Four Hundred Years of Fashion (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Originally published in January and February 2005, in 2 parts.
Book 50 in my first 52 books challenge.

Editor: Natalie Rothstein
Text: Madeleine Ginsburg, Avir Hart, Valerie D. Mendes, et al.
Photographs: Philip Barnard
Year published: 1984
Pages: 176
Genre: History of clothing styles
Where got: Public library

I was planning to read a Danish book titled Krop og klær: Klædedragtens kunsthistorie (In English: Body and clothing: The art history of dress) for this week’s review, but leafing through it I realised I could never finish it in one week AND enjoy it, because it’s been a while since I’ve read anything more complicated than craft magazines in Danish, and there is a fair amount of technical vocabulary in it that requires the use of a dictionary. I did want to read something about textiles, and picked up this overview of dress history as seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Dress Collection. It is published by the museum and contains a large number of photographs of clothes from the collection, with historical overview, description of each item of clothing, and a glossary of clothing terms.

During my last two visits to London I had plans to visit the V&A, but both times I had to cancel. This book will hopefully compensate just a little.

Victoria & Albert Museum fashion collection

First of all: I was unable to read the entire book. Some #$%&$ biblioclast has torn out several pages, which is always a risk with library books.

The book is a museum catalogue of sorts, a description of fashions in clothing and accessories as seen in the V&A’s costume collection. The photographs are beautiful and the text describes the general fashions of each time period and specifically the clothes in the photos. What I missed were close-ups of details in the clothes, like stitching, embroidery and trimmings, but the book is not meant to be a precise costume history, but merely an overview. I have learned a whole new vocabulary from reading it, all words descriptive of clothing and parts thereof.

This book is interesting for people who would like to know more about costume history in general, and may be of some help to people who like to make accurate recreations of historical costumes, as there is information on the fabrics and materials used for the clothing. The best thing about the book (in my opinion) is the photographs of the costumes. They are shown to advantage, but unfortunately each costume is only shown from one angle, so that while you can admire a dress from the front, back or side, you don’t get to see it from other angles. The manikins the clothes are hung on are a bit spooky: expressionless and ivory white, they stare into space with empty eyes, but they do add verisimilitude by filling out the clothes and displaying the appropriate accessories, such as shoes, fans, parasols, hats and jewelry, and also hairstyles. It’s a pity they are so ghostly - but they do look slightly more normal in the black and white photos.

Rating: A beautiful coffee-table book for costume enthusiasts.


George said…
People who deface library books are evil. Whenever I run across such an act of vandalism, my blood just boils. I'm one of those people who refuse to write in books, or bend the pages (how hard is it to use a bookmark?).

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