Collection of gowns from the early 19th century

The extensive storage bays behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute open to reveal an impressive collection that includes these gowns from the early 19th century. The institute just kicked off its spring exhibition with the annual Met Gala—cochaired by Amal Clooney (LAW ’01)—so we stopped by the museum to meet the Violets who now work as costume conservators, researchers, and curators.

By Renée Alfuso
Photographs by Simons Finnerty

“This is the one I’m gonna steal—or save if there’s a fire,” Jessica Glasscock jokes of the French silk dress pulled from the massive collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She’s one of the nine alumni working behind the scenes at the institute whom we asked to choose their favorite piece out of the more than 35,000 costumes and accessories that are housed there. While some selected the dresses or shoes they most covet, others opted for objects they work with daily, such as the mounted hats in the conservation lab or the mannequins being prepped and reshaped for installation. One alumna could only narrow her pick to one aisle within the hanging bays, while the lone art history major—the others graduated from Steinhardt’s Costume Studies program—chose one of the oldest pieces in the collection, a rare mantua from the early 18th century. After taking a break to show off their favorites, it was back to work preparing for the Costume Institute’s latest exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Featuring medieval fashions and masterworks from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which have never been seen outside the Vatican, the exhibition explores the relationship between art and religion and is now on view at the Met through October 8.

Jessica Regan

Jessica Glasscock (WSUC ’92, STEINHARDT ’01), research associate, with House of Balenciaga dress (2006)

Jessica Regan

Jessica Regan (CAS ’05), assistant curator, with silk mantua (ca. 1708)

Joyce Fung

Joyce Fung (STEINHARDT ’01), senior research associate, with mannequins being prepared for installation

Marci Morimoto

Marci Morimoto (STEINHARDT ’03), associate collections manager, in early-19th-century collection storeroom

Mellissa Huber

Mellissa Huber (STEINHARDT ’12, adjunct professor), assistant curator, with Elsa Schiaparelli evening ensemble (ca. 1937)

Patricia Shields Way

Patricia Shields Way (STEINHARDT ’15), collections management assistant, with Herbert Levine paper sandals (ca. 1968)

Shelly Tarter

Shelly Tarter (STEINHARDT ’17), collections management assistant, with mounted accessories and doll hat (ca. 1938)

Stephanie Kramer

Stephanie Kramer (STEINHARDT ’15), research assistant, with Vivienne Westwood ensemble (1995)

Elizabeth Randolph

Elizabeth Randolph (STEINHARDT ’05), collections manager, with House of Worth evening dress (ca. 1900)