Manchester City Galleries has one of the largest British collections of fashion and clothing, housed in a separate building, Platt Hall, 2 miles south of the city centre. The Gallery of Costume was founded in 1947 when Manchester acquired the large private collection of costume which Drs Willet and Phillis Cunnington had amassed during the 1930s, and which concentrated on middling and ordinary dress. The 19th century holding, including a large archive and library of fashion related material, was particularly significant, forming the nucleus of the collections even today.
Beginning with the stewardship of Anne Buck in 1947, a succession of curators has ensured that the strengths of the collections have been built upon in such areas as sportswear and occupational dress, whilst the breadth has been considerably expanded so that we have a wealth of representative material from 1600 onwards, including the Filmer collection of early 17th century dress. We also have a fine selection of 18th century women’s clothing with over 100 dresses, and an excellent collection of children’s costume. Menswear too has been a priority, as has Manchester-labelled clothing.
More recently we have concentrated on increasing the Gallery’s holding of top-end couture to complement the more mainstream or high-street pieces, ranging from Schiaparelli and Chanel to McQueen and Westwood. A Collecting Cultures grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund is currently assisting with the purchase of some seminal couture pieces.