The History of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC) is one of Drexel University's greatest treasures: an inspiration to fashionistas and scholars alike. Documenting over four centuries of costume history, the collection holds more than 14,000 fashionable garments, accessories, textiles, and other related materials. The strengths of the FHCC include Parisian couture dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and international high fashion from the mid-twentieth century onward.The mission of the FHCC is to educate and inspire through the documentation, exhibition, and preservation of historic costume.
The Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry was founded by financier and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel in 1891.  Drexel believed that the study of art and design was essential to the education of the Institute's students. To support this, he gave one million dollars, equal to more than 26 million dollars today, specifically for the purchase of art and artifacts to create a museum that is now known as the Drexel Collection.  The earliest acquisitions to the "Museum" included textiles, alongside fine and decorative arts.

Letter from Howard Pyle
February 3, 1898
Image courtesy of Drexel University Archives

The acquisition of fashionable dress and accessories was first suggested in 1898 by Howard Pyle, then Director of the School of Illustration, "as a help to historic and artistic study" for the dressmaking and millinery students.

By the early 1950's, the collection had grown to nearly 2,000 objects and was known as the Drexel Historic Costume Collection.  Mary Brenneman Carter, a faculty member of the Home Economics department,  was named the first curator of the Drexel Historic Costume Collection in 1954.

May, 1960

Mary Carter was a passionate advocate for the collection, and worked tirelessly to create official protocol, establish systematic management, and maintain professional standards.

June 3, 1959

In 1959, the Nan Duskin Laboratory of Costume Design was created, enabling the collection to be housed in a state-of-the-art storage and classroom facility. It was named for Mrs. Anne Lincoln, founder of the esteemed Nan Duskin specialty shop and passionate supporter of the collection. Duskin and Carter were a formidable team. Under their stewardship, the collection grew to well over 7,000 objects.

In recent years, the collection has undergone an intense period of redevelopment. These changes have included the hiring of a professionally trained curator and the construction of a new storage facility in the URBN Center that provides previous unimagined access to visitors. In 2014, the collection was renamed the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection in recognition of their generous gift earmarked for collection development and support.

Laser Cut Curtain

Recent acquisitions reflect the original educational mission of the collection with some adjustments for the new millennium. While there will always be a pronounced effort to collect the finest examples of couture and high fashion, many recent acquisitions emphasize technique and technological innovations.

Evening Dress
c. 1966

In 2016, the FHCC received a large donation of garments and ephemera from the James G. Galanos Foundation. The James G. Galanos Archive will serve as a centralized repository for the work of one of the most celebrated designers of the twentieth century.

Credits: Story

Image of Howard Pyle letter courtesy of Drexel University Archives

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