A Fashionable History of Dresses & Skirts, and Coats & Trousers

Dresses and Skirts1A Fashionable History of Dresses & Skirts
A Fashionable History of Coats & Trousers

By Helen Reynolds

Published by Raintree in 2003

Unlike many fashion history texts, these books resist chronology, instead breaking up Coats and Trousersits short chapters into details of line qualities.  From there each chapter illustrates how those line qualities appeared at different points in fashion history (like magic!). For example, in the “Wrapping” chapter (2 pages long) of Dresses & Skirts, we see images comparing the Ancient Greeks, Romans, an Indian woman in a Sari, and a photograph of a Madam Grès creation from the 1930’s. Targeted at young people, the language is not overly simplistic, but the book overall is very short, and it doesn’t have much depth. While this is not a text for learning about why fashions changed throughout history, I can imagine that it would be instructive to learning about line quality, and noting similarities during history. Part of a 6-part series, both books also have a timeline, glossary, and index.

In Dresses & Skirts the topics are as follows:
From Skin to Spandex
The Tunic
The Tailored Dress
The Waist
The Working Wardrobe
Straight and Narrow
Popular Pleats
A Glimpse of Flesh
World Fashions
Children’s Dresses
Men in Skirts
Fashionable Technology

For Coats & Trousers:
From Capes to Combats
From Cloak to Cape
Doublets to Bomber Jackets
Breeches & Plus-Fours
Baggy Trousers
Women in Trousers
Dress Coats
Overcoats & Anoraks
Jeans & Denim
Fashionable Technology


Underwear: What We Wear Under There

Underwear: What We Wear Under ThereUnderwear: What We Wear Under There

By Ruth Freeman Swain

Illustrated by John O’Brien

Distinctly aimed at young people, this extensively illustrated book is primarily entertaining, but undeniably informative. Swain is an award-winning children’s book author, typically focusing on history.  Without going into a great amount of detail, she covers (rather, reveals) undergarments from ancient civilizations up to modern innovations. Distinctive figures, such as Amelia Bloomer, or John L. Sullivan, and social influences are charmingly referenced, leaving memorable impressions while keeping the brisk pace of the narrative.  Towards the beginning she mentions other cultures, at one point comparing 15th century European knights with 15th century Japanese warriors.  Swain also looks ahead to the future, asking “what happens to an old pair of underpants?” (28), and explains different recycling practices common in the United States.  In the back of the book there is a timeline that reiterates much of the same information from earlier, but also additions, like the design of the bikini, the creation of Lastex from rubber, the invention of Spandex, and more.

John O’Brien’s fanciful and humorous illustrations perfectly complement the text, visually capturing small details, as well as  over-arching themes, and together Swain and O’Brien rescue readers young and old from a dry read.

I would recommend this for any young fashionistas or budding history buffs, or for any adult who want a quick smile.

Vocabulary interspersed through the text:

Breechclout, breechcloth
Combinations/Union Suit
Long johns
S-bend corset



Carter, Alison. Underwear: The Fashion History. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1992.

Corey, Shana.  You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! New York: Scholastic Press, 2000.

Cunnington, C. Willet, and Phyllis Cunnington.  The History of Underclothes.  New York: Dover Publications, 1992.  First Published 1951 by Michael Joseph Ltd., London.

Eicher, Joanne B., Sandra Lee Evenson, and Hazel A. Lutz.  The Visible Self: Global Perspectives on Dress, Culture, and Society. 2nd Ed. New York: Fairchild Publications, 2000.

Ewing, Elizabeth. Everyday Dress: 1650-1900.  New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1984.

Farrell-Beck, Jane, and Colleen Gau.  Uplift: The Bra in America.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Steele, Valerie.  The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

The Folkwear Book of Ethnic Clothing–Review

The Folkwear Book of Ethnic Clothing:

Easy Ways to Sew and Embellish Fabulous Garments from Around the World

By Mary S. Parker, published in 2002.

Folkwear has been making patterns for authentic historic and ethnic garments since the 1970’s.

In the overview, Parker identifies the nine most basic types of garments, and addresses the way in which the creation of textiles (size of loom) influences a culture’s development of garments.  She notes how similar types of garments are seen in geographically distant cultures, and provides a wealth of information on the cultural significance of a garment/details, construction techniques and precedents, and the role of the artists in the various cultures.

The amount of information conveyed in text is well balanced by all the richly detailed photographs of the garments referenced in the text, including period pictures of women and men working at various stages in creating textiles/garments.

In the next section Parker examines the various embellishments seen on ethnic clothing, and their cultural and spiritual significances.  She also gives specific instructions to readers on how to embellish pieces of their own construction to imitate those of authentic garments from a variety of cultures, including illustration of embroidery stitches, and patterns for surface decoration.

The last part of the book investigates details of the history and significance of particular garments in specific cultures, followed by instructions for readers on how to construct replicas of these pieces.  These include a Seminole Skirt, a Polish vest, the Moroccan burnoose, a Syrian dress, a Tibetan coat, and a Japanese kimono.

This text would be an excellent resource for research into any of the indigenous cultures mentioned, or for reproduction purposes.