The museum, hitherto devoted to the refined heights of 20th-century couture, is embarking on preparations for an exhibition, called 'Streetstyle', that will show how ideas have long been as likely to bubble up from the street as to filter down from the gilded salons of haute couture.
But the uniforms of urban tribes - from Teds to punks to ravers - are proving harder to come by than the Balenciaga ballgowns.
Amy de la Haye, the curator of the 20th-century dress collection, explains: 'A woman who had a Chanel suit in the Thirties paid a good deal of money for it, had plenty of other clothes so that it did not wear out, and had space to store it. Street-looks tend to get worn out, or thrown out when people no longer have room for them in their wardrobes.'
The exhibition will chart the history of shocking and anti-authoritarian clothes as they become mainstream. It will also demonstrate how practical items such as biker boots can appear on catwalks and thus find respectability - and an expensive price tag to match.
Fashion has been a two- way street in Britain since Mary Quant adapted the beatnik clothes of northern art students for her London catwalk and converted the skinny polo- necks of the Mods into clothes that found their way into Vogue.
Paris changed direction in 1961, when Yves Saint Laurent showed mink-sleeved biker jackets and thigh- high, lace-up boots on the Dior catwalk. The result shocked society and, as a result, the designer was ousted by Dior's management. High fashion and the street-style of the fringe tribes forged an on-going relationship. Angie and David Bowie took glam on to the Seventies stage, and skin-tight satins in sugar-almond colours were soon on the Paris catwalks. By the mid-Seventies, punk had established itself as a reaction against glam. The anarchic inventions of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were first sanitised in Zandra Rhodes's safety-pinned evening gown. Later, they sparked off the much more influential reaction of Rei Kawakubo, whose ripped and shredded offerings for Comme des Garcons changed the course of fashion in the early Eighties.
By 1983, Karl Lagerfeld was encouraging the street to march into the salon in jackboots. He has sampled street fashions ever since: bum-bags, biker boots and visible underwear are among items that have provided inspiration. Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler also have been bringing underground looks to the surface for more than 10 years.
In the Nineties, there has been an extraordinary mixing of styles. Witness Christian Lacroix taking the leather jacket and offering it in satin and diamante. Witness Dolce e Gabbana's spin on the drop-out style of hippies. This was turned into hippie chic and has filtered back to the high street. Witness grunge, a practical antithesis to power-dressing that has influenced even Donna Karan.
So write in ye Goths, headbangers, homeboys, B-boys and ravers, yesterday's punks, new romantics and casuals, ageing hippies, aged teddy boys, doddering rockers and grey-bearded beatniks, and give yourselves to the nation. The V&A would like to know about you, or at least what you wore.
Amy de la Haye can be contacted at the Textiles and Dress Department, V&A Museum, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL. Please send snapshots and information on garments you would like to donate or loan. De la Haye is unable to accept unsolicited packages. 'Streetstyle' opens in November, 1994.
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