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How to Read a Dress. A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century

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Fashion is ever-changing and while some styles mark a dramatic departure from the past, many exhibit subtle differences from year to year that are not always easy to identify. With overviews of each key period and detailed illustrations for each new style, How to Read a Dress is an authoritative visual guide to women's fashion across five centuries. Each entry includes ann Fashion is ever-changing and while some styles mark a dramatic departure from the past, many exhibit subtle differences from year to year that are not always easy to identify. With overviews of each key period and detailed illustrations for each new style, How to Read a Dress is an authoritative visual guide to women's fashion across five centuries. Each entry includes annotated colour images of historical garments, outlines important features and highlights how styles have changed (whether in shape, fabric choice, trimming, undergarments) from those shown previously. Readers will learn how garments were constructed and where their inspiration stemmed from at key points in history, as well as the differences between dress types for various occasions, variations in detailing, cut, and popularity, and the class, age and social status of the wearer. This beautifully illustrated guide equips students, researchers, curators and anyone interested in historical fashion with the tools to 'read' a dress. Using this book, readers are able to identify specific period styles, and will really know their cartridge pleats from their Récamier ruffles. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/au/how-to-r...


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Fashion is ever-changing and while some styles mark a dramatic departure from the past, many exhibit subtle differences from year to year that are not always easy to identify. With overviews of each key period and detailed illustrations for each new style, How to Read a Dress is an authoritative visual guide to women's fashion across five centuries. Each entry includes ann Fashion is ever-changing and while some styles mark a dramatic departure from the past, many exhibit subtle differences from year to year that are not always easy to identify. With overviews of each key period and detailed illustrations for each new style, How to Read a Dress is an authoritative visual guide to women's fashion across five centuries. Each entry includes annotated colour images of historical garments, outlines important features and highlights how styles have changed (whether in shape, fabric choice, trimming, undergarments) from those shown previously. Readers will learn how garments were constructed and where their inspiration stemmed from at key points in history, as well as the differences between dress types for various occasions, variations in detailing, cut, and popularity, and the class, age and social status of the wearer. This beautifully illustrated guide equips students, researchers, curators and anyone interested in historical fashion with the tools to 'read' a dress. Using this book, readers are able to identify specific period styles, and will really know their cartridge pleats from their Récamier ruffles. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/au/how-to-r...

30 review for How to Read a Dress. A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenne

    So many beautiful details! The only thing I wished it had more of, was information about how women actually felt while wearing these clothes! Did they like them? Were they trying to look sexy? How much of this did they just wear around the house?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Netta

    The thing with How To Read A Dress is that it doesn't really teach you how to read a dress. Instead it applies the show don't tell rule and gives you lots of pictures with dry notes (which is, probably, a legitimate thing to do because the title states it's a guide, and we don't expect guides to be more than pictures with dry notes attached). The idea of the book is brilliant, but the book itself didn't meet my expectations. The thing with How To Read A Dress is that it doesn't really teach you how to read a dress. Instead it applies the show don't tell rule and gives you lots of pictures with dry notes (which is, probably, a legitimate thing to do because the title states it's a guide, and we don't expect guides to be more than pictures with dry notes attached). The idea of the book is brilliant, but the book itself didn't meet my expectations.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I liked the idea of this book better than the reality. It seems like one of those Dorling Kindersley books, only for adults. (You know the ones, say a book about gemstones with lots of pictures and little bits of text next to it, all shiny and fun.) And yet. In some chapters, the dresses shown didn't seem to correspond particularly well to the trends described in the text introduction. Sometimes it was hard to guess why certain dresses were chosen for a full-page blow-up. There were a few black I liked the idea of this book better than the reality. It seems like one of those Dorling Kindersley books, only for adults. (You know the ones, say a book about gemstones with lots of pictures and little bits of text next to it, all shiny and fun.) And yet. In some chapters, the dresses shown didn't seem to correspond particularly well to the trends described in the text introduction. Sometimes it was hard to guess why certain dresses were chosen for a full-page blow-up. There were a few black ones that they author may as well have skipped for all the contrast they had on the page. The closer we get to the present, the more she focuses on items from Australian collections, as if there were a sort of Anglophone world of fashion shared between Australia, Canada, the US, and the UK--but that seems like a strange, unexamined idea given the French and Italian role in fashion. My final complaint is that there are a bunch of copyediting fails here. This is fun to leaf through, but unlike many beautifully produced books, it's not one I long to put on my own shelf.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    A frustrating book - quite badly written and copy edited, and it has an inadequate glossary of terms and is much too skimpy with its image selection. I know that it couldn't be completely comprehensive, but one or two more images for each date span would have been helpful - or at least mutiple views of dresses from different angles, and more closeups of details. I got annoyed by things like references to the back of a dress when only the front is shown, and also annoyed because the photos, which A frustrating book - quite badly written and copy edited, and it has an inadequate glossary of terms and is much too skimpy with its image selection. I know that it couldn't be completely comprehensive, but one or two more images for each date span would have been helpful - or at least mutiple views of dresses from different angles, and more closeups of details. I got annoyed by things like references to the back of a dress when only the front is shown, and also annoyed because the photos, which look impressive at first glance, aren't always big enough or clear enough to show you what the author is pointing out.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amanda--A Scientist Reads

