Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center


Costume Collection

Women's Dresses

photo: Emeline Butler Posey, 1860
Hand-tinted photograph of Emeline Butler Posey in her "second day" outfit, November 9, 1860, Henderson County, Kentucky (photograph of dress, catalog number 1989.0295.014 to be added to website in near future)


The Costume Collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Behring Center, contains over 30,000 garments and accessories representing the changing appearance of Americans from the 17th century to the present. The collection illustrates many of the social, cultural, technological and economic influences affecting dress made or worn in America.

The women's dress collection is the most requested area of the Collection for exhibition and behind-the-scenes viewing. This site currently shows over 70 of these dresses that have been photographed at various times. We have tried to include detailed physical descriptions and information about the people who wore them. These stories are about women from various parts of the country, in differing economic circumstances.

Browse the Collection to sort the dresses by maker, date, place, or function, and to select individual objects for viewing.

Or, view a complete list of the objects featured on this site.