Belated Book Notes, Part II

From Black in Fashion (English cotton Hat, c. 1887, The Schofield Collection.
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the Government of Victoria, 1974).

This will be my final set of reviews for August – but I’ll have a good number of reviews coming up for September. The quality and quantity of the books coming out in time for the new academic year is really quite staggering. Some hover on the periphery of the history of dress, while others are more directly related. But all in all, these three books provide insight into specific eras and trends.

Black in Fashion: Mourning to Night

by Laura Jocic, Roger Leong, Paola Di Trocchio and Danielle Whitfield

Publication date: Jul 25, 2008

This is a breathtaking catalog (with flaps, colored ends, and high gloss paper) for the exhibit of the same name at the National Gallery of Victoria (the exhibit is now in its final days, details here). Beautifully illustrated, the catalog offers a sweeping history – from the 1600s to John Singer Seargant to Dior, Westwood and Comme des Garcons – on the use of the color black in fashion. Of particular interest is the catalogs focus on Australian designers (often unfamiliar to those outside of the country). While attending the last Popular Culture association meeting in San Francisco, I heard a paper from Dr. Vicki Karaminas, titled “Australian Gothic. Black Light Angels, Fashion and Subterranean Style” which explored the aesthetics of Goth comics and subculture in Australia (fascinating to say the least). Black in Fashion ties into those notions. For those not able to make it down under in the next week, the Museum at F.I.T. will have an exhibit opening September 5, titled “Gothic: Dark Glamour” which, while not exactly the same topic, may have some similar points regarding the connotations of wearing the color black. New York Magazine also recently noted that summer fashions have focused on dark gothic looks – especially in magazines like Dazed & Confused

High Society: American Portraits of the Gilded Age
Written by Barbara Dayer Gallati – the Curator Emerita of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, High Society includes high quality reproductions of over 175 portraits and period photographs from the nineteenth-century, essentially documenting the American aristocracy (and their clothing choices). While the essays focus on the artist (Sargent, Renoir, Cassatt, Whistler and Cecilia Beaux) rather than the sitters – it is still an important and useful book for historians of dress to study.

Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times Publication date: Jul 8, 2008

While not strictly a book on the history of dress, Furious Improvisation does relate to the art and culture of an era of particular interest to me. Its chapters discuss the impact of the WPA on a specific aspect of American life – the Theater. It recieved a starred review from Publishers Weekly (the top publication in the publishing industry), along with important and positive reviews from the other major industry publications (Library Journal, Booklist and Kirkus) – as well as the New York Times. Quinn discusses the WPA’s Federal Theater Project of the 1930s, and illuminates the cutting edge theatrical productions brought to the stage under the supervision of Hallie Flanagan.

Anyone studying the history of theater and culture (as many historians of dress do) would do well to inform their own research by taking a look into this volume. It is well researched (and documented), and focuses primarily on east coast productions (but does include a chapter on San Francisco based productions). Small photos document the visual aspects of these productions (including costumes). Read an excerpt here. Listen to a book review from NPR here. Quinn will also be speaking on the topic at several east coast venues (including Hyde Park in New York), for those who are interested, details are here.

Until next time,


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