    Having read several more scholarly works (without photo references) about period dress and the influences that forced fashion across time periods, this book was a wonderful pictorial supplement to those more detailed works. Each period is characterized by a silhouette, then a brief description of common traits that distinguish that period from others, and is followed by pictures of period pieces similar to the cover image (with inserts of photo references as well). Some have criticized the book Having read several more scholarly works (without photo references) about period dress and the influences that forced fashion across time periods, this book was a wonderful pictorial supplement to those more detailed works. Each period is characterized by a silhouette, then a brief description of common traits that distinguish that period from others, and is followed by pictures of period pieces similar to the cover image (with inserts of photo references as well). Some have criticized the book for being too photo heavy, and I'd agree this wouldn't be my go to for detailed descriptions or historical references on how politics/time periods influenced fashion, it is a good and quick read and adds to more detailed works that are available elsewhere.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sylvester

    I'm not much interested in fashion. But here were photos of Real dresses, with notes about the details. I was floored by the thought of the hours of painstaking handwork that went into each one. Incredible. Considering that I can barely sew on a button, I'm opting out of the Time Travel I had in mind. I may not be able to blend in as easily as I'd thought. I'm not much interested in fashion. But here were photos of Real dresses, with notes about the details. I was floored by the thought of the hours of painstaking handwork that went into each one. Incredible. Considering that I can barely sew on a button, I'm opting out of the Time Travel I had in mind. I may not be able to blend in as easily as I'd thought.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I loved this book so much! It gave great insight into the trends of fashion from the 1500s-1960s. It was fascinating to see how different fashions were just a couple of years apart. Edwards noted all the minute details that really 'made' the dresses and makes vintage clothing so special and unique. I only wish there had been more clothing examples in each chapter. I loved this book so much! It gave great insight into the trends of fashion from the 1500s-1960s. It was fascinating to see how different fashions were just a couple of years apart. Edwards noted all the minute details that really 'made' the dresses and makes vintage clothing so special and unique. I only wish there had been more clothing examples in each chapter.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nic

    Great photos and nice descriptions and explanations of the styles and materials.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    How excited was I to receive a review copy of Lydia Edwards’ new book, How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century! If, like me, you are the sort of person who loves analyzing Western fashion within the context of history and, say, trying to guess the time in which a given portrait was painted based on the dress of the woman depicted, you will want to pick up a copy of this book, stat. It’s an excellent guide to the specifics of women’s fashion in terms of h How excited was I to receive a review copy of Lydia Edwards’ new book, How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century! If, like me, you are the sort of person who loves analyzing Western fashion within the context of history and, say, trying to guess the time in which a given portrait was painted based on the dress of the woman depicted, you will want to pick up a copy of this book, stat. It’s an excellent guide to the specifics of women’s fashion in terms of how shapes and details changed and evolved over time. You might consider this a manual for training your eye to evaluate a garment or work of art depicting European (and later, American/Australian) women, and estimate its date of origin. Edwards uses primarily surviving garments in the collections of museums worldwide, and diagrams each element of the “look” which serves as a clue to its era. Incorporating examples from institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA), the McCord in Montreal (Canada), and Australia’s Powerhouse Museum, so it winds up being a broad survey of the British-origin fashion diaspora. Edwards begins her survey in 1550, citing the relative lack of surviving garments from prior decades/centuries, and extends the range up to 1970. It’s gratifying to see a fashion history text moving beyond the 1950s and the New Look, which is where most prior resources in the area tend to cut off (for presumably chronological reasons in terms of when they were published). NGL, i’m seriously looking forward to the point at which someone puts out a book that looks at the entire 20th century as a whole, fashion-wise, and considers things like the resurgence of 1940s-inspired shouldered shapes in the 1980s, or the way in which 1970s knit maxidresses reimagined 1930s bias gown silhouettes…but i’m digressing bigtime. Ultimately, this is an excellent book for scholars of fashion history, costume designers and makers, and really anyone looking to improve their ability to determine the period of a given dress. There are several garments for each time period to illustrate differences/similarities, and each chapter’s introductory text features other reference images (fashion plates, paintings/engravings, photography once that’s been invented, etc.). Edwards’ explanations are clear and well-articulated, and were i teaching an introductory course in fashion history, i would consider adopting this as a supplementary text. A caveat: the book restricts the scope to only the dress of women. Nothing about menswear, very little about accessories like shoes/hats beyond insofar as they related to the primary garment/gown/etc. If that’s what you’re looking for information about, look elsewhere. Me, i’m adding this to my library at work, for our graduate students to consult when picking out period pattern projects. An excellent resource, beautifully produced in full color. **This review initially written for https://la-bricoleuse.blogspot.com/

