Costume Collection

A unique collection at Chelsea Library

Chelsea Reference Library has a fantastic collection of books focusing on fashion and costume, including a large archive of magazines.

This extensive collection has recently been updated with a large number of new books. It now represents a wonderful source of ideas, information and practical advice on the subject of costume and fashion from the earliest times to the present, and looking into the future.

To see the full collection download a booklet:

PDF booklet [PDF] (file size 273Kb) 

read about the Royal-inspired couture collection

We have books on:

Traditional Costume
  • the history of costume from its earliest times
  • historical and national dress of different countries including tribal costume
  • dress associated with particular events such as weddings, coronations and festivals
  • occupational dress
  • millitary dress - both current and historical
  • stage costume
  • books on different 20th century designers
  • accessories - jewellery, fans, shoes, buttons, gloves, hats, glasses etc

We have a wide range of books on the history of twentieth century dress, including books on designers, many of which are recognised as the definitive work on that particular designer’s work. Also in the collection are the in-depth studies of a particular mode of dress throughout a period, and books specifically dedicated to either male or female costume.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has been the place of birth of some of the major movements in the world of fashion – punk era, for example, started on King’s Road just ouitside our front door. The borough has also been home to several designers whose work and reputation are recognised world-wide, such as Ossie Clark, Mary Quant, "Biba" (Barbara Hulanicki) and Vivienne Westwood.

The collection is too large for the open shelves in the library and there are many hidden treasures stored in our stores. These items are available to the public - just ask a member of staff to retrieve the book for you.

Fashion magazines

The library also holds magazines dedicated to contemporary dress, such as:

Egyptian Costumes
  • Vogue - issues from as early as the 1920s
  • Vanity Fair
  • L'Officiel
  • Tailor and Cutter
  • Manufacturing Clothier
  • La Belle Assemblee
  • The Ladies' Cabinet - depicted contemporary fashion of the day in the nineteenth century

If you are a researcher, student of dress or just interested for pleasure, our contemporary and historical collection, used in conjunction with that of the nearby Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, is a first class archive.

You may also be interested in the Berg fashion library.