Getting Dressed (Turn of the Century)

Getting Dressed (Turn of the Century)

By Sheila Jackson and Tim Wood

It would be easy to make fun of this very dated book, but I’m going to do my best to leave off on the sarcasm and give it an even-handed overview. Published in 1992, and written in extremely simple language, this book is a very basic introduction and comparison of modern garments and those worn in Victorian and Edwardian eras. Organized by various short headings like “What do you wear”, “school uniform”, “clothes for fun”, etc. it expands upon these topics with a combination of hand-drawn illustrations, vintage photographs/ads, and photos from the early 1990’s, lasting no longer than two pages for each heading.  There is no bibliography mentioned, but many of their quoted sources are from elderly people who lived during the early 20th century, relating what they wore or a particular experience with clothing.  Unintentionally humorous are the various photograph of children from the early 90’s trying on vintage clothes with various expressions of discomfort or uncertainty.

Potentially useful are the period photographs of children, images of button-hooks for lacing shoes and spats/gaiters, and an Edwardian skirt-lifter for lady-cyclists…maybe…also a list of various costume museums in the UK.


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.