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    False advertisement. The book doesn't teach you how to "read" a dress; it's mainly a cursory guide to the evolution of dresses over four centuries. Edwards breaks down the dresses she chose to highlight with great detail and provides a decent overview of each era. I would have loved more dresses to be dissected because that's where this book shines--and because some eras didn't get as much attention as others. It seems like it was carelessly put together. There are typos and the pictures chosen False advertisement. The book doesn't teach you how to "read" a dress; it's mainly a cursory guide to the evolution of dresses over four centuries. Edwards breaks down the dresses she chose to highlight with great detail and provides a decent overview of each era. I would have loved more dresses to be dissected because that's where this book shines--and because some eras didn't get as much attention as others. It seems like it was carelessly put together. There are typos and the pictures chosen and overall organization of the book is strange. Sometimes only the backs of dresses appear, pictures were repeated, and others were tiny. Also, I wish Edwards analyzed more dresses from the lower classes too. (Given that working class clothing generally didn't last, perhaps the author could have examined paintings or sketches?) It was nice to see dresses from Canada and Australia however.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Meh. Wasn't nearly as informative or entertaining as the description led me to believe. Also, I was disappointed that the books dealt with "fashion", i.e., what the rich wore to show off, not with the more general idea of fashion-as-culture. The introductory sections also read like they were the lecture notes from a course on fashion & design, right off of the professor's PowerPoint. Meh. Wasn't nearly as informative or entertaining as the description led me to believe. Also, I was disappointed that the books dealt with "fashion", i.e., what the rich wore to show off, not with the more general idea of fashion-as-culture. The introductory sections also read like they were the lecture notes from a course on fashion & design, right off of the professor's PowerPoint.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    This book is a handy survey of women's fashion (mostly of dresses, but occasionally including titbits about other aspects of dress and accessorising, like necklaces and shoes) from the 16th to the 20th century. It features full-colour photographs, carefully annotated with useful pointers as to what to notice, and introductory essays explaining the trends of each period. The annotation is very good, but the introductory paragraphs for each section are a bit less organised. It doesn't refer to spec This book is a handy survey of women's fashion (mostly of dresses, but occasionally including titbits about other aspects of dress and accessorising, like necklaces and shoes) from the 16th to the 20th century. It features full-colour photographs, carefully annotated with useful pointers as to what to notice, and introductory essays explaining the trends of each period. The annotation is very good, but the introductory paragraphs for each section are a bit less organised. It doesn't refer to specific examples of dresses in that chapter, but stays totally general... meaning it's hard for me -- a not especially visual person -- to link the dresses up with the trends they illustrate. Sometimes I'd look through the dresses for a specific feature, but not really see anything that seemed to match. In addition, sometimes the text would mention a specific photograph or illustration, but it wasn't next to the text, and there was no helpful "(figure 3)" or anything; instead it would say something like "this photograph of a gentleman..." Which photograph of a gentleman? Anyway, I found it really interesting, and useful, with a few flaws. It would probably work better for someone with a visual memory!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Prince William Public Libraries

    An interesting little volume all about the history of women's clothing. It's covering a large amount of time, so don't anticipate a lot of detail. Still, the depth is respectable, and a good beginning for research. I do wish Edwards selected one country's fashion to study rather than several countries. Fashion isn't profoundly different from country to country within the same century, but there were differences depending on the social/political climate of the time (the Commonwealth period of 17t An interesting little volume all about the history of women's clothing. It's covering a large amount of time, so don't anticipate a lot of detail. Still, the depth is respectable, and a good beginning for research. I do wish Edwards selected one country's fashion to study rather than several countries. Fashion isn't profoundly different from country to country within the same century, but there were differences depending on the social/political climate of the time (the Commonwealth period of 17th century England was very conservative--but the rest of the world wasn't under Cromwell's reign, for example). I thought it was interesting all of the social signifiers women's dress indicate (the shape of a collar or neckline told if a woman was married or not!) You're definitely going to learn how to "read" the sartorial choices of classic art, and feel slightly annoyed by historical dramas that get the bodice shape wrong (it's a good feeling, though). -Amanda

