Tag Archives: costume research books

Patterns of Fashion Book Series Continues!

Cover image from Barnes & Noble website.

Very welcome news to costumers is that the great Patterns of Fashion book series begun by Janet Arnold, who died in 1998,  is being continued. Arnold wrote three gridded pattern books, (Patterns of Fashion 1660 to 1860, Patterns of Fashion 1860 to 1940, and Patterns of Fashion 1560 to 1620, and I just received information from the Costumers’ Alliance about a British source that is continuing her work.

Jenny Tiramani, principal of the School of Historical Dress in London said:

“Please tell people that we have decided not to use a distributor or to put the book for sale on Amazon. They take too much money and we need the funds to keep the school going and to publish Patterns of Fashion 6 & 7 which are both already in the pipeline!

We will be selling the book ourselves from our School of Historical Dress webshop and will try to give a good price for those people buying the book in countries far flung from the UK.

[Patterns of Fashion] 5 is in China being printed next week and published 31st October. …We need all the publicity we can get as the publisher of all future volumes of the series!”
Please support this incredibly rare and precious resource, the School of Historical Dress!! Here is where you can find their web site.

Click here to find out about current and upcoming volumes of Patterns of Fashion, plus other relevant publications.

Mantua, Late 17th century, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Other books include Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns (Vols. 1 & 2), and Waistcoats from the Hopkins Collection c. 1720-1950 “The waistcoats are shown with close-up details of its shape, construction and decoration, alongside images of people wearing similar styles from the same time period.” Janet Arnold’s other books are also available.

(One virtue of the Patterns of Fashion Series — aside from the meticulous research — is their large format: printed on extra wide paper, the scaled patterns are easy to refer to while you are working.)

Patterns of Fashion 4 covers body linens 1540 to 1660 — “the linen clothes that covered the body from the skin outwards. It contains 420 full colour portraits and photographs of details of garments in the explanatory section as well as scale patterns for linen clothing ranging from men’s shirts and women’s smocks, ruffs and bands to boot-hose and children’s stomachers.

 

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My Costumer’s Library: Include Cartoon Collections

Using Period Cartoons for Costume Research

Recommending period cartoons for costume research may seem a little strange, but think about it: A cartoon is only funny if the reader understands the situation and the characters at a glance. Often, the costumes for a TV show, movie, or play have to telegraph their characters in a similar way. This is especially true of minor characters, who appear for only a few minutes.

"A herd of wild Bohemians being rounded up for the opening of a new cafe in Soho, with the idea of creating the right atmosphere." October 1930. From The Way to Wear'em

“A herd of wild Bohemians being rounded up for the opening of a new cafe in Soho, with the idea of creating the right atmosphere.” October 1930. From The Way to Wear’em. Note the facial hair and the hat shapes of these artistic types. You can also see variations in how the waiters in a cafe, not a fine restaurant, were dressed. A Bohemian cafe setting appeared in at least two TV shows I have seen.

NOTE:  All the cartoons shown in this post are for purpose of recommending books; please do not copy or reuse these images.

The cartoonist uses just a few black lines to give us the age, relationships, economic or occupational status, and personalities of the characters. Nevertheless, the reader knows at a glance who is middle-class and who is a hobo, who is pretentious, who is suburban, who is middle-aged, who is a student, who is a senior citizen, who is a bartender and who is a housewife. Of course, the cartoonist plays with stereotypes. But, if you need to know what a deliveryman or a butcher wore in the 1890s, or the clothing differences between a young person and an older person in a previous era, cartoons are a great place to supplement your research.

"Short-sighted old lady at a boardinghouse," September, 1925. From The Way to Wear'em. The long woman at left is conventionally dressed, the young man wears a blazer with white tennis flannels and white or tan shoes. The woman at the right is being mistaken for a young man because of her sports blazer and chic shingled hair.

“Short-sighted old lady at a boardinghouse,” September, 1925. From The Way to Wear’em. The young woman at left is conventionally dressed; the young man wears a blazer with white tennis flannels and white or tan shoes and socks. The old lady wears an unfashionably long skirt and a shawl. The woman at the right is being mistaken for a man because of her sports blazer and chic, shingled hair.

When you read a great many vintage cartoons, you get a much better idea of what was normal for the period and what was shocking. Another cartoon from the 1920s shows a husband horrified by the exceptionally short (late 1928) hem and plunging back of his wife’s evening dress. Evening gowns of the early 1930s were frequently backless, so she is in the forefront of 1929 fashion (although chic evening hems were dropping and uneven by 1929). She is unmistakably feminine, but she, too, has very short shingled hair.

