The library collects historical sources and guides to finding and using sources. Fashion history can be found dispersed throughout our collections, both in obvious and unexpected places. This guide shows examples of the rich sources for the history of fashion and taste, covering different kinds of fashion, for example architecture, interior and garden design, as well as clothing and the textile trades. Letters, diaries and travel accounts, estate accounts, trade records and parliamentary sources all have something to offer. The library collections are mostly arranged geographically, with a few topical collections such as Religious history and Military history.
Highlights from the Collections
Letters and Diaries
Editions of correspondence and diaries are very well represented in our collections. Themes cover tastes in clothing, interior and garden design, fashionable food, shopping, entertainment and holidays, fashion and clothing during a war. Many editions have extensive indexes. Examples include:
- The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Full of rich descriptions of fashion and clothing:
".. and then to prepare my monthly account.. to my great sorrow, find myself 43l worse than I was the last month.. it has chiefly arisen from my layings-out in clothes for myself and wife.. a velvet cloak, two new cloth-suits, black, plain both- a new shag-gown, trimmed with gold buttons and twist; with a new hat and silk top[s] for my legs.. also two periwigs" (Latham, R. (ed.), The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol. IV, 1663, p.357-8)
- Lettres de Madame, Duchesse d'Orléans, née Princesse Palatine: ".. La danse est donc hors de mode partout? Chez nous en France, dès qu'il y a une assemblée, on ne fait que jouer au lansquenet; c'est le jeu qui est ici le plus en vogue; les jeunes gens ne veulent plus danser." (14 May 1695, p.118)
- The letters of Sarah Harriet Burney: "I have been hearing a great deal about fashion at a Milliners Kitty Farquhar carried me to.- Short sleeves are to be worn this winter, with little muslin cufs like a shift sleeve, with wristbands & robbins.." (4 Dec 1792, p.2)
- The letters of Letitia Hargrave: 'a woman's life in the fur-trade in Rupert's land', Western Canada 1838-52.
- Our hidden lives : the everyday diaries of a forgotten Britain, 1945-1948: "I do hope women aren't going to fall for the new long skirt fashion. Now we have our chance to take a stand for commonsense and I hope we don't miss it." (Edie Rutherford, 3 September 1947, p.444)
- The Mitfords: Letters between six sisters: "V. odd that the moment one buys something in Paris it turns up in Marks and Spencer & yet how many times when in London have I vainly tried to land some smashing bargain, combing Harrods, Dior & Marshall's Grès in vain." (Nancy to Deborah, 8 November 1964, p.424)
A vast collection of travel writing includes commentary on everyday fashions and the exotic, on shops and shopping and the clothing industry. Examples include:
- Women's travel writings in revolutionary France
- Descriptions of local dress and C18th attitudes to foot binding in An authentic account of an embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China
- Touring the Low Countries : accounts of British travellers, 1660-1720: "Of Flanders.. the common sort of men retain their old fashion of wide-kneed breeches and broad-skirted doublets, and the gentry only differ by wearing French, or close-kneed breeches. The gentlewomen differ not from us, and the common sort only by wearing on their heads a short coiffe with the corners stretched out to either ear and there fixed with pendants such as their ability affords; and in the summer go in their hair and the poorer sort without stockings with wooden shoes, cut out of the whole piece, a great commodity in that country".
- Fashion for public baths in the Levant, descriptions of clothing, hairstyles and beards in A journey through Albania, and other provinces of Türkiye in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, during the years 1809-1810.
- The cotton kingdom : a traveller's observations on cotton and slavery in the American slave states..