  14. 5 out of 5

    Abigail F

    Gorgeously illustrated overview of fashion history. If you've read a lot about historical fashion, there isn't much new here, but it's an excellent overview for beginners or for someone starting out learning about a new period of fashion history. While the book gives great information on the dresses it presents, I would have enjoyed a bit more range, especially in some of the decades of the twentieth century since we still have so much of that fashion extant. I was also confused by some of the c Gorgeously illustrated overview of fashion history. If you've read a lot about historical fashion, there isn't much new here, but it's an excellent overview for beginners or for someone starting out learning about a new period of fashion history. While the book gives great information on the dresses it presents, I would have enjoyed a bit more range, especially in some of the decades of the twentieth century since we still have so much of that fashion extant. I was also confused by some of the choices presented, as they didn't seem to correspond to the trends described -- in one instance, at least, she even notes that the dress she's analyzing is not a quintessential example of the fashion of the decade. So... huh? But as a short primer, this is great. The writing is clear, and at times, inspiring. The bibliography is fantastic!!!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alejandra

    It is definitely very good to start understanding historical fashion. I knew many of the things you mentioned, but it was very useful to better accommodate my ideas and understand various things. But it only explains to you in detail the outfits once finished, with accessories and such things. It does not explain step by step how is the way to dress like ... First the chemise, then the Spanish farthingale, kirtle etc ... And there are only images of the complete outfits. I love the examples anyw It is definitely very good to start understanding historical fashion. I knew many of the things you mentioned, but it was very useful to better accommodate my ideas and understand various things. But it only explains to you in detail the outfits once finished, with accessories and such things. It does not explain step by step how is the way to dress like ... First the chemise, then the Spanish farthingale, kirtle etc ... And there are only images of the complete outfits. I love the examples anyway, by the start of the '1920s' part i was a little boring beacuse i don't like the 20th century fashion so much as i love the past centuries. But anyway is so good. (And also sorry if my english is too bad in this review😂😂 long time ago since the last time i write in english)

  16. 4 out of 5

    My Fine Gentleman

    I'd echo a lot of what other reviewers have said - I think a few more dresses could've been added to better show the breadth of each decade, as well as to ensure that she hits all of the key transitions in style. I also would've liked a bit more explanation for the WHY of these styles, because many of them are totally wild and I want to know why anyone would want to wear a ruff so big that they needed a wire support apparatus. (Also, the copyediting needs to be improved there were several typos) I'd echo a lot of what other reviewers have said - I think a few more dresses could've been added to better show the breadth of each decade, as well as to ensure that she hits all of the key transitions in style. I also would've liked a bit more explanation for the WHY of these styles, because many of them are totally wild and I want to know why anyone would want to wear a ruff so big that they needed a wire support apparatus. (Also, the copyediting needs to be improved there were several typos). That being said, I really really enjoyed this book and I think that it's a useful and interesting resource as an introduction to fashion through the latter half of the millennium. Many of the dresses are totally beautiful, and I might try reading more about periods other than 1810-1870.

  17. 4 out of 5

    MargaretDH

    This is really interesting! I know *marginally* more about fashion history than the average person, and this was perfect for me. There was some text explaining the evolution of dresses, and then lots of pictures with captions and annotations. This is not a serious textbook, but an interesting exploration of how fashion evolved over time, with a tiny little bit about how museums preserve and restore clothing. I did have some questions, of course. The book doesn't really talk about how much dresse This is really interesting! I know *marginally* more about fashion history than the average person, and this was perfect for me. There was some text explaining the evolution of dresses, and then lots of pictures with captions and annotations. This is not a serious textbook, but an interesting exploration of how fashion evolved over time, with a tiny little bit about how museums preserve and restore clothing. I did have some questions, of course. The book doesn't really talk about how much dresses cost, who could and would wear what (including sumptuary laws) and where people were always wearing the dresses. She did somewhat discuss undergarments, but I wanted to know more about those too. But all of those weren't really the point of this book. So rather than leaving me unsatisfied, I'd say the book made me want to do more research. Definitely read the paper copy of this. You need to hold the book up to your nose and really take in all the details of the fabric and stitching.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    3.5/5 Stars This book is perfect if you want examples of the evolution of dresses- there are several pictures with all pertinent details explained. However, it falls flat when it comes to going any further. WHY did any of these changes happen? Was the country at war, and so their colours were used to show patriotism? Did industrialisation make certain fabrics cheaper? There is no analysis, only examples. It is great for background, but not for the actual history behind it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Turner

