People collect film costumes many different reasons. I collect costumes with the hope of eventually exhibiting the costumes and sharing them with the public. So, besides the obvious requirement of the costume being ‘authentic,’ the condition of the costumes, their ability to communicate the original “magic” and at the same time, withstand the rigors of exhibition is of paramount importance. If a fabric is so fragile that it can never be shown again and even though it may still be historically important, I generally pass on the piece. I try to collect costumes that will fit into story lines that I am trying to tell and not obsess with the ones that no longer survive or the ones that are not within my budget.
Not only do I examine vintage fabrics, I pay attention to contemporary fabrics and how they are made. More and more contemporary costumes are made up of synthetic rubberized materials that- while they create a wonderful texture or effect on film- may not survive the test of time. Some of the materials last better than others, so understanding the makeup of the fabric and an awareness of how to store and exhibit the costume is important.
Collecting any textile- be it film costumes, vintage historical costumes or couture creations- comes with a host of challenges. Fibers that are woven to create the fabric that make up the patterns and the threads that sew those pieces together are generally organic matter and, as such, are always in a state of decay. The deterioration is inevitable unless you completely remove it from any exposure to the elements, but there are ways to minimize the effects of time. There are rare examples of textiles older than five hundred years, but those that have survived were very well taken care or were accidentally kept under just the right conditions.
When one thinks of historical vintage fabrics, they may not think of Hollywood costumes. The industry itself is just over 100 years old, so one would think there are unlimited collectible costumes that have survived from the millions of costumes that were created for the industry. But it is not the case.