This visual chronology of garments in the V&A collections shows the most important changes in European fashion between the 17th and 20th centuries. The evolution of style also reflects shifting notions of beauty, taste, femininity and masculinity.
Gown with a standing semi-circular collar, early 17th century. Museum no. 189-1900
Gown with a standing semi-circular collar
Early 17th century
Museum no. 189-1900
This loose gown made of Italian brocaded silk would have been worn by a woman in the early 17th century as part of a formal day ensemble. A bodice and petticoat of equally luxurious, although not necessarily matching materials would have been worn underneath. The silk has been slashed between the brocaded motifs. This was a popular decorative technique during the 16th and early 17th centuries. At the centre back of the gown's small upright collar are two holes to fasten a support for an elaborate lace collar.
Doublet, breeches and cloak
Doublet, breeches and cloak
Museum no. T.58 to B-1910
This ensemble demonstrates fashionable formal dress for men in the late 1630s and early 1640s. The breeches are long and fairly full in cut, reaching just below the knee. The doublet has a high waist at the sides and back, extending to a point in front. A deliberate opening of the seam on each sleeve allows the fine linen shirt underneath to be seen. No ensemble was complete without a cape, and this example spans almost a full circle. The ornamental technique used on this outfit is unique and complicated. Long narrow strips of satin were braided and 'pinked' (holed). Then they were cut into short pieces and arranged vertically and diagonally over the underlying shape of each garment to create a rich and decorative effect. The collar of the cape has been altered at a later date.
Mantua, about 1720. Museum no. T.88 to B-1978
Museum no. T.88 to B-1978
By the early 18th century, the mantua was worn by women as formal day wear. The pale blue silk of this example is brocaded in silver in a large-scale pattern of fantastic fruits and leaves, a typical design for the 1720s. The train of the gown is folded up and the sides held back with a loop and button. This complicated draping required a reversal of the silk when sewn together, so that only the right side of the fabric would show when properly arranged.
Dress suit, late 1720s or early 1730s. Museum no. 938 to B-1902
Late 1720s or early 1730s
Museum no. 938 to B-1902
This is an example of a man's matching coat, waistcoat and breeches from the late 1720s or early 1730s. It is an early example of a 'woven to shape' coat and waistcoat. The pattern outlining the front edges and hem of the coat and waistcoat were woven on the loom, so that the resulting length of silk could only be made into a coat and waistcoat. The pattern of the coat was woven in brown thread on a similarly coloured ground, while the same design on the waistcoat was executed in white thread on brown ground for a contrasting effect. The sleeve of the coat has a very deep cuff, reaching up to the elbow. It is cut in a wide curve, characteristic of the late 1720s and 1730s. This was known as a 'boot-cuff' sleeve.
Robe, 1740s. Museum no. T.260 & A-1969
Museum no. T.260 & A-1969
'Court dress' was an exclusive and very ornate style of clothing worn by the aristocracy, the only people usually invited to attend at Court. The style of the robe is quite old-fashioned, and based on the 17th-century mantua.
The shell, the quintessential Rococo motif, constitutes the basis of the embroidery pattern. Leafy scrolls, latticed arcades and tassels are also featured, as well a profusion of realistically rendered flowers, including jasmine, morning glory and honeysuckle, peonies, roses, poppies, anemones, auriculas, hyacinths, carnations, cornflowers, tulips and daffodils. The pattern of the silver shells and scrolls has been arranged symmetrically at the hem, but the layout of the flowers, while balanced, does not match exactly on either side. This ensemble recalls a garment worn by the Duchess of Queensbury in 1740: 'her cloathes were embroidered upon white satin; Vine leaves, Convulvus and Rosebuds shaded after Nature ...'.
Dress coat and waistcoat, 1760s. Museum no. T.28 & A-1952. Given by W. R. Crawshay
Dress coat and waistcoat
Museum no. T.28 & A-1952
Given by W. R. Crawshay
Such a luxurious silk velvet elaborately embellished with silver-gilt thread would only have been worn for high-society events at Court. The embroidery is a dense pattern of large flowers and leaves, executed in a variety of threads with purl and spangles. This very formal style of dress was quite conservative in style. The flared skirts of the coat, deep cuffs and absence of a collar reflect the fashions of the 1750s. The provenance of this ensemble suggests an Italian origin.
