Fashion Collections at the NLS


Vogue The Covers HB6.218.6.89, 100 Years of Fashion  PB6.212.838/10, Behind The Runway HB6.217.2.36

The General Collections available at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) cover a diverse range of topics from Mountaineering to Music. You can find help and information to set up a business, indulge a passion, learn a new skill or delve into the past and take a trip down memory lane. The fashion related material is just as varied, offering everything from old knitting patterns to instructions on how to successfully market your start up fashion business. These collections have huge potential to inspire, entertain, educate and inform everyone including young designers, business entrepreneurs, fashion enthusiasts, students and academics. I believe they are a great untapped resource for the fashion community in Scotland and beyond.

I’m Anya and I’m a Fashion and Business graduate from Glasgow Caledonian University. I am at the end of my second week as the Fashion Communications Intern at the National Library of Scotland and can safely say I am still in awe at the sheer scale and scope of the fashion resources available. My role is to review the fashion-related collections of the 20th/21st century and to develop and implement a communications plan that will raise awareness and allow more people to gain access to the wonderful materials that are available at the NLS. Some tasks I will be completing over the next few weeks include creating a digital Look Book documenting 100 years of Fashion (in order to highlight the extensive resources available), creating social media and blog posts (like this one!), aiding in the creation of an exhibit and creating communications to support a fashion event that will be taking place later in the year.

One of the things that interested me most about this role was the chance to delve among the stacks, where all the books are stored in tall rolling shelves, and really explore all the hidden treasures that they hold (special thanks to all the book collectors who have relentlessly hunted out the many of books I have requested). With that being said, I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of my favourite fashion related finds from within the general collections so far, despite having barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer.







Vogue P.151, Vanity Fair NB.385, Vogue The Covers HB.218.6.89, Elle HJ9.201

It would be difficult to find a fashion or beauty enthusiast who has not, at one time or another, gazed in awe at a Vogue cover. The Fashion Collections hold an extremely comprehensive collection of Vogues bound by year stretching from conception in 1892 – 2017. Furthermore, if it’s just the cover art you fancy ogling over there is a lovely little gem of a book called ‘Vogue The Covers’ that gives you uncluttered cover shots from 1982’s black/white illustrations to Michelle Obama gracing the December 2016 issue. More than just Vogue, the Library holds arguably the largest collection of print fashion magazines in Scotland which includes Vanity Fair, Elle, Women’s Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, The Ambassador and Tatler. They are wonderful examples which show the changing and yet cyclical nature of the fashion industry. Arriving in leather-bound books or big brown boxes, it is easy to spend an afternoon getting lost in the trends of the past and utterly entertaining to see some of the outdated advertisements and marketing techniques!

In that vein, another treat to find (thanks to Jennifer, Curator) that is a great illustration of  old fashion marketing techniques is a fragile, slim book called ‘The Duck’s Back’. Beautifully written on the concept of Mother Nature taking on woman’s form, it was only on closer inspection that I realised it was in fact was an advertisement-“introducing an argument in favour of Dexter Weatherproofs”! Disguising the product inside a story is similar to present marketing techniques of paying social influencers to discreetly promote products amongst personal Youtube videos and Instagram posts. I’ve included just a short snippet of the book below.

The Ducks Back PB8.218.250/20


“I was thinking rather of Nature’s treatment of Man, and her constant efforts to make him look ridiculous. On all those occasions when he does not pay her those delicate little attentions which are a lady’s right. Consider, for example, Nature’s ingenious way of forcing men to tell the truth- whether they like it or not. If a man neglects to drink an adequate amount of the clear sparkling water which Nature, like the careful housewife She is, invariably provides for him, and if he prefers to fill himself, on every possible occasion, with the fiery concoctions of his own wicked imagination, what does she do? She languidly dips a brush into a pot of red paint and daubs it on the extravagant sinner’s nose while he is asleep… Do you remember the old fashioned raincoat? It flouted Nature’s laws outrageously…Now we have altered all that. We have altered it not by pulling a long nose at Nature, and adopting a superior attitude to her, but by prostrating ourselves very humbly at her feet. Why does water run off a Dexter? For precisely the same reason that it runs off a ducks back.”









See digitised exam papers


For more practical elements of the design process such as cut and construction then you can sift through the many pattern cutting books, information on processes and old pattern pieces .If you are interested in the variety of dressmaking and knitting patterns it is worth taking a look into the Library’s newly digitised Scottish School exam papers from 1888-1963. Needlepoint first appears in academic examinations in the 1960’s despite being a critical part of the syllabus for girls before then. I greatly enjoyed seeing the pattern pieces and exam rules from years ago and comparing them to my own experiences during my fashion degree and time at school. Another blog post to come on this shortly!








Everyday Fashions 1909-1920, HP4.96.1026

Personally, one of my favourite discoveries has been this publication of images taken from Sears catalogues depicting the Everyday Fashions from 1909-1920. The style of illustration makes for some gorgeous pictures that remind me of an old fashioned children’s book. Moreover, it offers up inspiration from garment ideas that are no longer popular, trends that defined epochs in fashion history such as hemlines and hat styles and is also a wonderful source of information when looking for the fabrics used in that era. I think costume students in particular would enjoy a rummage through these types of materials!


In addition to all the above The National Library holds an immense amount of information on textiles and the fashion industry, with an emphasis on Scottish heritage. These gorgeous fabric books are from the 1940’s and depict the culture around clothing at that time.





Women’s wear fabrics, 376


How to access

The General Collections are available to the public in the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh and hold a diverse and expansive range of subjects other than fashion. It is very easy to access any of these resources just register for a free library card which will get you admission to the National Library of Scotland’s Reading Rooms. All you need to provide is evidence of identity and address when you apply at Readers Registration. Furthermore, if you need a helping hand in your search or have a query you need answers to there is the wonderful Inquiry staff working in the George IV Bridge building.

Alternatively you could make use of the National Library’s online resources. Some of the National Libraries eResources (formerly called licensed digital collections) are available through remote access. If you have a residential address in Scotland, you can register online to access these resources.

If you fancy taking a look at any of the books, patterns or magazines shown in this article please see the relevant shelf mark and title and come in to use the National Library’s reading rooms.

You can stay up to date with the latest news and events from the National Library and see more posts like this by subscribing to the online newsletter or pick up a copy of Discover, the National Library of Scotland Magazine.

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In my next post I will be going into more detail about the Business of Fashion resources that are available and how the NLS can be your (free) one stop shop for information on starting, expanding and successfully running your business empire!