Book Reviews

Here’s what’s on my bookshelf. Or somewhere in the pile on my sewing table.

Arnold, Janet.

Patterns of Fashion 1. Hollywood: MacMillian/QSM, 1972.

This book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in women’s clothing 1660-1860. It includes a discussion of dressmaking techniques during the period, and then gridded patterns taken from actual garments. There are a number of regency era pieces: A half robe, a long open robe, a riding habit, two cotton dresses, and a few chemisettes. There are also some instructions (not very detailed, mind you) on how to construct these garments. However, because these are patterns taken from real people’s clothes, you need to make a muslin first to fit them for your needs.
Baumgarten, Linda.

Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg. Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1986.

I purchased this book when I visited Colonial Williamsburg in middle school. The text is surprisingly detailed for the size of the book, but of course some aspects of the period are glossed over. In particular, most of the garments pictured are from 1750-1780. But there are some great photos of undergarments and accessories. The book’s best feature is that it doesn’t focus just on women’s clothing. There is a sizeable chapter on men’s clothing, and even a brief section on children’s outfits. Note that although many of the photos are in color, some are in black and white.
Blum, Stella, ed.

Ackermann’s Costume Plates: Women’s Fashions in England, 1818-1828. New York: Dover 1978.

This volume reprints fashion plates from Ackermann’s Repository, a period fashion publication. Most of the plates are in black and white, though there are a section of colored ones in the center. Each plate has a description of the colors and materials of the outfit, and there is a glossery in the back defining terms. This book covers late regency and early romantic styles, so the outfits include much more embellishment than would be common for the early regency. You start to see hints of the gigantic Gigot sleeves of the early 1830s too. This book is quite inexpensive, as most Dover publications are, and it is definitely worth having so as to better understand the regency/romantic period transition.
Bradfield, Nancy.

Costume in Detail: 1730-1930. New York: Quite Specific Media Group, 1999 reprint.

This was one of the first costuming books I bought. It includes highly detailed black and white drawings of garments, many taken from the Snowshill Collection in the UK. You can find color photographs of some of the same dresses in The Art of Dress by Jane Ashelford. There are about fifty pages of regency garments, including day dresses, evening gowns, spencers, and even accessories (shoes, chemisettes, parasols, bonnets). This book is great because of its very even treatment of the entire period. There are very few holes in the coverage. There are even drawings of the inner construction of many of the garments.
Hunnisett, Jean.

Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909. Studio City: Players Press, 1991.

As the title implies, this book is aimed towards theatre and film costumers. To that end, there are many theatre/film-specific tips included, such as how to work with actors and what materials are appropriate for stage use (not necessarily for historical accuracy). The main part of the book is a set of gridded patterns, broken up by eras. Each era has sleeve, bodice, skirt, and underpinning patterns that can be mixed and matched together (though only some combinations are appropriate). Each pattern is drawn in one size, like in Janet Arnold’s book, but the sizes are standardized (Hunnisett drafted them by draping on a dressform instead of taking the patterns directly from period garments). For the regency period, there are 4 bodice options, 6 sleeves, 6 skirts, a corset, and instructions on making a bodiced petticoat. I haven’t used any of the patterns myself, though others have with success. Regardless, I have found the advice contained here to be helpful, if terse.
Ingham, Rosemary and Liz Covey.

The Costume Technician’s Handbook, 3rd Edition. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2003.

This is aimed at theatrical costumers, but it has lots of good information on draping, fitting, equipment, and general tips and tricks. There are some incredibly useful chapters on making a pattern block and adapting different pattern shapes to the drafted block.
Johnston, Lucy.

Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail. London: V and A Publications, 2005.

Pure eye candy. The photos in this book are so clear and beautiful. You can literally see the stitching. Plus, there are a number of regency gowns included. Some of these pictures have been printed in other books before or are available on the V and A website, however. But having this collection around for browsing and inspiration is worth it.
Rowland-Warne, L.

Costume. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1992.

This was the book that first introduced me to costuming, back in elementary school. It’s a children’s book aimed at giving kids a taste of costume history, starting in Rome and ending in the early 1990s. The text is brief and over-generalized, but it actually does get a lot of information across. I would recommend it for roughly fifth-graders. There is hardly any metion of the regency, sadly.
Rushton, Pauline.

18th Century Costume in National Museums Liverpool. Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool, 2004.

This book is arranged very similarly to Baumgarten 1986. There is a chapter on women’s clothing, one on men’s clothing, one with more detailed photos of both men’s and women’s clothing, and finally a brief part about children’s outfits. It’s a short book, but it does have great pictures of several Anglaise dresses.
Steele, Valerie.

The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2001.

Although a bit superficial, this book is a very accessible introduction to the long history of the corset. Lavishly illustrated, the text covers many sub-catagories of corset history, particularly the health myths/risks, the female and sexual symbolism, and the corset revival in modern fashion design. Period ads and artwork featuring corsets are included, which I found the most fascinating. There isn’t that much specific information on the regency here (though you should check out the pictures ~pg 41 and the attendant discussion). More of the focus is on victorian times.
Waugh, Norah.

Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1954.

An interesting collection of scaled patterns of various corsets and skirt supports, combined with exerpts from period fashion writings. It gives a great overview of the changing shapes, and puts them in a historical context. Many people have used patterns from this book with sucess. Very good coverage of the 18th century and victorian eras. Includes an 1820s corset.
Wright, Merideth.

Everyday Dress of Rural America, 1783-1800. New York: Dover Publications, 1990.

This is a simple and inexpensive book that deals with lower class late 18th century clothing. It has diagrams and instructions for making a shift, stays, petticoat, round gown, shortgown, chemise dress (whose diagram is identical to that in the Cut of Women’s Clothes), and accessories. It also deals with men’s clothes and the dress worn by the Western Abenaki Native American tribe (which I found very interesting). This begins to touch on the transition to the regency, but note that lower class Americans were not on the cutting edge of fashion at this time.

More to come!