Join us on our behind-the-scenes visit to the Menswear Archive at the University of Westminster!

By The Costume Society

The Costume Society launches its 2022 events programme with a behind-the-scenes visit to the Menswear Archive at the University of Westminster.

How do you increase the profile, status and understanding of menswear within fashion? That was the question posed by fashion design teaching staff Robert Leach and Andrew Groves at the University of Westminster in 2015. Their answer was the creation of the Westminster Menswear Archive, a dedicated teaching collection of menswear garments and accessories.

Initially funded by the Quintin Hogg Trust, the Westminster Menswear Archive now consists of over 2,000 items and is housed in a space at the University of Westminster’s Harrow campus. It is a unique resource showcasing examples of primarily western and British men’s dress from the last 200 years. The Archive is open to students, the fashion industry, and researchers. The collection was built to develop contemporary menswear design while facilitating understanding of the history of menswear. Hands-on and browsable, the Archive works like a reference library. It enables students and designers to access and appreciate technical and material details such as garment construction, manufacture, cut, fit, proportion and silhouette.

One of the collection's highlights is a significant group of menswear from the late Alexander McQueen containing tailoring, knitwear, printed pieces and tunic dresses. As Andrew Groves has stated, McQueen’s ‘knowledge of the cut and construction of traditional menswear, and his ability to subvert this became central to the McQueen silhouette and aesthetic. As early as his 1996 collection The Hunger, McQueen’s runway shows featured menswear alongside his womenswear. However, the connection between his menswear training in tailoring and its application and subversion into his cut and vision for womenswear has remained unexplored.’

Another distinguishing feature of the collection is the range and combination of garments it contains beyond high-end designer labels. Some of the most frequently accessed pieces are those from the sections of military uniform, utilitarian and workwear garments, sportswear, and high-street labels. Many of the functional garments have protective elements from camouflage to flame retardancy, beekeeping to body armour. Such functional elements as bulletproofing, Hi-Viz and metal plating have been referenced by designers such as Christopher Bailey for Burberry, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Vexed Generation. 

The Westminster Menswear Archive also regularly exhibits the collection. Its 2019 exhibition Invisible Men displayed over 180 items from the collection in Ambika P3 at the University of Westminster. It currently has three pieces from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s 1983 Witches collection on loan to Style in Revolt in Beijing, China and contributed to C.P. Company’s Cinquanta book and exhibition in Darwen, Lancashire and Milan, Italy.

For our first Year of Menswear event Costume Society Trustee and Menswear Archive Curator Dr Danielle Sprecher will give a tour of the archive presenting highlights of the collection. The visit on Friday 18th of March 2022 runs between 11.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. Tickets cost £26 for members and £36 for non-members and can be booked through Eventbrite.

Built as a teaching collection, the archive houses contemporary menswear design as well as historic pieces. The visit will be an opportunity to get a first-hand view of tailoring, as well as military and occupational clothing. This visit will be of interest to those who have a desire to explore how avant-garde thinking in clothing design meets daily wear and how men have pushed the boundaries of sartorial expression.

This event is part of the Costume Society’s wider programme of events celebrating menswear. Other events include a visit to the Wolsey Archive in Leicester, meeting the curators of the Dandy Style exhibition opening this autumn in the new dedicated Fashion Gallery at Manchester Art Gallery, and our annual conference ‘Clothes Maketh the Man’ to be held online over a series of sessions in October 2022.

If you are joinng the Archive tour and plan to travel by public transport the nearest tube station is Northwick Park on the Metropolitan line, approximately 25 Minutes from Central London and the nearest National Rail Station is either Kenton or Harrow on the Hill. If you prefer to drive the full address is Westminster Menswear Archive, University of Westminster, Northwick Park, Harrow, HA1 3TP. There is free parking on site but visitors will have to register their car when they arrive.

The archive is well ventilated and the University requires all visitors to wear masks, except those who are exempt, and remain socially distanced during their visit. The Archive is accessible by lift and there is a café on site should you wish to purchase refreshments prior or after the tour.

For further information on the visit please contact the Programme team.

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