Our costume, textiles and fashion collections are extensive, covering all aspects of the history of dress, dress care and dress making, as well as aids to the appearance, and ranging in date from around 1600 to the present day.  

For over seventy years, the costume collection was displayed at a branch gallery, Platt Hall in Rusholme. From October 2022, it will have an exciting new specific Fashion Gallery at Manchester Art Gallery, with the upcoming show, Unpicking Couture (21 July 2023 -12 January 2025).

Manchester Art Gallery had accepted a range of clothing and textiles pieces before the Second World War, including the collection of Mary Greg, but it was the purchase of the Cunnington Collection in 1947 which resulted in the foundation of the Gallery of [English] Costume, as the first specific costume museum in the UK, and also fostered the subsequent development of our clothing collections. Drs Willett and Phillis Cunnington had amassed a significant collection of 19th century women’s dress and related material as well as a vast related research library of fashion plates, magazines and shop catalogues.  

Man's suit, gilt embroidered.

The Gallery’s subsequent collecting policy from the later 1940s was socially very broad, but with a specific remit to collect clothes worn or made in Britain.  Over the next 75 years we have prioritized home-made, occupational and high-street clothing just as much as designer or couture pieces. Donations have concentrated on areas which complemented rather than duplicated the Cunnington Collection, including early 17th century items; post-1930 material; menswear; occupational clothes; ‘streetwear’ and designer outfits. There have also been a few significant large-scale donations and purchases, such as the Cotton Board collection of catwalk pieces which were given during the 1950s, the Meredith button collection in 2008, and the Filmer collection of some sixty 17th century pieces in 2004.  

Overall 1900-1905

In more recent years the clothes of major British and European designers have been actively collected in response to requests from students, researchers and our users at large. This evolution was consolidated by a substantial NHLF grant, awarded in 2015, to enable the acquisition of a capsule, sample-selection of some 50 major couture pieces, ranging from Charles Frederick Worth, Poiret, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga and Dior, to YSL, Lacroix, McQueen and Galliano. 

Purple Schiaparelli jacket CC 1938

Alongside the clothing collection, and before the 1950s, four donations of ‘flat’ textiles were acquired: Mary Greg gave a substantial group of mainly British and European 18th and 19th century domestic textiles and dress fragments; Lewis F Day presented a collection of world textiles and garments primarily from Asia, Eastern Europe and North Africa; Manchester-based cotton manufacturers gave a range of contemporary 1930s dress and furnishing fabrics as part of our Industrial Art Collection; and finally we acquired a group of West African fabrics collected by ‘Africa merchant’ Charles Beving, together with many samples made at the Manchester-based Bentinck Mill for export to West Africa. 

Childs bodice Spanish dated 1670-1700