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Fashion & Textiles


The Harris has a strong collection of women’s clothing and accessories from the 1800s to 1950s. Highlights include a Spitalfields silk dress from the 1740s and the dress in the painting ‘Pauline in the Yellow Dress’ by Sir James Gunn. A significant collection of Horrockses Fashions dresses from the 1940s to the 1970s is complemented by material from the company’s design archive.

The Harris has a wide range of men’s clothing and accessories from the 1790s to the 1880s, including rare examples of gentlemen’s clothing and servants’ livery from the early 1800s donated by the Hulton Family. Other significant areas of the collection are designer wear from the 1960s to modern day, including Vivienne Westwood and David Fielden. 

The collection also has examples of farming and working dress from 1880s to 1950s, CC41 utility clothing and underwear, Quaker clothing and a quirky collection of fuzzy felt fashions associated with two portraits by Mabel Haythorn in the collection. Many garments have strong connections with Preston and were made or worn by local people. These include clothes associated with the Preston Guild, and a significant collection of South Asian dress from the 1990s.


This collection includes flat works such as embroidery, lace, quilts and printed cottons. Local firms are represented, but much of the collection reflects textile’s status as a popular personal and creative activity, as well as developments in recent textile art. Highlights include a fragment of Coptic textile from around 600, and embroidery and samplers from the 1700s to 1800s. Quilts range from a military example from 1890s to the ‘Harris Quilt’ commissioned from Josephine Ratcliff in 1998. An interesting collection of post 1950s artist-designed fabrics includes William Gear, Shirley Craven, Althea McNish.​

There are also 18 volumes of historic South Asian fabrics in The Textile Manufactures of India. You can view the complete collection of fabric samples, find out more about Forbes Watson and the books by visiting

Fashion plates

The museum also holds a fine collection of over 2,000 unbound, hand-coloured fashion plates dating from the 1770s to the 1890s which have been taken from a variety of women’s periodicals. This collection can be viewed by appointment.


See highlights of our collection online at on Google Arts & Culture’s We Wear Culture website:

More of our costume and textiles collection


Around 50 items from this collection are on display. Items not on display are in our stores and are available to view by appointment. Please email if you have a specific query.


This collection is on display in the Costume Gallery on the 2nd floor.

Cost: free

This collection is free to visit

Exploring Fashion & Textiles

Title: Fancy dress outfit in red silk ‘Rose of Lancaster’

Made: Simpson family of Preston

Date: 1922

Object number: 1974.121

A unique feature of the Harris’s collection are clothes worn to Preston Guild events, and commemorative textiles made to mark this special occasion. The Preston Guild is an ancient civic celebration which takes place every 20 years. Taking place over a week in September, the festivities traditionally include fancy dress balls, pageants and processions on the streets and parks in Preston. Dressing up is a special feature of these events and the Harris cares for many Preston Guild outfits – such as this Rose of Lancaster dress worn to the 1922 Preston Guild Fancy Dress ball by Valerie Simpson aged 11. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.

Title: High-heeled platform shoes in slashed red silk

Date: 1991

Object number: 2000.203

Designer: Vivienne Westwood

The shoes were part of Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Cut, Slash and Pull’ collection for Spring/Summer 1991. Supermodel Naomi Campbell famously fell over during a fashion show while wearing a pair of blue Vivienne Westwood platform shoes. Lancashire girls are made of stronger stuff – as the donor of these shores wore them wore for nights out dancing in Preston and Blackpool. The Harris cares a huge variety of fashion accessories, including shoes, hats, handbags, fans, jewellery, hair accessories and purses. You will also find a large collection of historic eyewear including spectacles from the 1700 and 1800s in the collection. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.

Title: Cocktail dress in black, white and yellow printed cotton

Made: Horrockses Fashions

Date: 1953

Object number: 2003.81

The Harris is very lucky to care for over 60 Horrockses Fashions dresses, along with design books and archival material. Horrockses was a Preston-based cotton firm which launched a range of ready-to-wear frocks in 1946. They were cleverly marketed and appealed to everyone from royalty to everyday women around the world. This example is in a fabric designed by Eduardo Paolozzi. Horrockses Fashions sought patterns from many famous artists of the day including Alistair Morton and Pat Albeck – which all contributed to making this fashion label so popular then and now.  You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.

