Tuesday, January 6, 2009

20,000 Years of Fashion

An excellent source for a historical perspective of costume is 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher. This book uses photographs of the art works of civilizations over the millennia to deduce what people through recorded history wore and why they wore it. The book is divided into large sections organized chronologically and by geographic region and then further into chapters by civilization. Within these chapters there are sections that describe the general conditions, geographical setting, trade, and adornments of that time and place.

For the earliest recorded costume, the book employs anthropological and archaeological resources to analzye ancient works of art. A statue of Idi-ilum, Governor of Lagash from the 3rd century BC shows great detail (shown above). The Sumerian shawl, a fashion staple of that time, is enriched by carefully knotted curled fringe – a level of detail that is astonishing considering the medium of its reproduction is stone.

As the centuries move forward into more recent history the sources available to study costume expand to include painting and writing. The chapters on Renaissance costume are full of portraiture showing styles of the day. The dress finery of the seventeenth century depicted in these paintings gives an indication of the wealth of the sitter, and also provides a challenge to the artist in depicting drapery and textures. Many paintings of impressionists will look familiar; Picasso and Matisse also depict fashions of the day, though these pieces may not be as well-known.

Photographs dominate the last pages. In a cluster of black and white photos from the twentieth century one shoe, with its heel placed forward over the arch is reminiscent of those of eighteenth century France, recycling the past into a new package.

Those interested in finding more titles on the subject of costume can browse the Dewey 391 call number in the library's circulating and reference collections. Other related areas to browse are the call numbers 646 (which includes works on sewing and clothing patterns), 746.92 (which includes works on fashion design and fashion designers) and 792.026 (stage costume).

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