January, 1929, From The Way to Wear'em.

January, 1929, From The Way to Wear’em.

Husband: “I should have thought you’d be ashamed to show your face in such a gown!”

Wife:  “Don’t worry, darling. My face won’t be the chief attraction.”

I can’t help noticing that the husband is wearing a white formal vest with his tuxedo — quite acceptable in the twenties and thirties. There’s a female character in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (1925) — a vamp and potential home wrecker — who “uses sex as a shrimping net.” Costume design inspiration? See above.

You won’t find many pictures of housemaids, cooks, footmen and errand boys in fashion magazines. You will find them in cartoons:

This servant is being fired for not wearing a crinoline --"I understood they was a goin' out, m'---" July 1866. The Way to Wear'em.

This housemaid — in light-colored calico, since it is daytime — is being fired for not wearing a crinoline. ” I understood they was a goin’ out, m’—” July 1866. The Way to Wear’em.

Just two years earlier, another maid was certainly in danger of being fired for wearing a crinoline at work:

Housemaid, March 1864. from The Way to Wear'em.

Housemaid, March 1864. from The Way to Wear’em.

There are quite a few cartoons about servants’ clothing; servants aping their “betters” were often the subject of humor.

Cartoons about fashion fads can be quite informative (and brighten up a costume history lecture.)

This shows both the crinoline turned inside out and the petticoat worn under it. Notice also the child with basket at left. December 1856. From The Way to Wear'em.

This shows both the structure of a crinoline turned inside out and the petticoat worn under it. Notice also the lower class child with basket at left. December 1856. From The Way to Wear’em. (click to enlarge)

In addition to cartoons that react to new fashions, cartoons show characters from all walks of life. Grocers, butchers, salesmen, policemen, clergymen, housewives and beggars, country folks and city slickers, are all to be found — clearly recognizable — and frequently labeled — in cartoons. You won’t find these characters in the usual fashion history book, but if you are a costume designer, you need to know them:

From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch. Hobo and rural housewife, July 1894. Notice the realistic wear and tear on his clothes, and the woman's sunbonnet.

From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch. Tramp and rural housewife, July 1894. Notice the realistic wear and tear on his clothes and (toeless) shoes, and the woman’s sunbonnet and ankle-length work skirt.

Working class characters, July 1875. From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch.

Working class characters, July 1875. From Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch. There is an amazing amount of information in this drawing by George du Maurier, which he described as “seen and heard by the artist.” Look at the man’s battered hat and patched knees, the mud or patches on his downtrodden wife’s hem, & the starving, coatless children — who are nevertheless wearing hats– versus the immaculate (and corseted) housewives on the right.

Sources for Period Cartoons

Two invaluable cartoon collections for British costume are Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841 – 1901, a Dover paperback (available used for under $5), and The Way to Wear’em: 150 Years of Punch on Fashion, by Christina Walkley. Available used or new.

The Way to Wear’em:  150 Years of Punch on Fashion

Title page from The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walker.

Title page from The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

The book gets its title from this 1899 cartoon:wtwem sept 1899 wareham joke 500

Fair Cyclist:  “Is this the way to Wareham?”
Native:  “Yes, Miss, yew seem to me to ha’ got ’em on all right!”

As interesting as the lady’s cycling costume is, a costumer will examine the Dorset countryman’s hat and clothing, as well:

Dorset man, rural England, 1899. Many workiing men tied their (often corduroy) trousers just below the knee.

Dorset man, rural England, 1899. Many working men tied their (often corduroy) trousers just below the knee. From The Way to Wear’em.

What makes this book so useful is that Christina Walkley is a costume historian. She uses the cartoons to explain fashion history, with frequent quotations from period sources, so it contains as much text as illustration: it’s a scholarly work that’s fun to read, with references. Her other works include Ghost in the Looking Glass: The Victorian Seamstress; Dressed to Impress, 1840-1914; and Crinolines and Crimping Irons: Victorian Clothes: How They Were Cleaned and Cared For.

Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841-1901

An urban working man from Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841-1901. Corduroy trousers, tied below the knees, and a suit jacket worn inside out to keep t 'good' side clean.

An urban working man from Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841-1901. In 1888 he wears corduroy trousers, tied below the knees, and a suit jacket worn inside out to keep the ‘good’ side clean. This costermonger’s cap has ear flaps.

