, which could be retrieved from garment or dress accessory. The approach was to take the garments themselves and ask what we, students of costume, wanted to know from them, what experience had taught us others might want to know. We then listed this as Basic Information (section 1). From the recording of this information a primary classification for any approach to the material should emerge.
The working group held yearly meetings between 1971 and 1974 and between these meetings lists and comments were circulated and collated. The final result was presented to the Committee at the triennial meeting of ICOM in Copenhagen in1974. Up to this time the international committees were composed of one member from each country. After 1974 the constitution of ICOM was changed; membership of international committees was not limited to one representative from each country’, but enlarged by’ each member of ICOM possibly becoming a member of one committee. This gave the committee a much larger membership.
As we analysed the information to be recorded it became clear that there was one problem which needed further study. The naming of each object was of first importance but the complex and changing vocabulary of fashionable dress meant that this was a far from simple matter. The identification of garments by the terms of temporary fashion from a fashionable vocabulary, the possible inexact use of such terms and the difference of meaning of a single term, even within a common language, for instance, the word pants in English and American English, was sure to lead to confusion. We realised that here we had a second stage of work and in 1975 we began to prepare Lists of Basic Terms for use as standard museum names for cataloguing (section 2).
We worked first on the terms for women’s dress and agreed lists with identifying sketches were circulated in 1978. The list for men’s dress followed in 1980. The dress of children, once out of infancy, was found to be covered by these two lists, but a third list for infants’ clothing completed the series in1981.
The principle followed is that a basic generic term should be the first catalogue name for each garment or accessory. This is followed by a second term, identifying the type more precisely within the main form, and, if necessary and known, a third term identifying a variant of the second may follow. Short lived contemporary terms or regional terms, known to have been used for the garment described, appear as second, third or fourth terms within brackets, inverted commas or other convention. The use of the most general, all-embracing term as the main entry makes it more likely that a recorder who is not a specialist will achieve an accurate first grouping of garments, and that a specialist does not create confusion through excess of knowledge.
The method of working was to consider garments in their relation to the human body, the one constant factor in all dress. For each category of men, women, infants, the terms are grouped according to the layers of dress: main garments; outerwear; protective wear; underwear; supporting structures; night and dressing wear. Accessories are grouped as accessories worn; accessories carried; accessories added to the body or clothing for ornament; accessories used in the care of the person; accessories used in the care of clothing; accessories used in the making and adjusting of clothing. The terms were then worked out according to the area of the body covered. A long-established term of general use was selected as the basic term to denote the area covered and the form of covering. For example, in women’s dress a main garment, that is a garment of the layer of main display, which covers the upper part of the body is entered as Bodice, the basic name; a second term Blouse denotes a particular type. A knitted cardigan is also recorded as Bodice, its type being defined by a second term Jacket and further identified by its special name Cardigan appearing as a third term. This third term is an example of a name which has been in use long enough to have passed from an ephemeral contemporary term to an established name.
The lists are, we hope, comprehensive for the first basic terms, that is any garment or accessory should be covered by one of them; and the second terms listed should give each main type within the basic forms. For many garments no further terms are needed. There has been no attempt to include all possible third or fourth terms in the lists; those given are examples only. The need for naming beyond the first or second term depends on the garment itself, as in the example, cardigan, quoted above. It may also depend on the specialist knowledge available when the material is recorded.
The use of a limited number of terms for both first and second names of a garment should avoid the inexact use of more specialised naming which would lead to false groupings of material. The numerical classification used in the lists was a method of working. It can be used as a reference classification but we are not offering it as a system and have therefore not elaborated it numerically. Over-classification seems both unnecessary and alien to the material of our study.
In the naming of garments we worked always from the objects themselves and their relation to the body and not to any theory of classification which introduced other factors. The terms themselves and their grouping do not take account of special Function, but the naming has to be seen within the context of the list of basic information where function appears as a separate entry, following the name of the object. So the basic term for bathing or wedding dress alike is Dress.
Reports of meetings of the working group at the Hague 1972 and Norwich 1973 and of the proceedings of the full Committee at Copenhagen in 1974 appeared in Waffen- und Kostümkunde 14, 1972, pp. 128/29; 15, 1973, pp. 161-63;16, 1974, pp. 151/52; cf. also 18, 1976, pp. 77/78; 19, 1977, pp. 83/84; 21,1979, pp. 85; 22, 1980, p. 74; 23, 1981, p. 55. The list of basic information was published in The Museums Journal, December 1976, pp. 109/10 under the title Cataloguing Costume. A new general scheme of cataloguing developed by the Museum Documentation Association in the United Kingdom follows the recommendations within its own conventions and the list of terms for women’s dress has been published as an appendix to the Association’s Costume Cards: Instruction (1981: 2nd edit.).
The lists of basic information and basic terms are now published as a guide to recording, setting out what information should be recorded from dress to lead into the many different aspects of its study and recommending a vocabulary of basic terms for identifying and recording its garments and accessories. The versions in different languages are not translations but the result of working together with common identification of the main types of garment with appropriate naming in each language.
They apply to fashionable and unfashionable dress within the orbit of European style.