Lately (the past year or two) I’ve been collecting museum catalogs. I find that they are great resources because they give you specific examples of how a particular dress or item of clothing was put together. You can see construction lines that you can’t see in fashion plates, and see color and texture in fabric and trim. It’s great for seeing how a particular style works in an individual example.
I’ve come across some great finds using ebay and trolling through used bookstores (both physical and online). Recent acquisitions (to use my librarian voice!) include: In Style: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Costume Institute (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Costume (Western Reserve Historical Society), the catalog from the Museum of Costume in Bath (U.K.), and Vanity Fair: Four Centuries of Fashion From the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (St. Louis Art Museum). I’m on the hunt for a version of Best Dressed (Philadelphia Museum of Art), but since it came out relatively recently (which means there are still a number of copies in circulation) I’m not willing to pay much for it (plus most of it is 20th century).
One that I’m particularly excited about is Modesty to Mod: Dress and Underdress in Canada, 1780-1967 (Royal Ontario Museum), published in 1967, which includes (yay!) scaled patterns for a number of dresses in the exhibition. I think I’m going to use the pattern for an 1894 ballgown bodice for my 1897 ballgown.