Dover’s Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, edited by Stanley Applebaum and Richard Kelly, is large format; you can see the details very well. It treats the cartoons as art works and explains a great deal about the artists, but you may need to do your own research to understand the cartoons completely. For example:

Working class Londoners, Punch, 1899. Hedwin: "Hangelineer! ... What  'ud yer sy  if I told yer as I'd took the shillin'?" Hangelina: "Sy? Why -- 'Halves.' "

Working class Londoners, Punch, 1899.  Hedwin: “Hangelineer! … What ‘ud yer sy if I told yer as I’d took the shillin’?” Hangelina: “Sy? Why — ‘Halves.’ “

The misplaced “H”s in the caption tell us that this working class couple are Cockney Londoners. You may not be familiar with the phrase “to take the shilling” (to enlist). I remember — from books and movies — that coins were sometimes cut in half and worn as tokens by separated friends and lovers, but haven’t found a reference to that custom online.  The man’s clothing includes a cap with tiny brim, collarless shirt and neckerchief, a vest, a suit jacket (probably secondhand), and patched trousers.

Using Cartoons in Addition to Photographs

Obviously cartoons have to be used to supplement — not replace — other primary sources, such as photographs. However, you may find that learning to recognize character types and occupations from cartoons will help you to interpret period photographs. It’s also easier to see the construction details, like seams, in line drawings.

Great Drawings . . . from Punch shows working people in occupational dress, from 1880s policemen (useful for Sherlock Holmes films) to sales clerks and butchers of the Victorian era.

A butcher, 1883, a grocer, 1873, shoe salesmen, 1880. From Great Drawings ... from Punch.

A butcher, 1883, a greengrocer’s shop, 1873, shoe salesmen, 1880. From Great Drawings … from Punch.

Twentieth Century Cartoons

The many Collections of cartoons from the New Yorker show examples of the clothing styles of the 1920s, 50s, 60s, etc. Although they are not as elaborately drawn as Victorian era cartoons, social position is often crucial to New Yorker jokes, so they are helpful in getting a feeling for the decade you are researching. I saw a marvellous production of Merry Wives of Windsor at the RSC in the 1980s; it was set in the 1950s and evoked a world I knew well from the copies of Punch I used to read in my college library in the 1960s. Click here for Falstaff as an ex-RAF type. (The production designer was William Dudley.)

My favorite modern cartoonist, when it comes to clothing, is Dan Piraro, who writes Bizarro. I used to have a batch of his clothing-related cartoons pinned above the ironing table in the costume shop. I love his books.

The cover of Too Bizarro, by Dan Piraro, 1988.

The cover of Too Bizarro, by Dan Piraro, 1988. Please do not copy this image.

When is comes to capturing 20th century characters and occupational dress, Bizarro may be the future researcher’s equivalent of Punch. I pulled just one collection, called Sumo Bizarro (1990), off my shelf and found — in addition to the pirates, cowboys, clowns and other obvious ‘costume’ characters — a TV cameraman, fortune tellers, guys on the make, repairmen, mechanics, short order cooks, used car salesmen, deliverymen, waiters, doctors, executives, the wealthy (with their drivers) and the homeless, people attending a high school reunion, road workers, fast food workers (in a whole line of different uniforms), chefs, tourists, farmers, furniture movers, muggers, pretentious guests at an art gallery, duck hunters, campers, and hardhats. All these characters were described “in shorthand,” so to speak — just the essentials. Someday, Bizarro may be very useful to a costume designer.

Same character, different eras: The sleazy guy in the Bizarro cartoon (1980s) was known as a masher in an earlier day. (Punch, 1856)

Same character, different eras: The sleazy guy, with mustache and lots of hair, in a Bizarro cartoon (1980s) and his counterpart, ogling young ladies, in Punch, 1856. Please do not copy this image.

Fifty years from now, people may be using cartoons to understand clothing and personality types in the twentieth century. (Click here for a group of philosophers from the  New Yorker (2007) — a modern version of those Bohemians from Punch in 1930.)

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My Costumer’s Library: Getting Started

A page from 20,000 Years of Fashion: Packed with primary sources, photos, information.

A page from 20,000 Years of Fashion: Packed with primary sources, photos, information — in color and black & white.

I’ve been seeing some comments, on The Vintage Traveler and other blogs, from people asking for costume research book recommendations, and I couldn’t resist offering some suggestions.