- Westward bound : travels of Mirza Abu Taleb: "The French women are tall, and more corpulent than the English, but bear no comparison with respect to beauty.. Their fashion for dressing the hair was to me very disgusting, as it exactly resembled the mode practised by the common dancing-girls in India; that is, by dividing the hair into ringlets, two of which hung on the cheeks in an affected careless manner. They were also painted to an excessive degree.." (p.187)
Household and Court Records
Covering different locations, periods and people, including:
- Italy: Lorenzo de' Medici at home : the inventory of the Palazzo Medici in 1492
- Spain: Inventarios reales: Bienes muebles que pertenecieron a Felipe II
- Of houshold stuff : the 1601 inventories of Bess of Hardwick
- All my worldly goods : an insight into family life from wills and inventories 1447-1742
- "Goods and chattels" 1552-1642 : wills, farm and household inventories from the parish of South Cave in the East Riding of Yorkshire
- "Lost from Her Majesty's back" : items of clothing and jewels lost of given away by Queen Elizabeth I between 1561 and 1585, entered in ... the records of the Wardrobe of Robes
- The Great wardrobe accounts of Henry VII and Henry VIII
- Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII
- Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe unlock'd : the inventories of the Wardrobe of Robes
- The 1542 inventory of Whitehall : the palace and its keeper
Legal and Parliamentary Sources
We hold a range of parliamentary sources for different countries, including Parliamentary Debates and Proceedings, Petitions and Reports and Acts of Parliament. Examples covering fashion and the textile industry include:
Regulations on fashion and hairstyles and sumptuary laws:
- Draghi rossi e querce azzurre : elenchi descrittivi di abiti di lusso (Firenze, 1343-1345)
- 1363: "The Diet and Apparel of Servants.. It is ordained.. that they have Clothes for their Vesture, or Hosing, whereof the whole Cloth shall not exceed Two Marks.. no Cloth of higher Price.. nor nothing of Gold.. of Silver embroidered.. nor of Silk.. and their Wives, Daughters, and Children.. The Apparel of Handicraftsmen and Yeomen: within Forty shillings.. Cloth of Silk nor of Silver, nor Girdle, [Knife, Button,] Ring, Garter, now Owche, Ribband, Chains, nor no such other Things of Gold nor of Silver.. that they wear no [Veil] of Silk, but only of [Yarn] made within the Realm, nor no Manner of Furr, nor of Budge, but only Lamb, Cony, Cat, and Fox". (Statutes of the Realm, 37 Edward III c.8-15 - it goes on to describe the prescribed apparel for Esquires and Gentlemen, Merchants, Knights, the Clergy and Ploughmen)
- Rich apparel : clothing and the law in Henry VIII's England
- 1746: "No man or boy, within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed.. in his Majesty's forces, shall.. wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the plaid, philebeg, or little kilt.. no tartan" from An Act for the more effectual disarming the highlands in Scotland' (19 George II c.39).
- 1337: "A statute was approved during the parliament to prohibit the export of wool, while seeking to encourage the manufacture of cloth in England... No one was to use foreign made cloth, except the king, queen and their children" (Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, 1337 March, Vol. 4 p.230)
- Statuti dell'Arte dei rigattieri e linaioli di Firenze (1296-1340)
- Registre des délibérations et ordonnances des marchands merciers de Paris, 1596-1696
- Acts of Parliament relating to trade of textiles such as the 1721 Act to preserve and encourage the woollen and silk manufactures of this kingdom which following petitioning from the woollen industry prohibited use of various types of cotton cloth (7 George I c.7). It was subsequently amended to remove the restrictions in 1736 following further petitioning by the cotton industry (9 George II c.4).
Conditions for workers:
- Parliamentary Debates and Reports include much information about the conditions of workers in textile factories, debates about the education of child workers, families working together, working hours, safety etc.
- Acts of Parliament relating to factory conditions and slavery.
For further information on our UK parliamentary collection, see our collection guide.
Descriptions and Regulations on soldiers' clothing
- El Soldado mexicano, 1837-1847 : The Mexican soldier, organización, vestuario, equipo; organization, dress, equipment
- A collection of regulations, orders and instructions formed and issued for the use of the Army.. (1788)
- The Queen's regulations and orders for the Army (1844)
- Dress regulations for the officers of the army : including the militia (1900)
- "We were mustered into the U.S. Service last Tuesday.. We got our uniform the day after. Our uniform is all grey. We have roundabout coats and loose pants. It is the best fighting rig imaginable" (22 July 1861, p.7).. "Well, mother, the principal object of my letter is to ask you if you will send me a couple of summer shirts.. We cant draw any but thick coarse cotton & wool shirts, & the weather is so excessively hot that they are rather uncomfortable". (8 August 1864, p.91) from Letters home : Henry Matrau of the Iron Brigade
Civilian description of soldiers' dress
- "It is true that men in uniform somehow always look more impressive than when they come along in a civilian suit. So that women naturally somehow always look at those in uniform. Always. Whether they're in the the Luftwaffe uniform or the navy, which was even more chic" (Interview with Frau Maria von Lingen in Frauen : German women recall the Third Reich, p.121)
- Many travel accounts and other personal narratives contain descriptions of religious vestments.
- Sources describing dress worn for religious reasons.
- Monumental brasses and tombs are a good source of images of clothing.
- Persecution of Quakers for refusal to remove hat: "John Ellis beeinge summoned to appeare before Peter Ceely was for nott puttinge off his hatt to P : Ceely & James Launce cal[led Justices] committed to Goale & was throwne into Doomsdale and cruelly used.." from Record of the sufferings of Quakers in Cornwall : 1655-1686, 1666, p.3.
