Fashion-Focused Digital Resources: Highlights from the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music and more. Founded in San Francisco in 1996, the Archive offers permanent access to historical collections in digital format for researchers, scholars, historians and the general public. The Internet Archive is also working hard to preserve a record of the internet through their Wayback Machine and other endeavours.

Every item held by the Internet Archive is available for download in full in various formats. An online library of this size will obviously contain thousands of items of interest to fashion historians, so I have chosen a few highlights from my own browsing history as examples of the enormous potential of this resource.

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1. The Canadian Dry Goods Review & Eaton’s Catalogues

Found within the Canadian Trade Journals Collection provided by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto and the Toronto Public Library are 35 titles of The Canadian Dry Goods Review. With dates spanning between 1891 and 1922 and each issue numbering in the hundreds of pages, the collection is a tremendous (if sometimes quite dry) resource for any historian researching the clothing and textile industry of Canada at one of its most productive periods. Scrolling through the pages of advertisements for countless importers, manufacturers and retailers based in Toronto, Montreal and beyond is a powerful reminder of the immense scale of an industry now all but lost in Canada.

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The Internet Archive is also home to several fully digitized editions of the Eaton’s Catalogue, representing a Canadian retail and social institution that was once the largest department store retailer in the country. Similar to the Sears Roebuck catalogue in the United States, the Eaton’s catalogue served an important role connecting Canada’s largely rural communities from 1884 onwards.

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2. Le Gazette du Bon Ton & Les Robes de Paul Poiret

Arguably one of the most luxurious and elite fashion publications ever created, Le Gazette du Bon Ton was a pochoir-printed review representing the top French couture houses of the time. Created by Lucien Vogel, the magazine was published from 1912 to 1914 and 1919 to 1925 and featured illustrations by top fashion illustrators, including George Barbier, Erté and Ernesto Thayaht. The Internet Archive holds a nearly complete digitized collection, courtesy of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York.

The Archive also features a digitized copy of Les Robes de Paul Poiret, a similar elite publication of the couturier’s designs, courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries. Illustrated by Paul Iribe, the album was distributed to Poiret’s elite clientele and depicts the couturier’s famous narrow hobble skirts and Orientalist influences in neoclassical surroundings.

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Have you come across any hidden gems within the depths of the Internet Archive? Let us know in the comments below.

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