Here in Miami, as in many other communities, many of our bookstores are closing as Amazon eats everybody’s market share with their lower prices, one click buying and cost-effective Prime membership that includes free two day shipping for members. The down side of this is the fact that when you see a book that sounds like it may be just what you need for your collection you have no real way to view it in advance. Yes, there are previews on the Amazon page but most are very limited and don’t show the scope and range of the book itself. With that in mind, the column will begin a regular series of reviews of costume research and related books and periodicals to help readers sort through the many titles available. Also, when applicable we’ll discuss how to obtain a library copy here in South Florida.
This week we’ll look at the UK publisher, Dorling Kindersley, aka, DK’s joint venture with the US’s Smithsonian the recently released beautiful resource for the general costume researcher, Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style.
Definitive is such a big word and I’m not sure that anything really qualifies as definitive when it comes to any history, fashion or otherwise, but this large comprehensive tome certainly has a lot to offer the researcher.
As with must DK books, it’s full of beautiful high-quality digital images, laid out in comprehensive pictorial timelines and “stories”. This book is definitely oriented to a modern audience and not necessarily to specialists in the field. The book is replete with enhanced reprints of primary source materials, as well as, reconstructions of clothing from before we have existing resource garments and actual garments from the 18th Century onward.
There is a “Fashion Icon” feature that’s a little trite in its attempt to reach the modern “fashionista” but still quite valuable to help the reader understand that the fashion celebrity is by no means a modern phenomenon. The first of the Fashion Icons is, in fact, Egyptian, Queen Nefertiti, from the 14th Century BCE.
The book is laid out by catchy categories and not necessarily completely chronological which makes for better costume history but not necessarily easier research. The reference sections at the back are pretty but very sparse, how can you really put “3,000 years of Women’s Wear” in a two page book spread? The illustrated glossary is helpful and informative, but short and simple.
Overall, I highly recommend this book for costumers who want a beautifully visual resource and a general overall look at the full history of costume and fashion as we currently understand the field.
This is not however an in-depth thesis on costume’s history, theory or practice. Still it definitely has a place in the costume designer’s library and is probably the best recent resource available today. However, at $50.00 US it is worth thinking about how much you will actually use it in your practice as a designer, costumer or enthusiast. If you are a collector of costume books, though, you will certainly want to add this to your collection at some point.
This title is available in both Dade and Broward County Library Systems. Right now it’s a very popular title and may require putting it on hold and waiting.