Of course, a library is a very personal thing, and depends on its owner’s personal interests and goals. I helped a good friend list her library on Amazon when it came time for her to move to assisted living. She was a vintage clothing collector, a docent, and a lover of ethnic textiles.  I was a theatrical costume designer. I’ve taught costume design, construction, and costume history classes; I’ve worked as a designer, a cutter/draper (i.e., a pattern maker), and a costume technician. Together, we had between five and six hundred books in our personal / professional libraries, but we had very few books in common!

I, too, sold most of my professional library when I thought I had retired. Ironically, helping to inventory my friend’s clothing collection for sale made me realize that this is the field I know best, and I still have a lot information and experience to share, so here I am . . . .

There are a few books I couldn’t bear to part with (20,000 Years of Fashion, The Costume Technician’s Handbook) — and many I wish I’d kept, like Everyday Fashions of… since I keep checking them out of the library now.

For an Overview of Fashion in the Western World: 20,000 Years of Fashion

For a quick overview / refresher of periods, (American and European) loaded with primary source illustrations — one of the first costume books I bought and one I still have on my shelf 40 years later:  20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, by Francois Boucher. I have the 1973 edition — available online in used condition for under $20. A 1987 edition is also available. A big, heavy, wonderful, information-packed book, densely illustrated in color and black & white.

For Clothing Worn by Ordinary People: the Everyday Fashions series.

For twentieth century American fashions that were worn by ordinary people (not high fashion): Dover’s series of books that began with Stella Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the Twenties (and Everyday Fashions of the Thirties) from the pages of Sears and other catalogs. The series — trustworthy, dated, primary source material — is being continued by JoAnne Olian, with Everyday Fashions 1909-1920, Everyday Fashions of the Forties, Everyday Fashions of the Fifties, Sixties, etc.) These books are packed with period illustrations and photos of women’s clothing, some children’s clothing, menswear, undergarments, hats, shoes, and other accessories, with prices. Every professional costume designer I know refers to these books constantly. Used, less than $10 each.

For Constructing Historic Clothing: Books by Norah Waugh or  Janet Arnold

For an understanding of how period garments were made, as well as some interesting costume history: Norah Waugh’s classic books The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930, & The Cut of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900. For a long time, The Cut of Men’s Clothes was the reference for patterning period menswear. If you want to study the construction of authentic historical garments, these books are a good place to start. The pages are not gridded, however, so the pattern layouts are most helpful when you’re draping on a mannequin. There is a measurement scale on each page — I ended up copying the scale and pasting it to a stiff card / bookmark so I could move it around on the drawings and then pencil in measurements all over the pages. Also, these books are not cheap, even in used condition. I’d say, borrow Waugh’s books from a library and buy Janet Arnold’s books:

If you want to study vintage clothing and/or recreate authentic period garments: Janet Arnold wrote three superb books, all in paperback and relatively inexpensive: the series is  Patterns of Fashion, by Janet ArnoldPatterns of Fashion is available in three volumes. Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660 to 1860 (women’s clothing), Patterns of Fashion 2: 1860 to 1940 (women’s clothing), and Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620. A fourth volume on shirts, smocks, ruffs, hats, etc., is available, but I haven’t seen it. Arnold has produced detailed patterns, on scaled grids, with copious notes on the construction and trims, taken from actual garments in museum collections. Another virtue: these books are ringbound, so they lie flat when open! I was able to produce some terrific 1890s costumes (with the help of my high school students) using just this book (P of F 2) plus my own home sewing experience (which included volunteering as a stitcher for a very good costume designer — so I knew about flat lining!) You can find used copies of Patterns of Fashion 1 & 2 online at $20 to $30 each; the later books cost a bit more. If you’re dealing in vintage clothing, understanding period construction — knowing what the insides should look like — is very important.

Primary and Secondary Sources

You’ll notice I keep using the words “Primary Sources.” A primary source is a text or illustration (or garment or photograph) made at the time the fashion was current.

Clothing from Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli, drawn and published in November, 1928. Delineator Magazine.

Clothing from Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli, drawn and published in November, 1928. The Delineator magazine.

A secondary source is usually a drawing of an authentic garment, painting, statue, or photo, made at a later date. An example would be John Peacock’s Fashion Sketchbook: 1920-1960 , first published in 1970. Drawings like this can give details not visible in photographs, and are very useful when combined with primary sources. However, not only our ideals of beauty, but our styles of fashion illustration can affect the accuracy of secondary sources in subtle ways. For example, many fashion fabrics in the 1960s and early 70s were stiffer than fabrics from the 1920s. Photos of 1920s dresses show them looking a little droopy, like that Vionnet jacket above, rather than crisp like these.

