The mission of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection is to educate and inspire through the documentation, exhibition, and preservation of historic costume.
The Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry was founded by financier and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel in 1891. Drexel believed that the study of art and design was essential to a well-rounded education and earmarked one million dollars, equal to more than 26 million dollars today, specifically for the purchase of art and artifacts. Textiles and examples of traditional dress were among the earliest acquisitions of what was then called the Museum of Drexel Institute (now the Drexel Collection). The acquisition of fashionable dress and accessories was first suggested in 1898 by Howard Pyle, who was then Director of the School of Illustration, “as a help to historic and artistic study” by the dressmaking and millinery students.
By the early 1950s the costume collection had grown to nearly 2,000 objects and was known as the Drexel Historic Costume Collection. Mary Brenneman Carter was named the first curator of the Drexel Historic Costume Collection in 1954. Carter was a passionate advocate for the Collection, and worked tirelessly to create official protocol, establish systematic management, and maintain professional standards.
In 1959, the Nan Duskin Laboratory of Costume Design was created, enabling the collection to be housed in a state-of-the-art storage and classroom facility. It was named for Mrs. Anne Lincoln, founder of the esteemed Nan Duskin specialty shop of Philadelphia and passionate supporter of the Collection.
In recent years, the collection has undergone an intense period of redevelopment. These changes have included the hiring of a professionally-trained curator, Clare Sauro, in 2008 and the construction of a new storage facility in the URBN Center in 2012 that provides previously unimagined access to visitors. In 2014, the collection was renamed the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection in recognition of their generous gift earmarked for collection support.