Spanning four centuries, the V&A’s Fashion collection is the largest and most comprehensive collection of dress in the world. Key items in the collection include rare 17th-century gowns, 18th-century ‘mantua’ dresses, 1930s eveningwear, 1960s daywear and post-war couture. Plus a growing number of pieces from 21st-century designers.
The Fashion Museum (formerly The Museum of Costume) is one of the world’s great museum collections of historic and fashionable dress. Designated as a collection of outstanding national significance, the Fashion Museum was recently listed by CNN as one of the world’s Top 10 fashion museums.
There are over 24,000 objects in the collection, dating from the Tudor period to the present day. The core of the collection consists of fashionable dress and accessories. The 20th century garments are more diverse and include clothing from a far wider range of socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural groups. Interesting components include clothing and textiles designed, manufactured, sold, and worn in London; royal and occupational clothing; costume and accessories; and a collection of almost 4,000 fashion plates from 16th century through 1829.
The Gallery of Costume houses one of the largest collections of clothing and fashion accessories in Britain (over 20,000 items), and is housed in the elegant surroundings of Platt Hall, an 18th century textile merchant’s home. The collection contains clothes worn by men, women and children from the 17th century to the present day. Many of the clothes represent high fashion of the day. Other, much rarer items represent the basic but equally interesting dress of working people, such as the clogs and shawls of Lancashire weavers. The Gallery continues to collect all kinds of clothes worn by people in Britain, including contemporary designer wear, sports and leisure clothes, underwear and the fashions of Manchester’s South Asian communities. However, you can explore the costume collections further by browsing their collection themes or search for specific items using the collections search. The gallery has an extensive collection of fashion journals and periodicals available for research (runs viewable on the website).
The Fashion and Textile Museum Collection highlights the changing face of contemporary fashion from 1947 to the present day. All items in the Collection relate to the design and production of fashion, textiles and jewellery, with a number of key garments from designers including Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Biba, Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood. The Museum can also provide information on and access to the Zandra Rhodes Collection, which is an outstanding resource containing 40 years of work including samples, paper patterns, textiles and ephemera. The FTM aims not just to display and collect items relating to fashion, jewellery and textile design, but to offer inspiration to a new generation of creatives, and they make a point of the accessibility of their collection to both students and outside researchers.
The Museum houses the Devonshire Collection of Period Costume, a charitable trust, which holds several thousands of items of dress for women, men and children dating from c1650 to the end of the 20th century (though there are few pieces from before the 19th century). It is located in one of the most intact Tudor merchant’s houses in Tones (in the centre of the Tudor “Butterwalk”) and shows a new, themed exhibition each summer of about 50 outfits.
There are over 15,000 items in their online fashion & textile collection, but it remains unclear what sort of exhibitions they put on, or if there is a permanent costume gallery in the museum. There is some suggestion they have a “Jane Austen Costume Collection,” which would fit nicely with the Georgian architecture of the building, but it is unclear exactly what that entails.
Northampton Borough Council’s museum cares for the largest collection of objects charting the history of shoes in the world. The collection is designated as being of national and international significance and consists of 12,000 shoes and 50,000 archival records including documentary footage and fine art. You can view their brief History of Shoes here, browse images of some of the shoes in the collection on their flikr stream, or see some Highlights of their Collection here.
Guernsey (a British Crown dependency off the coast of Normandy in the English Channel)
Macclesfield Silk Museums (Macclesfield, UK)
Wardown Park Museum (Luton, England)
See also the museums in the UK that focus on Textile Manufacturing.
Note: Shambellie House Museum of Costume, Dumfresshire, is recently closed