When you begin your research, just browsing the right shelf area is often more effective than an online catalog search. If you’re not exactly sure what you need, an excellent place to start is the Art, Music and Reference Center room reference section, Dewey number 391.003 on the fourth floor, row 55. This is the call number for dictionaries and encyclopedias of costume. Among other general clothing reference works we have three outstanding sets of encyclopedias. Each set has a different way of organizing information and a slightly different focus:
Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, (in 3 volumes) Valerie Steele, editor in chief (Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005). Also available online with your San Francisco Public Library library card through the Gale Virtual Reference Library.
This is a broad-based encyclopedia with a straightforward alphabetical format. It provides an in-depth survey of clothing and body adornment. It also examines the origins of clothing, the development of fabrics and technologies, and the social meanings of dress.
This encyclopedia presents information on representative costumes from a wide variety of historical eras. Topics range from the bustle, sari, and toga to Polyester and body piercing, the cocktail dress, bathing suit, burqua, and the Nehru jacket. There are also entries for techniques and manufactures such batik, dry cleaning, zipper, stone washing, for body adornment such as makeup, masks, tattooing, and wigs, as well as for important persons and institutions like Coco Chanel, Edith Head, Yves Saint-Laurent, and Fashion Institute of Technology.
The longer essays provide a wider cultural context: class, gender, sumptuary laws, costume design for stage and screen, advertising, fashion careers, ecclesiastical dress, etc. It includes a comprehensive general index in the last volume, as well as a timeline, and a topical outline.
The editor in chief, Valerie Steele, is chief curator and director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is a widely respected authority on fashion and clothing history. We have many books written or edited by her and they are all well-researched, well-written and useful for the casual or serious researcher.
Some of the strengths of this set are the easy to search A to Z format and the inclusion of a bibliography for each entry, both for sources and further research. This is also the only one of the three sets that includes contemporary fashion subjects. For example, a four page article on crowns and tiaras describes new tiara trends started by Vivienne Westwood and Gianni Versace.
The index at the end of the third volume is superlative. In addition to the conventional uses of an index, a quick browse through this could give you new directions for your research. The outline at the end of the same volume is divided into seven broad subject areas and then subsequent categories within each topic. Since the encyclopedia entries are in A to Z format, the outline is helpful in finding related articles. If you need help in structuring a report, this outline will help as well.
Encyclopedia of National Dress: Traditional Clothing Around the World (in 2 volumes), Jill Condra, editor (ABC-CLIO, c2013).
This set has entries for 130 nations or autonomous regions listed alphabetically. It examines clothing in the context of the cultural identity of people who live in regions all over the world, providing a historical and geographic perspective that illustrates how people dress and explains the reasons behind the material, design, and style. Each entry in the encyclopedia includes a short historical and geographical background for the topic before discussing the clothing of people in that country or region of the world. This work will be of great interest to students researching fashion, fashion history, or history as well as to general readers interested in anthropology, textiles, fashion, ethnology, history, or ethnic dress.
This resource has many strengths. Each entry has a list of “Further Reading and Resources” list at the end citing both print and online sources for more in-depth research. The information is detailed, but still appropriate for middle school through undergraduate level searchers. Each entry begins with the historical, geographical and environmental background, which is then tied in to how these affect the textiles used and the clothing worn. There is also an explanation of the difference between everyday and special-occasion dress. The rituals and special occasions important to each country are described.
At the end of the 2nd volume there is a list of museums with national dress and textile collections.
Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion (Oxford University Press, 2010).
The 10-volume Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, the most comprehensive reference work of the three, explores all aspects of dress and fashion globally - from pre-history to the present day. Arranged geographically, the first 9 volumes each cover a region of the world. Volume 10 is on global perspectives. This work is written by an international team of experts, and is the most in-depth source for all issues relating the art and anthropology of costume, dress, and fashion for students, scholars, members of the design and fashion industries, and fashion aficionados. All articles have been specially commissioned from over 600 renowned scholars from every part of the globe. Particular effort has been made to commission articles by indigenous scholars with in-depth local knowledge.
This set also has many strengths. It is the most scholarly of the three encyclopedias and is recommended for the serious researcher. Each volume begins with general regional view, but then drills down to an exceptionally detailed view of each country. This work provides the sometimes hard-to-find information on contemporary design, trade and present day influences of dress for all regions of the world. The Contributors are extremely knowledgeable about the technical aspects of textiles and clothing construction. Many disparate elements such as religion, colonialism, natural resources, the significance of iconic garments and the importance of key colors are explained in relation to each other and create a deeper understanding of the culture. Volume has unique and thought-provoking essays on global perspectives. It addresses world influences and trends. There is also a timeline and a cumulative index.