    This book is great for describing the evolution of fashion and showing it in detail with surviving dresses. I didn't always feel that the dresses shown were the best exemplars of their period but understand the author probably had to make do with what was available. It does get into a fair degree of detail on dress construction which may not be for those who don't have sewing skills (myself included) but you can understand most of it without any of that background. This book is great for describing the evolution of fashion and showing it in detail with surviving dresses. I didn't always feel that the dresses shown were the best exemplars of their period but understand the author probably had to make do with what was available. It does get into a fair degree of detail on dress construction which may not be for those who don't have sewing skills (myself included) but you can understand most of it without any of that background.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Some editing errors; the choices in garments dissected were not necessarily representational; and some chunks in development were excluded entirely (how you can expect to demonstrate fashion in the 18th century without showing the early robes battante or volante is beyond me).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I am going to be so annoying during historical films now. Not that I wasn't already. If you are interested in things like historical sleeve styles, you'll like this. I am going to be so annoying during historical films now. Not that I wasn't already. If you are interested in things like historical sleeve styles, you'll like this.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nezka

    This pictorial timeline of costume is focused on western Europe and the US and Australia, with textiles from excellent museum collections used whenever possible but images are dark and unfortunately not many detail shots to show construction.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I had to get this on ILL but it was so worth it. How to Read a Dress is a lavishly illustrated and excellently written guide to the evolution of the (Western, mostly British) dress through time, from the 1500s to the 1970s. Edwards does stress in the introduction that she is only working with the mostly British clothing, though, so it's quite clear about its limitations. As you may or may not know, I am very interested in fashion history and the way it links into sociological history. How to Rea I had to get this on ILL but it was so worth it. How to Read a Dress is a lavishly illustrated and excellently written guide to the evolution of the (Western, mostly British) dress through time, from the 1500s to the 1970s. Edwards does stress in the introduction that she is only working with the mostly British clothing, though, so it's quite clear about its limitations. As you may or may not know, I am very interested in fashion history and the way it links into sociological history. How to Read a Dress is an invaluable contribution to that field of study, linking the changing styles of dress into broader historical trends. For example, the change from the very structured dresses of the Georgian period into the looser, neoclassical revival styles of the Napoleonic era reflects a broader change in the social life, where a strict, Protestant-father king is replaced with his much more free-living son. It's pretty neat. Edwards illustrates these changes with, for the most part, actual extant garments. We don't have a lot of them from the 1500s and 1600s, so she largely uses paintings for those, but she really does try to show an actual dress, so she can point out the new or classic elements. One dress may have a broader skirt, looking ahead to the bustle, but dropped sleeves, looking back to the (frankly bugnuts) fashions of the 1830s. It's a really neat book if you're at all interested in fashion and fashion history.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Christine Kenney

    The picture-heavy layout helps the viewer appreciate how dress construction evolved over time. Now I almost want to re-read Jane Austen, armed with a more extensive dress construction vocabulary. Sadly, it ended on an aesthetic low note for me in the 1960's. Its focus on the more affluent and more formal occasions, left me puzzled about what women who were of less leisure wore to accomplish their work. The picture-heavy layout helps the viewer appreciate how dress construction evolved over time. Now I almost want to re-read Jane Austen, armed with a more extensive dress construction vocabulary. Sadly, it ended on an aesthetic low note for me in the 1960's. Its focus on the more affluent and more formal occasions, left me puzzled about what women who were of less leisure wore to accomplish their work.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    What I liked: the different variations of costume (although, of course, most would have been worn by the wealthy because those pieces have survived) and the overviews of style for the eras described. What I wanted more of: more photo close-ups of the details that were discussed, and a look at trends from different classes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christen

    Not what I expected. It was okay. The notes on the dresses were redundant after a few dresses. An obvious mistake in the edition I borrowed from the library: duplicate notes on a page. It felt like a PowerPoint lecture in book form.

  27. 5 out of 5

    C.A.

    Great pictures from collection of dress from the US, Europe, and Australia, but the chapters were a bit technical for a novice like me. Still, both beautiful to look at and education, making it a great book for fashion lovers

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Broad span of styles covered with incredible examples. However, only one view is given for each garment, when front and back view would be helpful in many cases. Also, I wish undergarments were included as well.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    I want a mantua fitted on me as a life goal now.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emily Purcell

    This intimate look at real historical garments is a must-read for anyone interested in fashion or history. Packed with detail and context in a short easily read format.

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