Research plays an important role in the work of a costume designer.
A wide range of sources can be drawn on, but the more direct they are - such as a period portrait - the more stimulating the job becomes of interpreting the costume and its construction.
All costume designers dream of coming into contact with original garments, marveling at the fabrics, examining the sewing methods, and imagining the situations they were used for.
In my city - Palermo, Italy - I am fortunate to be able to visit two rather complete private collections: the Pirajno Collection and the Arezzo Collection (pity that the city council doesn't share my enthusiasm).
It is also very important to study the work of researchers who have been given long-term access to the more important fashion and costume museum collections. This allows them to examine the clothing in detail; before it was (rightly so) forbidden, they could even take the original garments apart and copy "a plat" the pattern cuts before sewing them back together again!
There is thus a body of reference work that includes those who have reproduced patterns "a plat", those who have reconstructed the cut and assembly techniques, and those who have tried to diffuse this knowledge throughout the fashion and costume design communities, even though most of this work is thoroughly unintelligible to the profane observer.
At the beginning of my career (by now many years ago) I came into contact with a book that seemed exceptional to me: it included patterns of clothing shown in the most important portraits of English court and royalty from 1066 to 1930.
This text - The Evolution of Fashion: Pattern and Cut from 1066 to 1930 by Margot Hamilton Hill and Peter A. Bucknell (Drama Publishers) was out of print at the time so I carefully copied the drawings and patterns, enlarging them as I could, and used them for years to make theatrical costumes. Later, I used the same drawings as the basis for interpreting the construction scheme to transfer to my CAD system and thus be able to produce custom fit patterns for any body measurements.
I am deeply thankful to these authors, but particularly to Peter A. Bucknell who so faithfully reproduced the patterns in a very useful way, at least for those familiar with cutting and the history of costume and fashion.Another very interesting text that I have used extensively is A History of Costume by Carl Kohler, published in the USA
In general, the Anglo-saxon world has also shown more interest in the theoretical study of the history of fashion, even though many of the original pieces are Italian in origin.
When teaching History of Costume I have generally used the Italian translation (published by the Istituto Geografico De Agostini of Novara) of A History of Fashion by J. Anderson Black and Madge Garland, Orbis Publishing Limited- London (1974).
Another reference for the history of fashion is Costume cavalcade: 689 examples of historic costume in colourby Henny Harald Hansen. The English translation from the Danish original was published in the US by Dutton (1956) and is now out of print, but can be found at online booksellers.Kyoto Costume Institute: Akiko Fukai (Chief Curator of The Kyoto Costume Institute), Tamami Suoh (Curator of The Kyoto Costume Institute), Miki Iwagami (Lecturer of fashion history at Sugino Fashion College (Tokyo)), Reiko Koga (Professor of fashion history at Bunka Women's University), and Rie Nii (Assistant Curator of The Kyoto Costume Institute). This work is now available to the public through a beautiful web site... and a Tashen publication in English Fashion, a History from the 18th to the 20th Century as well as Czech, Franch, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish.It is truly extraordinary how the researchers at the Kyoto Institute have succeeded in so intimately understanding, often better than their European colleagues, the structure of a tradition of clothing introduced into Japanese daily life only a few decades ago.
I myself have seen thousands of original historical pieces, but have never seen such an ability to highlight their beauty and essential nature; the Kyoto research team has even designed special mannequins that faithfully reproduce the body proportions - different from today - of those who originally wore these garments.
Not to mention the maintenance of the fabrics that seem newly woven, the layout of the museum, the beauty of the photography...