While some words are inherently obtuse, many are seemingly simple. Most of us, for example, could offer a fairly credible definition of the term shirt. However, one person might describe a shirt as a garment with a collar and cuffs while another described it as a white tee. In museums, deciding on an overarching term for a group of objects can be tricky. There are great pains taken to avoid misleading potential visitors, as well as to keep up with current museum parlance. At the Goldstein, we refer to the portion of the collection that has clothing as apparel and accessories. Historically, GMD referred to this portion of the collection as costume, but somewhere along the way this was considered misleading because of its potential to evoke Halloween disguises or theatrical stage garb. The dictionary definition of costume is actually apropos. Merriam Webster describes it as "the prevailing fashion in coiffure, jewelry, and apparel of a period, country, or class." However, Webster's second definition does allude to masquerade, "an outfit worn to create the appearance characteristic of a particular period, person, place, or thing."
The Metropolitan Museum of Art uses costume as the signifier of this portion of their collection, but then clarifies with the subtext 'fashionable dress, regional costume, and accessories.' Notice the comprehensive use of the term dress in this subtext. Many find dress to be deceptive when used to refer to a whole ensemble (garments, shoes, handbags, hairstyle, comportment, make-up, etc), despite its wide acceptance by researchers.
The Fashion Institute of Technology and the Victoria and Albert Museum place their collections under the umbrella of fashion. While fashion is, in fact, a general term referring to the "make or form of something," its strong cultural association with dress makes their intent clear. For well known museums, word choice becomes so engrained in their identity that they shape future understandings and usages of terms.