Mary Lewis' wedding day cape, ca. 1773, in the MHS photo studio. This was the first item photographed as part of the project in February 2019. Photo by Jamie Rice. Collections Maine Historical Society / MMN #105303.

PORTLAND — The Maine Historical Society has launched a new digital portal that gives public access to its significant collection of historic clothing, made possible in part by a $134,184 grant in 2018 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The “Museums for America: Collections Stewardship” grant (MA-30-18-0288-18) supported the initiative to improve the care, access, and management of MHS’s Maine-related clothing dating from the late 1700s through the 20th century. 

Professionally executed by project curatorial staff, consulting historians and interns, this two-year project rehoused and improved the cataloging of nearly 1,200 historic garments (roughly 3,000 pieces), which included moving the items to MHS’s offsite collections management storage center that provides optimum environmental conditions. Project staff dressed mannequins and photographed the pieces, adding digital images to the MHS collections database and created an online guide to the collection providing greater context for the materials.  

Accessing a new online guide via a portal on the Maine Memory Network (, the public can browse “Maine Historical Society’s Historic Dress Collection” by time period or themes. The portal’s narratives, authored by noted textile and dress historian Jaqueline Field, are illustrated with high-resolution digital photography which enables audiences to see the garments from multiple angles.  

Field adds, “Maine Historical Society’s Historic Dress Collection is an amalgamation of primarily donated garments accumulated by the Society since the organization’s founding in 1822. Initially specializing in clothing from the early to mid-nineteenth century, the collection was added to by an extensive acquisition of late 19th to mid-20th century dress acquired from Westbrook College in 1993, as well as more recent individual donations.”

Clothing and accessories in the collection are associated with people or families who lived in Maine, were made by Maine people, or are somehow connected to the state. This project is particularly relevant as MHS gears up for a major historic clothing exhibition at its Congress Street campus. The exhibition is slated for 2022, which will also mark MHS’s Bicentennial. To view the MHS Historic Dress Collection, please visit