Double-breasted morning coat and waistcoat, 1790s. Museum no. 940-1902 & T.1082-1913
Double-breasted morning coat and waistcoat
Museum no. 940-1902 & T.1082-1913
This double-breasted coat demonstrates the exaggerated style of the late 1790s. It has a very high turned-down collar and large revers (lapels). The coat is now cut straight across in front and, following the example of women's dress, the waistline is several inches above the natural level. The double-breasted style in both coats and waistcoats was a fashion that began in the 1780s. Once a beautiful shot purple and blue, the dye colouring the silk of this coat has proved fugitive, and over time it has changed to a drab beige.
White muslin evening dress worn with a scarf, 1800-10. Museum no. T.673-1913. Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd
White muslin evening dress worn with a scarf
Museum no. T.673-1913
Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd
This muslin gown is a typical evening ensemble of the period 1800-1810. The embroidered design of flowers has been worked in cotton and silver thread with tiny gold spangles (sequins). It resembles fashion plates and descriptions from the fashion magazine La Belle Assemblée of 1807. A new development in dressmaking is the fastening of the gown at the back rather than the front.
Double-breasted dress coat, waistcoat and 'cossack' trousers
Double-breasted dress coat, waistcoat and 'cossack' trousers
Museum no. T.197-1914
These trousers are cut full at the thigh and taper to the ankles. Buttoned straps under the instep keep the fabric from riding up. The fullness at the hip is evenly gathered to the front of the waistband. Cossack trousers were introduced to Britain in 1814 when Tsar Aleksandr I travelled to London from Russia for the peace celebrations that followed Napoleon Bonaparte's abdication in April of that year. The Cossack soldiers in Aleksandr's entourage wore a similar style of trousers, which soon became fashionable in Europe.
Dress, about 1828 and arge bonnet
Museum no. T.151-1968
Given by Mrs H. K. Ludgate
By the end of the 1820s, the waistline of dresses was at the natural level. The fashionable style of sleeve was very full, tapering to a narrow circumference at the wrist, known as a 'gigot' sleeve. Skirts had become fuller since the beginning of the decade. This particular example illustrates a popular style of day dress made of brightly coloured printed cotton.
Dress, about 1842. Museum no. T.848-1974. Given by Mrs J. P. Friend Smith
Museum no. T.848-1974
Given by Mrs J. P. Friend Smith
This dress is characteristic of fashionable styles of the early 1840s. The neckline is wide with a deep collar or 'bertha'. The long, tight sleeves are typical of the 1840s, while the short over-sleeves recall the elaborate sleeves of the 1830s. The waist is lengthened in front with a point both front and back. The elaborate applied decorations of the 1830s are now no longer fashionable. The satin of this dress is left quite plain, except for a braid edging on the collar.
Dress coat and linen trousers, late 1840s - early 1850s. Museum no. T.177-1965. Given by Capt. Raymond Johnes
Dress coat and linen trousers,
Late 1840s - early 1850s
Museum no. T.177-1965
Given by Capt. Raymond Johnes
When trousers became fashionable in the first decade of the 19th century, they retained wide fall-front closure commonly used in the late 18th century. This began to narrow in the 1820s, and by the 1830s a fly-front closure, as seen in this example, became the most usual form. Buttons on the waistband allow the attachment of braces. Linen and cotton in pale colours were a popular choice for summer wear. These trousers are reputed to have been worn by William Pierson Johnes, a linen merchant of New York City.
Given by Capt. Raymond Johnes
Day dress, 1873-75. Museum no. T.112 to B-1938. Given by Miss M. Eyre-Poppleton
Museum no. T.112 to B-1938
Given by Miss M. Eyre-Poppleton
The influence of masculine tailoring can be seen in the cuffs and bodice revers of this woman's afternoon dress. The overall effect is quite severe, with all the decoration based on the application of a darker blue silk. Fashion is moving away from the fussier trimmings of the early 1870s. This garment is well made, with cleanly cut and finished appliqué and seams, indicating the work of a professional dressmaker.
Double-breasted morning coat, 1873-75. Museum no. T.3-1982
Double-breasted morning coat
Museum no. T.3-1982
As the frock coat became formal daywear in the 1850s, a more informal style of coat, called the morning coat was introduced. It had skirts that were cut away in front. This early 1870s morning coat was known as the 'University' style. It is characterised by sharply angled cut-away fronts, short length and double-breasted style. The wide collar and lapels are typical of the 1870s, as is the loose sleeve.
