On My Bookshelf: The Mode in Costume, 1942

IMG_1462I have a difficult time appreciating older costume books. I’ve been kind of scarred by Earle and McClellan. When I got this book, a first edition of The Mode in Costume, I wasn’t expecting much, and the book really delivered for a while …

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So where do we start on this black gown … neckline, sleeves, waistline, skirt cut … The francaise next to it is pretty much okay, though. Any book that uses Earle as a source, however, is going to be kinda-sorta okay in some places, and hideously awful in others.

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Oh gawd!!! Nooo! Nooooooooo!

It’s one of those here’s-what-everybody-everywhere-wore-since-the-dawn-of-time books, and you can never expect these books to have enough detail to satisfy a moderate interest, or to have thorough enough research to build upon. I flipped from Egypt to 1800s Europe in a few minutes and didn’t see anything that really caught my attention – until I realized that the clothing in the book went right up to the date of publication. There’s no way the authors could have gotten their own clothing wrong.

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Just that line of cigarette smoke screams 1930s-1940s.

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And here we see the entire male wardrobe for the movie Casablanca …

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Huzzah, authors! I mean, these are gorgeous. For fun (because I don’t know what the rest of society deems fun) I went back and read the forward.

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Yes, it’s a statement of the state of the fashion industry at an incredibly turbulent time. I’d always heard fashion professors say that 1930s fashions ‘fossilized’ through the 1940s until Dior’s New Look came in, but I never knew that people acknowledged this during the war. The forward also notes the opportunities American designers had during France’s occupation, without naming anybody.

So do I like this book at all? Kind of. If you’re doing historical clothing research from before 1900, don’t you dare use this book. Really. If you want an overview of 1910-1940 clothing in France and the USA, it’s a start. If you want to know what people thought of fashion history in the 1940s, and what inspired costuming, go for this one. For the history of fashion history, it’s pretty awesome.

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About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

3 responses to “On My Bookshelf: The Mode in Costume, 1942

  • witness2fashion

    What a great example of the reason we should never trust secondary sources. That black 18th centrury gown screams “wrong corset, wrong silhouette!” It looks like a movie costume from the late 30s or early 40s. We are so influenced by current styles — often unconsciously — that it’s extremely difficult not to make slight alterations to bring the costume into conformity with our contemporary idea of beauty. Consider Bette Davis’ costumes as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth and Essex or The Virgin Queen — the studio spent a fortune on the details, but just couldn’t commit to a corset and bodice without curves. At least art forgers are often betrayed by a similar inability to avoid painting modern faces into “old” pictures.

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