Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Complete Costume Dictionary

The Complete Costume Dictionary is a comprehensive dictionary of international terminology for costume and dress. It covers clothing worn from as far back as 4000 BCE and up to the present. Although the range and quantity of articles of clothing and styles covered is vast, this is not, however, a source that covers couturiers and fashion houses.

The Dictionary includes a limited number of black and white illustrations. The section following the main body of the dictionary additionally includes color illustrations of some of these black and white illustrations featured. This is a weakness; it would make more sense to feature other illustrations showing greater detail. The illustrations that are not public domain and credited to Dover are rudimentary, one doesn’t get much more out of them in the color version, except that the illustrator learned how to render a color gradient. The author on her webpage states that she hopes to make larger images available to owners of the book, but as of this writing they are not yet available.

In a book covering such a vast, international vocabulary there are bound to be some issues with orthography. For instance the Vietnamese words for raincoat - áo mưa and áo đi mưa are rendered as áo muta and áo ði mura respectively (with an Icelandic "ð" in the latter). Thus, readers should use extra caution with foreign terminology in this reference.

The back matter includes several extensive appendices. Appendix A is an index of garments by type. In Appendix B clothing is grouped by country or region. Appendix C groups terminology of Western costume starting with Egyptian civilization (4000-30 BCE) all the way through the twentieth century. There is also a selective biography.

Librarians always remember the stumpers. A patron had been looking for the definition of aerophane. I hadn’t been able to find it in any of the print dictionaries, but was rewarded when I looked in the online Oxford English Dictionary. However, a quick check to The Complete Costume Dictionary shows this very fine definition with a description and historical context:

aerophane: Directoire and First Empire (1790-1815 CE). Introduced in 1820, a fine crimped crepe.
Despite the weaknesses noted above, this is a great resource for fashion design students.

The Complete Costume Dictionary by Elizabeth J. Lewandowski (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2011).

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