WSU Libraries

Digital Dress: 200 Years of Urban Style

A Model Web Portal for Library-Museum Collaboration


From 2003-2005, the Wayne State University Library System (WSULS) collaborated with WSU College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Henry Ford, and Meadow Brook Hall. In partnership we created a universally accessible, unique, research quality web portal for increasing access to a multi-institutional collection of 5,000 digital images of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and accessories representing fashion during a period of urban transformation (1800-2000). The final product of this unique collaboration is Digital Dress. To our knowledge, no such shared historic costume database exists, as most comparable collections represent the holdings of a single institution.

In 2003 the project was funded by a $249,433 National Leadership Grant for Library-Museum Collaboration from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). That year National Leadership Grants for Library-Museum Collaborations were awarded to 16 organizations nation-wide, however our award was the only one of its kind in Michigan. The grant covered a two-year period beginning in October 2003.

While the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized portions of the collections as having “national significance,” it is important to point out that the collaborative aspects of this project were the critical component. Prior to the project, the individual collections were accessible only by visiting each location and most of the items were not publicly displayed due to space constraints. Therefore, use of the collections requires special arrangements between the users and the curators. Digital Dress places the user at the center of the process, making the collections available when and where they need them. It encourages users to independently explore and gain a further understanding of the issues within our community.

Historical Context

Fashion changed nearly as quickly 200 years ago as it does today.  In fact, clothing responds immediately to changes in popular culture, industrialization, inventions, labor organization, and society's socio-economic and ethnic mix.  This project features both the clothing of Detroit residents, from pioneer to socialite to labor unionist, and items from national collections founded by Detroit auto barons Henry Ford and the widow of John Dodge.  These collections are used to explore the significant cultural changes occurring in the United States between 1800 and 2000.  The Detroit-worn clothing reflects the city's complex mix of race and class; the Ford and Dodge collections document significant fashion trends from the time period.

Together, the collections of these institutions contain more than 40,000 items, including occupational, formal, recreational, mourning, masquerade, and everyday wear. They reflect both the clothing of Detroit, an important urban center during this time period, and the fashion of urban centers across the United States.


Goal 1: Create a simple yet powerful web portal that will enhance, expand and promote use of our multi-institutional collection by users of all ages including students, researchers, instructors, and other 21st century learners.

Goal 2: Build a substantial and unique cultural resource that “virtually unifies” the individual collections and provides users with a new means of accessing these resources while preserving and protecting the existing collections for future generations.

Goal 3: Serve as a model of library/museum collaboration for developing cultural resources.

Goal 4: Serve as a model for developing an historic costume thesaurus for application of standardized search terms.

The project will be guided by the “Guide to Good Practice in the Digital Representation and Management of Cultural Heritage Materials” developed by the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH). The guideline addresses digitization issues such as project planning, material selection, copyright and intellectual property, quality control, sustainability, evaluation, metadata and preservation. The guideline can be found at:

Management Staff

Nardina Mein, Ph.D., Project Lead, Wayne State University
Matthew Decker, Project Manager, Wayne State University
Jon McGlone, Web Librarian, Wayne State University
Stephanie Lucas, The Henry Ford
Lisa Korzetz, The Henry Ford

Implementation Staff

Jeff Trzeciak, Project Lead, Wayne State University
Shawn McCann, Project Assistant, Wayne State University

Brandy Hirschlieb, Project Coordinator, Meadow Brook Hall

Marianne Weldon, Project Coordinator, Detroit Historical Museums

Judith Endelman, Project Coordinator, The Henry Ford
Jessica Lehr, Project Coordinator, The Henry Ford (October 2003 - October 2005)
Nancy Bryk, The Henry Ford
Fran Faile, The Henry Ford
Lisa Korzetz, The Henry Ford

Holly Hartlerode, Project Intern, The Henry Ford
Chela Weber, Project Intern, The Henry Ford
Veronica Woloshen, Project Intern, Meadow Brook Hall
Jan Durecki, Project Intern, The Detroit Historical Museum

Digital Dress montage IMLS logo

WSU Libraries
3100 David Adamany Undergraduate Library
5155 Gullen Mall
Detroit, MI USA 48202
(313) 577-4023 / 5525 - fax