The value of a 3D asset and the Future of Museums of Costume

Roz McNulty, Fashion Innovation Centre, Canada


Future applications of Digital Clothing for Historical Costume - explaining the value of documentation using 3D asset, the flexibility of 3D scanned data and the future of museums of costume.

Keywords: costume, historical, 3D, AR, museum, future

The past, present future of fashion

Roz McNulty

Fashion Innovation Centre

63 Keefer Place #2605

Vancouver Canada V6B6N6

What does the future of historical fashion look like with digital reproduction. Demonstration and discussion of evolving methods of capturing and displaying historical fashion.

Digital fashion. Historical fashion. Pattern design. 3D. 2D. Illustration.  Mixed realities.


3D Digital Clothing presentation is evolving within the commercial apparel industry as an alternative to repetitive sampling and communication to buyers and production. There are several software companies that allow you to draft in 2D, as well as sew and mathematically drape cloth over a 3D avatar of personalized body scan.

The biggest difference between illustration (2D) and visualisation (3D) is that illustration (2D) has no data (unless artificially inputted), whilst visualisation (3D) is an amalgamation of data. 3D garments, when made, are not just an image or an object anymore, they consist of specific pattern pieces (e.g., pockets, collars), specific measurements and shape, top stitches, trims, graphics, and colours, as well as who contributed to which part of the design.

The potential of what exists for further documenting historical clothing with 3D data is critical. This is now possible with the evolving 3D apparel industry software that allows both accurate 2D patterns for construction and 3D simulation for drape and display.

“Of all artistic media, dress is the most challenging to display. Flat paintings and prints, as well as three-dimensional forms such as sculpture, ceramics and metalwork move easily from store to display case, with the addition of a frame or plinth. Over all dress lacks such a ridged structure. It is usually stored flat in drawers or cupboards, but must be translated into a three dimensional form when exhibited.”

– Susan North Curator of 17th and 18th century fashion, V&A Museum, A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting


Museums are now curating displays that are more interactive, an experience rather than just a show of items: the different ways fashion is displayed in museum settings, how national and regional identities influence fashion exhibitions. Museums do not have the physical space to display their full collections. Although there is an amazing amount of historical clothing online, it is a 2D photograph that you can only enlarge.


Dr. Christopher Breward, director of collection and research at the National Galleries of Scotland said at the March 8, 2019 FIT symposium (1): “Less than three percent of our collection is visible at one time. Three percent of the collection at the Museum of Scotland is visible and 97 percent is unseen and heavily booked for access.”

There is limited display, storage and access at most museums. Online museums can help. But we need to look at 3D solutions versus 2D pictures.


Some museums have online presence. These museums are amazing in how much has been catalogued but still have you guessing at the true style lines of the garment. Beautiful photographs that do not tell the whole story.

Two dimensional photographs do not show a garment really looks or works. One cannot comprehend the construction, the pattern lines. The fabric detail. How that fabric would move.

The Costume Institute at the MET 

The Costume Institute at the MET 

The Costume Institute houses a collection of more than thirty-five thousand costumes and accessories, representing five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes, and accessories for men, women, and children, from the fifteenth century to the present.

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)

The mission of the Museum is to collect, conserve, document, exhibit, and interpret fashion. The Museum’s permanent collection encompasses some 50,000 garments and accessories from the 18th century to the present.

National Museum of American History, Clothing and Accessories

The Museum cares for one of the nation’s foremost collections of men’s, women’s, and children’s garments and accessories—from wedding gowns and military uniforms to Halloween costumes and bathing suits. The more than 30,000 artefacts here represent the changing appearance of Americans from the 1700s to the present day.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The joint collections of Textiles and Dress contain almost 53,090 items and the Fashion collection is currently the largest and most comprehensive collection of dress in the world. Contains links to past exhibits, videos, and articles on major subjects.

The Drexel Digital Museum Project: Historic Costume Collection

Drexel University’s Historic Costume Collection contains more than 7000 items and includes fashion plates, photographs, and 19th- and late-20th-century haute couture by French and American designers.

FIT’s Online Collection

FIT’s online collection contains an extensive searchable and browsable gallery. The collection’s strength is primarily in modern and contemporary women’s fashion.

Kyoto Costume Institute Digital Archive

KCI’s Digital Archive includes a browsable interface to view costumes by time period from the early 18th century to the mid-20th century.

Texas Fashion Collection Digital Library

The UNT Texas Fashion Collection is dedicated to the preservation and documentation of historically significant fashion, and serves as an educational and inspirational resource for students, researchers, and the general public.

Wayne State University Digital Dress Library

Includes the Digital Dress: 200 Years of Urban Style collection. Records are searchable in the database and includes examples of occupational, formal, recreational, mourning, masquerade, and everyday wear for men, women, and children. Pieces by European and American designers, local dressmakers and retailers, and home-made garments are included.


