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The focus of this collection is clothes and textiles made, sold, bought and worn in London from the 16th century to the present. The collection 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.
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.
Costume is interesting because it is splendid, ridiculous, useful, pompous, dignified, sombre, gay, fantastic – because, in short, it is human.
REM Wheeler, Keeper and Secretary of the London Museum, 1933
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.