As we embrace the summer months, leaving our coats behind (anoraks at the ready, however) and pulling out shorts and an itsy bitsy polka dot bikini, we take it for granted that the weather dictates and inspires the clothes we wear. Not only do we have to consider our own body shape in deciding what suits us but of course cultural, religious and political influences all play a part.
As Virginia Woolf once said of clothes, ‘They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us’. Fashion has ever been an expression of identity and communicates to others which groups we belong to.
If you are in need of some inspiration for your retro wardrobe this summer, then be fascinated by this month’s bundle of great fashion books.
If you remember the video for ‘I Want to Break Free’ by the band Queen, with Brian May in curlers and a shocking pink nightie, then be prepared to become very well informed by May’s latest venture ‘Crinoline‘, a beautifully illustrated book with lots of factual detail on a craze that overwhelmed the fashion industry in 1800s. It caused a sensation in women’s fashion for over a decade, however, it was also a fabric that often caught fire with fatal consequences.
Another view of this era is given in ‘Victorian Fashion‘ by Jayne Shrimpton, a professional dress historian and portrait specialist. It explores in detail the wonders of the sweeping crinolines, corsets, bustles, bonnets and parasols of Victorian Britain. Her book examines clothes both from high fashion, often imports from Paris, to everyday wear. A must have if you are studying historical costume!
For all those ‘make do and mend’ enthusiasts, and those with grandmothers who collected buttons, try ‘The Button Box‘, a brilliant book with a fascinating story to tell on each and every one of the buttons in the box. It traces the story of women at home and in work from pre-First World War domesticity through to the first clerical girls in silk blouses, past the delights of beading and glamour in the thirties, to the short skirts and sexual liberation of the sixties.
For fashion in wartime look to ‘Fashion On The Ration‘, an eye opener to an era of British fashion at the beginning of the Second World War. For thousands of women throughout the long years of the war, fashion was not simply a distraction, but necessity. As the nation went into uniform and women took on traditionally male roles, clothing and beauty began to reflect changing social attitudes. For the first time, fashion was influenced not only by Hollywood and high society but by the demands of industrial production and the pressing need to ‘make-do-and-mend’.
A similar book for the First World War is ‘Dressed for War‘. This book is the story of what people on both sides wore, on the front line and on the home front, through the seismic years of the war. It describes the clothes at that time, with an artist’s eye to detail, a particular preference for a type of razor blade or perfume say, or the just-so adjustment to the tilt of a hat; clues into the individual experience and personality of men, women and children throughout the war.
If you love this era and want more, try ‘Fashion: Women in World War One‘, again concentrating on the impact that the First World War had on women’s dress as civilians and in the military. This was a time when social upheaval brought new opportunities, and whatever their wartime role was – as nurses, naval officers, factory workers – women needed the right clothes for the job. This book has detailed (coloured) illustrations and helpful references ideal for school projects or general information and interest.
Finally – and if only for its great title – read ‘Corsets & Codpieces: A Social History of Outrageous Fashion‘ by Karen Bowman. This is an exciting history of British fashion trends. From people using bum rolls and bombastic breeches to augment their figures, why Tudor men traded in their oversized codpieces for corsets, to crinolines causing a spate of shoplifting among Victorian ladies. A fun and incredible insight to how fashion shaped us and we shaped fashion.