Evening dress, possibly a copy of a Worth original
Evening dress, possibly a copy of a Worth original
Museum no. T.272 & A-1972
Given by Lord and Lady Fairhaven
This sumptuous evening dress has huge puffed sleeves which were highly fashionable during the mid 1890s. One of the advantages of these large sleeves was to make the waist look small by comparison. The shoulder width was counterbalanced by the size of the skirt, which widened at the hem - an effect that was achieved by gores, shaped panels, box pleats in the back of the skirt and stiff interlining.
The skirt and bodice is embroidered in beads with exquisite butterfly and ribbon motifs. Butterflies were popular in 1894. The Queen in April illustrated an example by the couturier Felix.
The label 'Stern Bros., West 23rd , New York' is stitched to the waistband. Stern Bros., one of the largest New York department stores of the time, imported models of Parisian fashions for copying.
Museum no. T.57-1976
This garment with its full sleeves and long, flowing silhouette owes much of its inspiration to Pre-Raphaelite dress. The gown consists of a flared front panel attached to an open, flowing robe which falls from pleats at the back. The front panel has a patch pocket on the right side which is hidden by the deep plush edging.
The puffed sleeves, wide cuffs and velvet edgings are inspired by plain, loose 16th century gowns. The sunflower and pomegranate motif on the fabric was a recurring design on objects associated with the Aesthetic Movement. The subtle gold and brown tones were popular 'artistic' colours used in both dress and furnishing fabrics during the 1890s.
Double-breasted suit, about 1904
Museum no. T.159 & A-1969,
Late 19th or early 20th century
Museum no. T.81-1980
Given by Mrs Brooks
Light-coloured suits such as this became popular in the 1890s. The matching coat, trousers and waistcoat in pin-striped flannel (known as 'dittos') were accepted dress for summer sports and holidays. The outfit was often completed with a straw boater.
The striped jacket had originally been worn for cricket, tennis and rowing and it became fashionable for seaside wear during the 1880s. The cut of this jacket is derived from the earlier 'reefer' coat, usually worn for sailing. The infiltration of sporting dress into informal styles of clothing shows how social conventions were relaxing in the late 19th century.
Summer day dress, about 1910. Museum no. T.465-1974. Given by the Hon. Mrs J. J. Astor
Summer day dress
Museum no. T.465-1974
Given by the Hon. Mrs J. J. Astor
This style of delicate pale dress was immensely popular for wear at summer garden parties and fêtes. It has wide, inset panels of lacis patterned with a meandering leaf stem at the front, back and sleeve tops to complement the light fabric. An inner net bodice fastens at the centre front with a row of minute lawn-covered buttons and loops.
The fashion (current between about 1909 and 1912) for enormous hats was ridiculed in the popular press. However, fashionable women (even suffragettes) continued to wear these extravagant creations. False hair pads ('transformations') were often used, and the hats were anchored with long pins stuck through the hat and the real and false hair (safety guards shielded the sharp hat-pin points).
Evening dress, Patou
Museum no. T.198-1970
Given by Lord and Lady Cowdray
This sleeveless dress has a low square neckline, which was popular in the mid 1920s. Its straight bodice is embroidered with a design that reveals the influence of Egyptian patterns. Jean Patou (1880-1936) was born in Normandy, France, the son of a tanner. His uncle owned a fur business, which Patou joined. In 1914 he opened a small dressmaking business, Maison Parry, in Paris and sold his entire opening collection to an American buyer. His career was interrupted by the First World War of 1914-1918, but in 1919 he reopened his salon, this time under his own name. His collections continued to be a great success.
Along with 'Coco' Chanel, Patou was considered a leading exponent of the 'garçon' look, creating smart, workmanlike and well-tailored clothes. Throughout the 1920s he also consistently championed the shorter length of skirt that did much to stimulate the demand for stockings.
Evening dress, Norman Hartnell
Museum no. T.190-1973
Single-breasted suit, 1940. Museum no. T.717 & A-1974. Given by the Duke of Windsor
Museum no. T.717 & A-1974
Given by the Duke of Windsor
The lounge suit dominated men's dress from the 1920s onwards. It was worn at events and in places where in previous decades more formal attire would have been required. By 1940s men were wearing lounge suits with a pullover in place of a waistcoat. Pullovers were previously worn for informal and sporting occasions but they gradually became integrated into mainstream fashion.
