As my numerous posts from fashion magazines attest, I spend a lot of time these days studying and thinking about historic dress. Thanks to NHG Susan’s many enticing suggestions, my collection of costume books has become what some might call excessive. Today the spotlight is one of my most-frequently-consulted.
When I’m working on a scene where the characters’ clothes are very important for one reason or another, the book I’m most likely to open first is Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail 1730-1930.
It isn’t a gorgeous book, like the coffee-table size V&A or university press publications. Its pages contain not a smidgen of color. It’s all text and drawings, fanatically detailed drawings in which every seam has been measured and noted, every button or hook accounted for… In short, when Ms. Bradfield says "in detail," she means in detail.
According to her introduction, her “studies…are entirely from private collections; only a mere handful have ever been exhibited or seen by the general public. Several are too frail or too soiled ever to be put on view.” However, it’s easy enough to apply information from her book to the beautiful color photographs in other books, like Jane Ashelford’s The Art of Dress , or Lucy Johnston’s Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. Now and again, I’ll find in these books one of the dresses she’s drawn. She also might include on a page a little hand-drawn copy of a famous painting or fashion illustration that corresponds to the item she’s anatomized. A page featuring shawls, for instance, includes her sketch of Ingres’ famous painting of Madame Rivière (below right).
The Appendix includes some extremely beautiful drawings of items from Ms. Bradfield’s own collection—three from the Regency and one from 1913.
If you’ve ever wondered exactly how a Regency era spencer was constructed, how long a dress opening was below the waistline (Would one step out of it or pull it over one’s head?), how and where a dress fastened, how a lady’s parasol worked, or the size of various ladies’ feet, this is the book for you.
(In accord with some FTC rule or other—which probably doesn’t apply to us, since we're not reviewers, but never mind—readers are hereby informed that I bought this book with my own hard-earned cash.)