At the Museum of the City of New York, one of the projects that I had the opportunity to contribute to was the costume assessment. Costume assessment includes a series of steps. First, while in its box, a costume is examined to make sure that the fabric would be strong enough to hold its own weight while it's being put on a mannequin. Second, the waist and bust sizes are measured, and a mannequin's size is adjusted by adding or removing batting around its torso. Third, the costume is taken out of the box carefully and put on the mannequin.
Next, we take pictures of the costume on the mannequin for records to be uploaded to the museum system called MuseumPlus. Detailed images of any intricate designs and damaged parts are also photographed. Then the condition is examined thoroughly and is reported along with the description and the measurement of the costume. Criteria to be examined include the possibility of alteration and re-make. Included in the description are provenance of the item, such as who donated the item, who wore it, what occasion it was worn to, and who made the dress. The Museum of the City of New York only keeps items that have something to do with New York City.
When the costume is removed from the mannequin, the condition of the inside of the garment is examined. While examining a few 19th century women's dresses, I was very excited every time I found a pocket on those dresses. One of these days, all of the dresses that I had the opportunity to help assess had one pocket, and it was always on the right side, hidden somewhere in the skirt. I wondered why it was only on the right side.
Patch pocket hidden among fringes
Inseam pocket hidden beneath the train
Pocket hidden among pleated design of the bustle
1885 (Originally made in the mid-1870s)
According to Phyllis Magidson, Curator of the Costumes and Textiles of the Museum of the City of New York, pockets were placed on the right side for right handed people. In those days, people were assumed to be right handed because left handed people were considered to be devils in the old days. This custom continued into the 20th century, even though some geniuses including Einstein were left handed. She also explained that it derives from the theory of dexter and sinister where dexter represented right-handed side and honor, whereas sinister represented left side, left-handed, and evil.