45th Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 33, “Costume Loans: Challenges and Strategies” by Cassandra Gero

Costume Loans Challenges and Strategies
The specific needs of a costume collection are well known to the textile conservators who work with them, but are not necessarily second nature to those borrowing these items for exhibition. This is especially true if the borrowing institution is unfamiliar with exhibiting garments and accessories. This presentation presented case studies of costume loans that illustrate the unique challenges of travelling garments, and provided general strategies to prevent problems or address them when they arise.  From these case studies, three take away points were codified to assist in preparing for costume loans.
1. Factor in enough time for preparation and installation
Specifically, the borrower needs to know about the fragility of the costume, and take the steps necessary to ensure its ongoing preservation, i.e. limiting UV exposure, controlling the environment, and preventing accidents. Most significantly, all costume must be custom mounted, which can take significantly more time than the borrowing institution may be used to. Within the custom mounting process, decisions will need to be made regarding the aesthetics of the final show, for example, whether or not the mannequins have heads. In addition, dressing the mount takes time. These are not objects that can be unpacked and put in place in short order. If they are undressed for travel, it takes time to unpack, check, re-dress, and install the costume. Last, always build in extra time for the unexpected, for example damage occurring during transit. Don’t underestimate the accessories – just because they are smaller does not mean their needs are easier to meet.
2. Communication
This may seem obvious, but here specific points were brought up regarding what information is particularly relevant to confirm while planning a costume loan. Measurements of need to be shared, and their references made clear. This refers to both the measurements of the garment/accessory as well as the display area. For example, head space over a mannequin that allows it to be lifted onto its flange without bumping into the top of a vitrine. Lists of supplies that should be on hand to assist in the dressing and installation process. Work schedules of those involved in installation, expectations of how the time will be spent, and available space for setup. Object lists especially must be confirmed to ensure that no extra or fewer objects are sent than are expected.

3. Involve the Conservators Early On

This is especially true for loaning large numbers of objects, which requires a great deal of advance preparation and adequate lead-in time. Pieces that require conservation before going on loan need to be scheduled into the workload, and any mounting needs will need to be addressed beforehand as well. The more time is given to address these aspects the more likely the loan and resulting exhibition will go smoothly.