Museum of London Dress and Textiles Collection

City Information Centre

   When you think of the Museum of London, what does come to mind? School children on a day out to learn about the Great Fire of London? Some Roman bits and pieces? But did you know that they also have an extensive dress and textiles collection? Unfortunately it is currently closed to researchers due to a major collections audit, in preparation for the Museum of London’s move to West Smithfield. So get ready for it.
 The focus of this collection is clothes and textiles made, sold, bought and worn in London from the 16th century to the present. It ranges from garments made at home to those produced in the studios of London couturiers, from gowns worn at grand occasions to clothes worn every day. We are talking about Mary Quant, Katharine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood and other celebrity designers.
 Clothes began to be collected as soon as the idea of a museum for London became reality in 1911. Until around the 1960s mainly garments from earlier periods were added with the exception of the two World Wars when contemporary collecting took place. The early curators of the museum were aware of the importance of clothes to bring history to life and in 1933 the museum was the first in Britain to publish a catalogue of its costume collection.
 The aim of the dress and textile collection is to represent London’s role as a centre for the production, design and consumption of clothes. It contains over 23,000 objects from the Tudor period to the present day. The majority of dress and textiles from the 16th century to the 19th century consist of fashionable dress and accessories, while objects from the more recent period represent a broader spectrum of society. The dress and textile collection is complemented by related material in the social and working history, photograph and printed ephemera collections, and the museum library. These holdings include the Harry Matthews Collection of costume and fashion plates consisting of around 3,500 prints dating from the 16th century to 1829.

An image of a large square dress on a female figurine. The dress has a floral yellow and green pattern on a neutral background. The skirt is extremely wide at the hips giving it a rectangular shape with a corset bodice, square neckline and long ruffled sleeves.
Court dress worn by Mrs. Ann Fanshawe, 1752 - 1753 © Museum of London