- Vestments during a papal funeral: "They clothe him in trousers, a shirt, boots and tunic.. next.. dress him completely in sacred vestments of the colour red: first white sandals, a belt and an under subcintorium [under-belt], fanon, stole, tunicle, the maniple, dalmatic, gloves, cape, assuming the pallium of the body of Peter.. they place on his head a white biretta with a white mitre without pearls and gold. From Le ceremonial d’Ameil by Pierre Ameil (d. 1401), Master of Ceremonies under Popes Urban VI and Boniface IX. Published in Dykmans, Marc. Le ceremonial papal de la fin du Moyen Âge à la Renaissance, T. 4., p. 219
Business and Trade Records
The library holds a strong collection of histories of London livery companies and editions of related sources, these include:
- Merchant Taylors
- Fan Makers
Other collections of sources
- The Devon cloth industry in the eighteenth century : Sun Fire Office inventories of merchants' and manufacturers' property, 1726-1770
- Recueil de documents relatifs à l'histoire de l'industrie drapière en Flandre
- The Dundee textile industry, 1790-1885 : from the papers of Peter Carmichael of Arthurstone
- Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van de Leidsche textielnijverheid verzameld door Mr. N. W. Posthumus
Letters and accounts of people involved in trade
- The letters of Philip Stannard, Norwich textile manufacturer (1751-1763)
- The autobiography of David Whitehead of Rawtenstall (1790-1865) : cotton spinner and merchant
- "To do justice to him & myself" : Evert Wendell's account book of the fur trade with Indians in Albany, New York, 1695-1726
- Fur trade letters of Francis Ermatinger : written to his brother Edward during his service with the Hudson's Bay Company, 1818-1853, also much other material under subject heading for Fur trade.
Factories and Mills
Directories and catalogues
These are a rich source of information about fashion and the fashion trade, containing lists of suppliers, shops and advertisements.
We hold many Trade Directories from London, English counties and the British regions, and a small number from other parts of the world, for example Custom House Guide, United States, 1943.
The collections also include some Exhibition catalogues from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the 1862 International Exhibition. Both contain illustrations and descriptions of the latest furnishings and innovations in textile manufacture, along with list of suppliers and illustrations of machinery and factories.
Newspapers and Magazines
Newspapers are a good source of information on contemporary views of fashion, and also advertisements for businesses and products.
"Punk, by its implicit inferiority, can be seen to be a violent reaction to a certain staleness, or should it be tameness, of silhouette in recent seasons" in 'Riding the new wave with punk chic', The Times (London, England), Thursday, Oct 27, 1977; pg. 16; Issue 60145 from The Times Online.
Online newspaper collections (onsite only)
Printed C18th and C19th century periodicals
- Gentleman's Magazine
- Edinburgh Review
- Quarterly Review
- Notes and Queries
- Nineteenth Century
- Moniteur universel
- Mercure de France
Compilations from newspapers
- The arts and crafts in New York, 1726-1776 and 1777-1799 (New York Historical Society): Compilation of advertisements and news items from New York City newspapers, indexed to include entries on the decorative arts, fabrics and needlework and costume, giving lots of information on fashion and the clothing trade. There are detailed descriptions of servants' clothing in adverts about runaway servants.
- My day : the best of Eleanor Roosevelt's acclaimed newspaper columns, 1936-1962: Views on men's fashion: "I never have understood why every member of the male sex had to dress in the same way..." (p.173-4). Shopping: "..since Friday was a difficult day to get around the streets of New York, I decided to go out and buy a spring hat! I bought two of them, in fact, in Sally Victor's and I hope that by April, when I finally receive them, the weather will not resemble that of last weekend" (p.232).
- Selected writings of an eighteenth-century Venetian woman of letters: "..men will know if they should attend to their affairs with collars of many or few layers, with a minuet step, or with an English air. Women will know if they can manage their families better with great or small circumference in their dress, and to what braccio italiano the height of their coiffure should correspond". (Elisabetta Caminer's tongue-in-cheek 'Review of the new fashion supplement to the Tuscan Gazette (1777)', p.191).
See full list of online resources. Below are a few examples of resources that could be useful for this subject (most are available onsite in the IHR or via subscription only):
- Bibliography of British and Irish History
- Connected Histories allowing cross-searching of multiple resources
- British History Online
- Early English Books online
- Eighteenth century collections online (ECCO)
- Times Online
- 19th Century British Library Newspapers
- 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers
- UK Parliamentary Papers
- History Online: browse theses, teachers, books and grants
Reference and Secondary Works
Reference and secondary works
Biographical reference works
Some examples from larger holdings:
Periodicals and Theses
We hold a wide variety of history periodicals, the current issues are on open access in the library, back copies are available electronically or in the store. The Bibliography of British and Irish History and equivalent national bibliographies for other countries form a good starting point for browsing periodical literature. Access to JSTOR and other electronic databases is available within the library.
For history theses across other universities, see History Online. See further information on theses holdings at the IHR library. These are a few examples covering fashion history:
- Rothstein, N. K. A., The silk industry in London, 1702-1766, MA 1961
- Jordan, W. M., The silk industry in London, 1760-1830 : with special reference to the condition of the wage-earners and the policy of the Spitalfields Acts, MA 1931
- Ribeiro de Oliveira Versiani, M. T., The cotton textile industry of Minas Gerais, Brazil : beginnings and early development, 1868-1906, PhD 1991
- Van Kirk, Sylvia Marian, The role of women in the fur trade society of the Canadian West 1700-1850, PhD 1975
Contact us if you would like help on finding or using our collections, or if you have any comments or suggestions about the content of this guide. We are happy to help.
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