A fashion book I liked, and…one I didn’t.

The one I liked…

A beautifully produced book with quantities of illustrations from Cruikshank cartoons to Raeburn family portraits in oil. If you’re a fan of Jane’s and especially if you’re a devotee of Georgette Heyer, you will love paging through to find treasures like the pen-and-ink drawing of the 24 different styles of men’s hats to the full-size painting of Edward Villier Rippingille’s The Stage-Coach Breakfast which feels that it simply must have inspired the stop that interrupted Venetia’s hurried trip home to blackmail Dameral into marrying her in Heyer’s Venetia.

Jane Austen’s needle-case, made by her own hands, is seen here and delicately and delightfully illustrated it is, too, and on page 93 there is a cutting diagram for a man’s shirt organized with geometric precision to take advantage of every square inch of fabric. The cover art of the book is taken from William Blake’s portrait, Mrs. Q.:

This is thought to be the portrait Austen described as ‘Mrs Bingley…is exactly herself — size, shaped face, features, & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness…

See cover above. She really does look like Jane.

Hessians, spencers, pelisses, round gowns, and dampened muslin underskirts–on a princess of the Blood Royal yet!–all present and accounted for in detail and placed into historical and literary context. There are some fun appendices, too, including a list of Jane Austen’s characters and a glossary, although I was annoyed when the latter didn’t include an Alexandrian cap. An Alexandrian cap, you will recall, is what Frederica wore to Charis’ coming-out ball at Alverstoke House and I have always wanted to know what a cap that could not make Frederica look in the least like a dowager looked like.

My only quibble with this book is that the font is so light in weight that it renders the captions difficult to read and the whole text hard on the eyes.

And the one I didn’t…

This book tells the story of fashion in history from the toga to the t-shirt, and I was happy to see multiple references to Thorstein Veblen, as his chapter on women’s fashion in The Theory of the Leisure Class was a revelatory read for teenage me.

But I’m puzzled by what Ford leaves out. Where is the maxi skirt, which revolutionized the way Boomer women looked at high fashion? Where is Cher’s closet in Clueless? Where is Lady Gaga’s meat dress? In a book that includes Donald Trump’s scotch-taped tie, it feels insulting for so many other iconic fashion moments to be ignored.

My couturier is Eddie Bauer so really I have no dog in this fight. The illustrations are great, and I wish there had been more of them, and this is probably an important reference text for Anna Wintour et al. Otherwise, all this book made me want to do was go back and reread Veblen.

Book Review Monday Chatter

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Eddie, LL, Land’s End (still miss their sailing tackle), and Ralph (for nice) have been my choice for years. I am about to stop, though. The thought of paying $60 for a pair of Bermuda shorts and shipping has tripped a lever. I am sewing my own clothing. I am pretty good at it, and can make three pair of shorts for the price of buying one. Reminds me of when John and I were married in 1972. Still in college. Frugal was an understatement. I repaired our clothes, darned our socks, etc. Good thing I loved to sew!

  2. Oh Dana, your comment about “the maxi skirt, which revolutionized the way Boomer women looked at high fashion,” struck such a chord. For year, I regretted that fashion forced us to wear long skirts in the one decade when we all had the legs to wear mini skirts! People today will say fashion is a choice not a legal requirement, but in the ’70s it certainly was in the UK! Thank you for sharing.

    • I’m grateful to whoever decided the maxi skirt was the Next New Thing for one reason only: It broke forever the hold high fashion had on ordinary women. I climbed into jeans and never looked back.

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