Title: Turban textile sample from The Textile Manufactures of India, volume 1, plate 27

Made: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

This textile is a very sophisticated example of tie-dying. It is known as bandhani – which comes from the Sanskrit word bandh to bind. Tiny sections of fabric are tightly bound with thread and dip-dyed in stages to create colourful, dotty patterns. This textile is one of 800 samples from The Textile Manufactures of India – an 18 volume set of books put together in 1866 by John Forbes Watson. Today this collection is admired as a wonderful compendium of South Asian textile heritage. But Forbes Watson’s original aim was more strategic: to show British textile manufacturers the types of fabrics used in South Asia so that UK businesses could sell mass-produced copies to this huge potential market. You can find out more about this story and see all 800 textiles at

Title: Painted Desert

Made: Hull Traders using a design by Althea McNish

Date: 1961

Object number: 2016.7.2

Painted Desert is a stunning textile designed by Althea McNish – a designer of Trinidadian birth who moved to Britain in the 1950s. McNish has been called one of the first British designers of African descent to gain an international reputation. This design was produced for the Lancashire-based textile firm Hull Traders which specialised in hand-screen-printed textiles in the 1960s. Other artist-designed fabrics in the Harris collection include examples by William Gear, Shirley Craven, John Piper and Hans J. Holzer. Textile art pieces include those by Ann Sutton, Juniichi Arai and Liz Nilsson. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.

Title: Sari in orange fabric with gold embroidery

Made: Unknown maker

Date: 1980s

Object number: 1994.78

This sari has stunning gold embroidery set against vibrant orange – the pattern is concentrated on the part of the fabric where it would be seen on the body. It was purchased by the donor in Preston in the 1980s and later donated to the Harris. During the 1990s the Harris worked on a number of projects to acquire examples of men, women and children’s clothing from the South Asian communities to represent different styles of dress from across this region. The collection includes saris, shalwar kameez and a wide range of jewellery. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.
waistcoat orange purple ombre woven jacquard

Title: Waistcoat in tones of purple and orange silk

Made: Unknown maker

Date: 1840

Object number: c125

This man’s waistcoat is made from a type of fabric known as a fancy silk because it showcases all the fancy effects textile manufacturers could achieve in the mid-1800s – as technology became more sophisticated. Combined with its neatly tailored shape and high collar, the original wearer of this waistcoat must have cut quite a dash. The Harris has examples of men’s clothing and accessories from the 1700s to modern day – but the largest part of the collection is men’s waistcoats from the 1800s. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.    

Title: Dress in navy blue cotton with ribbon and flower pattern

Designer: Karen Alexander

This dress with fabulous big 1980s shoulder pads was worn by the donor to her wedding at Preston Registry Office. The Harris currently concentrates on collecting examples of post-1950s fashions. We also try to collect personal stories about where an outfit was worn, how it felt to wear it, along with photographs of the wearer at the time. Star items in our collection of 1900s clothing includes a large collection of utility underwear, Horrockses Fashions frocks and the famous yellow dress worn by Pauline in the painting by Sir James Gunn of 1944. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.
Purple patterned dress with large sleeves

Title: Dress in purple printed cotton with large sleeves

Made: Unknown maker, but from fine woven cotton spun in Lancashire

Date: 1827-38

Object number: co128

The greatest part of the Harris’s fashion collection is made up of women’s clothes from the 1800s. The collection starts with several interesting cotton dresses from the 1820s in fine Lancashire cottons – like this example in shades of purple. In addition to fashionable clothes worn by well-to-do women in every decade of the Victorian age, you will find foundation garments such as underwear, hoops and bustles, and accessories. The Harris also cares for a collection of farmworkers clothing called the Fairclough Collection which straddles the period 1890 to 1950. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.

Title: Robe and Skirt in Spitalfields Silk

Made: Unknown maker, silk possibly designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite

Date: 1740s-1760s

Object number: co429

The design of this floral silk is typical of the 1740s, but the style of the outfit reflects 1760s fashions. It was typical for clothes in expensive materials like silk to be unpicked and re-sewn into more fashionable styles. Most of the Harris’s fashion collection dates from the 1800s but we have significant examples of earlier clothing. Alongside this Spitalfields silk dress these include a pair of men’s red embroidered slippers from the 1620s and men’s clothing from the 1700s. You can see more of the Harris’s fashion and textile collection on Google’s Art & Culture We Wear Culture website.