You Should Be Reading: Summer Reading for Fashion Historians

Opportunities for leisure reading seem to be more plentiful in the summertime, whether that’s because you’re involved in academia or find yourself with a free afternoon on a beach or in an airport. I’ve compiled a list of some new releases in fashion literature that are popular and/or well reviewed. What will you be reading this summer? Please let us know in the comments.

1. Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly. (2015). Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. New Haven: Yale University Press.

This engrossing book chronicles one of the most exciting, controversial, and extravagant periods in the history of fashion: the reign of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in 18th-century France. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell offers a carefully researched glimpse into the turbulent era’s sophisticated and largely female-dominated fashion industry, which produced courtly finery as well as promoted a thriving secondhand clothing market outside the royal circle. She discusses in depth the exceptionally imaginative and uninhibited styles of the period immediately before the French Revolution, and also explores fashion’s surprising influence on the course of the Revolution itself. The absorbing narrative demonstrates fashion’s crucial role as a visible and versatile medium for social commentary, and shows the glittering surface of 18th-century high society as well as its seedy underbelly. – From the Publisher

2. Givhan, Robin. (2015). The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History. New York: Flatiron Books.

On November 28, 1973, the world’s social elite gathered at the Palace of Versailles for an international fashion show. By the time the curtain came down on the evening’s spectacle, history had been made and the industry had been forever transformed. This is that story. Pulitzer-Prize winning fashion journalist Robin Givhan offers a lively and meticulously well-researched account of this unique event. The Battle of Versailles is a sharp, engaging cultural history; this intimate examination of a single moment shows us how the world of fashion as we know it came to be. – From the Publisher

3. Cassie Davies-Strodder and Jenny Lister. (2015). London Society Fashion 1905–1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank. London: Victoria & Albert Museum.

Downton Abbey–era fashion is explored through the life and extensive wardrobe of real-life Edwardian London socialite Heather Firbank (1888–1954), whose treasures, bought from the world’s leading couturiers and the very best dressmakers and tailors in London, were gifted to the V&A after her death. The collection forms an invaluable record of a stylish and wealthy woman’s taste from about 1905 to 1920, and actually served as inspiration to Downton Abbey’s Emmy Award–winning costume designer, Susannah Buxton. Beautifully illustrated with new photography of Firbank’s evening gowns, tailored suits, and hats, the book also features contemporary photographs and pages from Firbank’s own fashion cuttings albums. – From the Publisher

4. Przybyszewski, Linda. (2014). The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. New York: Basic Books.

In the first half of the twentieth century, a remarkable group of women—the so-called Dress Doctors—taught American women how to stretch each yard of fabric and dress well on a budget. Knowledge not money, they insisted, is the key to timeless fashion. Based in Home Economics departments across the country, the Dress Doctors offered advice on radio shows, at women’s clubs, and in magazines. Millions of young girls read their books in school and at 4-H clothing clubs. As Przybyszewski shows, the Dress Doctors’ concerns weren’t purely superficial: they prized practicality, and empowered women to design and make clothing for both the workplace and the home. They championed skirts that would allow women to move about freely and campaigned against impractical and painful shoes. Armed with the Dress Doctors’ simple design principles—harmony, proportion, balance, rhythm, emphasis—modern American women from all classes could learn to dress for all occasions in a way that made them confident, engaged members of society. – From the Publisher

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