Suits for 1927-29, drawing by John Peacock. From his Fashion Sketchbook 1920-1960, pb. 1977. Image for review purpose only. Do not copy this image.

Suits for 1927-29, drawing by John Peacock. From his Fashion Sketchbook 1920-1960, pb. 1977. Image for review purpose only. Do not copy this image.

Also, illustrators will tend to select the clothing that is most attractive according their own era’s fashion ideal.

Beware of Using Only Secondary Sources! Anne Hollander has written a big, fascinating book about the difficulty of putting aside our own, modern ideas of beauty and drawing exactly what we see.  Even very scholarly fashion histories that are illustrated with secondary sources can be affected by this unconscious bias. The Mode in Costume, by Ruth Turner Wilcox, is carefully researched, but the illustrations, drawn in the 1940s, sometimes seem to show an uncorseted 1940s figure. The drawings of corsets from Elizabeth Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear are also secondary sources, but they are technical drawings, not noticeably distorted to a 1970s figure ideal.

1940s Drawing of 1879 dress (The Mode in Fashion), and technical drawing of 1879 corset by Elizabeth Ewing, 1971

1940s Drawing of 1879 dress (The Mode in Costume), and technical drawing of an 1879 corset by Elizabeth Ewing, 1971.  Notice the natural bust curve on the dress drawing, impossible in this corset. The bulging “spoon” belly of the period is also minimized.

Straight fronted 18th c. corset (Ewing) and 1940s drawing of 18th c. gown (The Mode in Fashion.)

Straight-fronted 18th c. corset (Ewing) and 1940s drawing of 18th c. gown (The Mode in Costume.) I have made versions of similar 18th century corsets from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, published in the mid-to-late 18th c. They flatten the bust and push it quite high. See below.

Secondary sources can be helpful, but only when used in addition to plenty of primary sources.

An 18th century fashion plate, from Encyclopedie Illustree du Costume et de la Mode

An 18th century fashion plate, from Encyclopedie Illustree du Costume et de la Mode. To be fair, this is later than the black gown above.

We’ve all seen western movies from the 60s and 70s in which the women wear thick, black false eyelashes and have bodices with plenty of breast separation, cut to cling to a modern merry widow or “torpedo” bra. Of course, both the makeup and the clothing looked attractive when the movies were made, but now look obviously “wrong” to anyone who has studied photos of the Old West.

Bette Davis wore lavish costumes both times she played Elizabeth I, but Hollywood just couldn’t commit to authentic, flat-fronted underwear.

Bette Davis in Elizabeth and Essex, 1939; Queen Elizabeth I

Bette Davis in Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939; Queen Elizabeth I

Once I was visiting a “Great House” in England. The tour guide was proud of all the portraits of the owner’s Elizabethan ancestors displayed in the front hall. I thoughtlessly blurted, “Aren’t these Victorian paintings of people in Elizabethan dress?” “How did you know that?” the guide said, shocked that the secret was out. Well, they were wearing Elizabethan clothes, but their faces and hair(and corsets) were Victorian.  Those pictures were not primary sources for Elizabethan dress.

One More Book I Couldn’t Part With:  The Costume Technician’s Handbook
I wore out my copy of The Costumer’s Handbook. The Costume Technician’s Handbook, by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey, is a revised edition of that book. When you’re exhausted and you need to put in hook and eye tape including a casing for the bone, or a side seam zipper, or you need to cartridge pleat a skirt (or ruff), or want to show someone the right way to sew on a snap, this book’s clear and easy-to-follow diagrams are life –or at least, sanity– savers. There are lots of procedures that costumers need to know, but sometimes many months go by before the next time you need to put in a corset busk, or draft some gussets, etc. The Costume Technician’s Handbook covers everything from flat pattern drafting and fitting problems and alterations, to dying and fabric painting, making hats and shoes and sword carriers, how to tie neckties, health and safety issues, etc. There’s a big bibliography and a list of suppliers. There’s even a website that updates all these sources and includes a shopping guide, links to costume societies, etc. The book is available in paperback. You can find an older edition, used, for under $10. A gem. (Caution: It is not about re-creating historically accurate clothing. It’s about creating well-made costumes for the theatre using sewing machines and modern supplies. Actors generally appreciate zippers.)

These are some old favorites — basics — the books I would pack if I could just carry a few for working out-of-town for the summer. I’ll be thinking of more really useful books for another post.

 

 

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