A guide to the evolution of fashion trends of the past two centuries, useful to costume designers as well as amateur and professional genealogists.
Drawing on her decades of experience as a Hollywood costume designer, as well as two years as a columnist for Ancestry Magazine, the author presents a broad overview of 19th- and 20th-century dress. Her book, which targets genealogists, would be especially helpful for nonexperts who may want to learn more about their historic family photographs. Descriptions of each era’s dominant silhouettes, hats, sleeves and fabric details are illustrated by the author’s line drawings, hundreds of which appear throughout the book. These sketches are essential to understanding the difference between a toque and a cloche or the posture produced by the evolving corset in the early 20th century. The author’s deep knowledge of fashion, the book’s greatest strength, is evident in her cataloging of a broad range of men’s, women’s and children’s styles. Tidbits from the history of fashion, such as a re-evaluation of corset measurements that unzips the idea of the 16-inch waist, will also provide the amateur genealogist or costume designer with a window into the past. The book’s forays into social history and analysis, however, are less compelling. Zoot suits are dismissed as a mere outlying trend, and anti-fur activists are criticized for embarrassing fur-wearing women with their attacks. Queen Victoria gets a bit too much credit for changing courtship practices—“Since, as Queen, she had proposed to him, from that time on women in civilized societies decided to choose their own husbands”—and the oft-repeated myth of a “closet tax” driving people to store their clothes in cabinets gets a mention. There’s also, at times, a note of disdain for women who don’t conform to the author’s sense of taste, including derision for sausage curls on older women and frequent references to “fashion die-hards” who embrace trends beyond their prescribed end dates. The descriptions of historic styles and their accompanying illustrations, however, constitute a useful resource that outweighs the book’s shortcomings.
This broad compilation of evolving fashion trends makes for a valuable addition to any reference collection.