Fashion in the Museum: Digitizing a Collection


Fashion Research Collection Photo Studio Set up, Ryerson University
Photo by Ingrid Mida, 2013

From the beginning, my work to edit and re-establish the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection has been motivated by a desire to make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible, including students, faculty, visiting researchers, and the general public. Up until this point, most of what is in the collection is in a file in my brain since the database is corrupted and unusable.


Dr. Lu Ann Lafrenz (left) and Ingrid Mida (right) in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Photo by Ryerson University Press Department 2013

With Dr. Lu Ann Lafrenz encouragement and support, we applied for and were awarded a Ryerson University Learning and Teaching Grant of $12,000 to achieve this goal. Although the amount was less than what we asked for, a little creativity allowed me to hire two students for six weeks of the summer to do the dressing of the mannequins, photograph the pieces and begin the editing process.

I initially selected 100 of the key artifacts in the collection, aiming to ensure a representative sample across time as well as of designers.  Of course, I also aimed to highlight some of the more uniquely Canadian artifacts, such as this jumpsuit with a CN Tower print.


Cotton printed jumpsuit with CN Tower print, c.1970s, FRC 2013.99.003

I continually reviewed and revised this list over the course of the project, since it wasn’t until the entire collection was in one place and somewhat organized that I could more easily make my selections.

The students work produced an initial cache of 11,000 photographs, and having the camera tethered to the computer ensured that the images were tagged with the accession number – an important locator in identifying items and continuing work. Another key resource that provided invaluable information for the students was the publication by the Australian Dress Register called “a user’s guide to the care, documentation, interpretation and display of dress”, especially their section on “Taking photographs with limited resources”. 

Like any project, there were some hiccups – equipment problems, technical problems, logistical problems. (Just the fact that I was also coordinating the renovation and move of the Collection from the library to Kerr Hall West was a significant logistical issue that I had to deal with while this project was underway). We did not photograph any items that would have necessitated a lot of extra time or work to mount or conserve, nor could we photograph many of the historic pieces due to a lack of suitable mounts and condition issues. I have been posting some photos on Pinterest along the way to provide an initial mechanism to engage the public but have just started a collection blog, to offer multiple views of the items as well as provide additional information and related links to assist with further research. Although the project was limited in scope, it is the first step to opening the collection door so to speak! 




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  • ian drummond August 29, 2013 06.51 am

    Hello Ingrid,
    You and the collection have made amazing progress over the summer!
    Thank you for the link for the Australian Dress Register, I haven’t had time to look at it but I know it will be a great resource when I start photographing highlight s of the rental collection for my web site.
    I think the fashion research collection has a very solid base to build on, well done!

  • JAMES FOWLER August 31, 2013 06.34 am

    Brilliant….can not wait to see what you have accomplished! Congratulations.


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