Friday, August 5, 2011

Two new books!

My darling husband bought me two new costuming books which came in the mail over the last couple of days.  Yay!  I've had time to look them over and am overall very pleased.  Here are my thoughts in case any one is contemplating purchasing one or both of these books.

Fashion in the Middle Ages by Margaret Scott is a slender volume but packed with lots of great illustrations and content.  The book is a companion to an exhibit on late medieval fashion as presented in illuminated manuscripts currently on display at the Getty in Los Angeles.  The author and curators do a great job explaining how manuscript illuminations can be used as sources for costumes and where they fail as reliable information, even comparing the illuminations to similar extant garments in a couple of cases.   She also talks about the typical visual cues and conventions used in the artwork and what they would have indicated to the viewers.  Overall, this is a great book.  There were quite a few illustrations I had not seen before and good details shots and explanations.   It's a great source of inspiration for the price, especially if you are interested in the high middle ages.

I had very high hopes for Illuminating Fashion.  This is a much larger book with literally TONS of wonderful illustrations, and like the Getty book is also a companion to a museum exhibit (this one at the Morgan Library in New York).  The book has a narrower focus, looking at France and the Netherlands from 1325 through 1515, once again using illuminated manuscripts as the main source.  The illustrations are great and there are enough of them in enough detail to justify the price, BUT the analysis is really rather poor.  It's pretty clear that the book was written by an art historian and not a costume historian.  The list of extant garments is incomplete, and the author makes some very strange and totally unsupported statements about construction that make this is a really bad source for a new costumer (things like the looser fitting sleeves of the 1330's being cut of a piece with the body of the gown, rather than cut separately and attached).  She also identifies an obviously fur-lined hood a frilled veil in one illustration.  Having so many wonderful illuminations with a narrow geographical focus laid out chronologically is really helpful and makes it much easier to see the rapid changes in fashion that were occurring during these years, so the book is a worthy addition if this is your area of interest, just be wary of the textual analysis.


  1. Thanks for these book reviews!

    I've used other books of Scott's in the research into my 15th century garb, and I find her analysis of period images to be very helpful. I wasn't aware that she had another book, and it sounds like it's worth a read.

    I intend to borrow "Illuminating Fashion" through ILL, and had hoped it would be as helpful as Scott's books. Thanks for the heads-up that I might want to overlook the text!

  2. I'm glad that was helpful! I think if you actually *read* Scott and add the images from IF, you would have a really fabulous understanding of fashion evolution in the period. Not that the images in Scott are incomplete, the two books are just drawing from different collections so there isn't really any overlap.