A Sneaky Peak into the Leicester Museums Costume Store

A Sneaky Peak into the Leicester Museums Costume Store

September 25, 2015

This month I was given the chance to visit the Leicester museums stores to have a nosey around. This wasn’t just a jolly – I was under the guise of helping Lucy Adlington of The History Wardrobe research her new book on clothes of the 1940s. However, I may have got a little distracted…….It was like letting children loose in a sweet shop!

As we went through the door the first thing that caught my eye was a rail full of 18th century gowns just casually (yet carefully) hung on a rail. It was at this point I realised my handbag was pitifully small and of no use whatsoever for costume to ‘accidently’ fall into.


Before I started salivating too much over the 18th century rail, my attention was drawn to the rail of forties clothes that had been prepared for us to look through. Wow!
12038538_1066630090034124_206616654784458308_nMy first impression was of a huge splash of colour. The war years are often thought of as being a period of dull colours and staid designs for womens clothing, but not on this rail. The patterns on the printed cotton summer dresses were fab!12019773_1066630253367441_134237173674279688_n 12039366_1066630223367444_6601723944138587577_nMany of the dresses we looked at did conform to the basic patterns and silhouettes you would expect of the period. Whether that be short sleeves, button fronts, collars, below the knee hems and high necklines. But from that basic pattern decorative details were used to make them that bit more stylish and different.

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There were a few super stylish outfits which must have stood out from the crowd back then. Take this beautifully tailored red crepe dress and black and white Double 11 (Utility for export) dress for example. At first glance you could mistake the latter for something from the eighties but on closer inspection, with no shoulder pads, a superior material and excellent fit it could be nothing but a forties outfit.

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My personal favourite items that we saw were those that had been mended. I always find these the most fascinating and that is the reason behind doing my talks on Make Do and Mend. This one was the best example and made me laugh as the lady hadn’t even attempted to make the patch blend, yet had stitched it beautifully!


Though we were concentrating more on day wear, we couldn’t resist a quick look at some of the evening wear in the collection. These two ensembles are simply stunning and the photographs do not do them justice. You can see the Hollywood influence in the designs and their owners must have felt like stars.

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When I thought I couldn’t possibly be more envious I glanced around and this caught my eye……..I wish I could have rails of designer forties and fifties gowns so causally labelled!


Interestingly the Leicester Museums costume collection runs right up to modern day and they are the home of the Next archive. An amazing resource for anyone interesting in studying costume and fashion.

Alas, too soon our time was up. On the way out we were treated to a very quick look at the racks of boxes stacked up houses the shoes, hats and swimwear collections. We will have to come back another day (with a bigger bag!). 

Thank you for letting me send a couple of hours in your amazing costume store. I hope to visit again soon!