This suit was worn by HRH The Duke of Windsor. As Prince of Wales he had been crowned King Edward VIII in 1936, but he abdicated the same year and took the title of The Duke of Windsor. The Duke was acknowledged internationally as the leader of men's fashion. He rebelled against the stiff formality of dress and became famous for his casual style. Using the best London and New York tailors, he continued to be adventurous in his love of bright colour, strong texture and bold pattern.
The Duke gave this suit to Sir Cecil Beaton, who was then collecting fashionable dress for his 1971 exhibition, Fashion: An Anthology.
Utility suit, probably by Victor Stiebel
Probably by Victor Stiebel
Museum no. T.46 & A-1942
Given by the Board of Trade, through Sir Thomas Barlow, Director-General of Civilian Clothing
This is a good example of a Utility Suit. It is from the Utility Collection by the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers for the Board of Trade. It may have been designed by Victor Stiebel. The simplification and economy of material match the conditions laid down by the Board in relation to the manufacture of civilian clothing during the Second World War of 1939-1945. Then, both hand-crafted and mass-produced tailoring was as important as it is today. But, despite the best efforts of the fashion designers to be inventive without wasting precious fabric, there was a very limited choice. The Utility Scheme was introduced by the Board in 1941 to ensure that low- and medium-quality consumer goods were produced to the highest possible standards at 'reasonable' prices. These standards complied with restrictions and rationing of raw materials. The word 'Utility' was applied to garments made from Utility cloth, which was defined in terms of minimum weight and fibre content per yard. Utility clothes were usually identified by a distinctive double crescent CC41 (Civilian Clothing) label.
The bloused jacket with square, padded shoulders closely resembles the battledress top of an army uniform. It is Board of Trade pattern no. 33, and the retailers' maxiumum selling price for the suit in 13/13 1/2 oz woollen frieze was £4 2s 2d.
Dance dress, Christian Dior
Museum no. T.264 & A-1981
Day dress and jacket, Ungaro
Day dress and jacket
Museum no. T.320-1978
Given by Mrs Brenda Azario
Emmanuel Ungaro was born in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1933. He played an important role in the rejuvenation of Paris fashion. He left Balenciaga, with whom he had worked for six years, to join Courrèges in 1964. When this partnership failed, he began to design, independently showing his first collection in 1965. Like Courrèges, Ungaro sculpted hard-edged clothes in heavy worsted fabrics and triple gaberdines. His garments retained the angular shapes of the mid 1960s fashions so perfectly that they often almost stood up by themselves.
This day dress and jacket was worn by Mrs Brenda Azario. It was featured in French Vogue (March 1966 and March 1967).
Double-breasted suit, Mr Fish
Museum no. T.310 & A-1979
Given by David Mlinaric
This suit was made in 'The Sixties', when psychedelic colours were very popular. The corduroy is an American furnishing fabric by Hexter. The donor, Mr David Mlinaric, purchased the fabric while on a visit to the USA so that he could have a suit made from it on his return home.
Evening dress and hat, Jean Muir
Evening dress and hat
Museum no. T.321 & A-1974
Given by Jean Muir
In August 1971 Vogue magazine illustrated six designs from Jean Muir's latest collection, including this classic dress. The description ran: 'isn't it romantic? tucked or gathered bodices springing great or greater sleeves'. With its top-stitching, carefully tucked bodice and softly pleated skirt, the fluid dress characterises the designer's meticulous attention to the dictates of cloth and methods of construction.
This evening dress and matching hat form part of the Cecil Beaton Collection, brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination, Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The Collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range.
Pirate outfit, Vivienne Westwood
Museum no. T.334 to I-1983
Single-breasted suit, Tommy Nutter
Museum no. T.10-1983
Given by the designer
This suit was worn by the theatrical designer Anthony Powell. It is a good example of innovative design by Tommy Nutter. By placing the pinstripes horizontally rather than vertically, he has used classic tailoring methods and fabrics in new and imaginative ways. The tie and shirt, also by Tommy Nutter, are reminiscent of 19th- and early 20th-century styles.