“We Wear Culture”

We Wear Culture was launched by Google in June 2017. It is a collaboration between Google and more than 180 museums, schools, fashion institutions, and other organizations from all parts of the globe. It is part of Google’s Arts & Culture platform, which is digitizing the world’s cultural treasures, and functions as a searchable guide to a collective archive of some 30,000 fashion pieces that puts “three millennia of fashion at your fingertips,” Google says. (2) It is an amazing and growing collection of essays, immersive 360 experiences, catalogues, and links to fashion articles.

Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum

Valentino Garavani, legendary fashion designer, has defined a unique world of couture for almost half a century. Over 5000 documents have been installed in a spectacular 3D Palazzo. After downloading the desktop application each visitor can create their unique route through the galleries, to discover and enjoy every aspect of Valentino’s extraordinary world. This museum was created in 2011. At this time I have not learned a lot about of compatibility with the future. It is still an attempt at an interactive navigation of an amazing collection. It is only disappointing that the garments are once again 2D photographs. What does the back of that dress look like?

Christies Virtual Tour: Catherine Deneuve et Yves Saint-Laurent

“Explore timeless classics that define modern French elegance with over 300 YSL designs from Catherine Deneuve’s personal collection. This collection was sold in Paris on 24 January 2018.” Once again a 3D navigation of 2D photos imitating 3D – but it does show how close it is to happening.



3.1.1 3D Digital Clothing Software companies

Originally created for the math of pattern design, as in scaling or sizing, plus cutting and marker making, all software is now evolving primarily to design.  You can draft in 2D, then drape or sew over a 3D avatar, even a personalized body scan. One can then start to manipulate design, fabric and drape, plus add colour, detail, even embellishment, including fur and sequins. It is also possible to then create studio lighting, even animation within some of the softwares.

  • Gerber
  • Lectra
  • Optitex
  • Browzwear
  • CLO 3D

3.1.2 3D Apparel Software samples


The CLO 3D software also is a reasonable subscription price of $500 US per year and with basic pattern drafting knowledge and basic computer skills you can learn and create. Because of the price point and easy entry to creation and manipulation, there is an large online community that shares and promotes their work and teaching to other CLO users. Gia Falati created the Balenciaga one seam coat with CLO 3D in her Master thesis and proved that simulation in muslin, wool fabric and CLO all moved as they should in real life.


Browzwear, another 3D apparel software, has recently partnered with Sketchfab. Sketchfab’s 3D Viewer makes interactive 3D models viewable anywhere on the web. The technology is integrated with every major 3D creation tool and publishing platform. It is compatible with every major web browser, operating system, and device.

Other 3D apparel software are adding 3D simulation to their packages and developing new Innovation Centres.


The difference between 3D scanning and 3D pattern drafting is that it becomes a 3D surface versus a 3D construction. A visual representation of 3D versus a flat pattern reconstruction.

This does not give you the “math” or data of how that pattern (that piece of clothing was created from cloth), nor does it give you the “math” or drape of what the material would have displayed as.


Both 3D pattern design and 3D scanning can become assets of interactive display. Apple AR Kit is going to expand as developers create more interactive AR displays.


My goal is to clarify what is happening in the 3D apparel design world in which I work as a teacher and designer, and to show the potential of new technologies to complement our historical clothing collections. My eventual goal is to get an online 3D museum that could evolve with a system of contribution from all the 3D clothing artists around the world.


Conference: FIT Exhibiting Fashion Symposium March 8, 2019. Quote from the Dr. Christopher Breward was appointed director of collection and research at the National Galleries of Scotland in 2017. He was previously the principal of Edinburgh College of Art. (retrieved March 18, 2019).

Internet Resource: Responsive Design by Simon Kim, CEO CLO Virtual Fashion. “The biggest difference between illustration (2D) and visualisation (3D) is that illustration (2D) has no data” (retrieved March 19, 2019).

Internet resource: WEARABLE CULTURE Google has built a stunning, searchable archive of 3,000 years of world fashion. By Marc Bain June 11, 2017. (retrieved March 18, 2019).

Internet resource: Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum

Internet resource: Business of Fashion article “Meet Fashion’s First Computer-Generated Influencer: @lilmiquela wears Chanel, Prada and Supreme, works with fashion magazines and advocates for social change. Does it matter that she is a virtual avatar?” By Christopher Morency FEBRUARY 5, 2018 05:25 (retrieved March 18 2019).


Cite as:
McNulty, Roz. "The value of a 3D asset and the Future of Museums of Costume." MW20: MW 2020. Published February 17, 2020. Consulted .