Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer Reading Book Club: "Fashion Sourcebook 1920s"

A sojourn through Fashion Sourcebook 1920s is a lovely way to spend a lazy summer afternoon. You may need to factor its five-pound weight into the stress capacity of your hammock. The 575 pages are mainly visuals. The overwhelming number of those are period fashion illustrations. The rest are photos of models or movie stars and the occasional society doyenne. The illustrations are mostly taken from French, British and American fashion magazines. There are also ads and catalog pages from more popular-priced stores.

There are no photos of actual garments on mannequins a la museum display. Because of this, perhaps, you get a sense of what seeing the latest fashions may have been like for the average woman. And they are thrilling! To tell the truth, I found this book hard to read because the clothing is so gorgeous. My heart breaks that nothing today equals the attention to detail (pleating, ruching, godets, faggoting, etc.) Oh, perhaps the odd Alexander McQueen...

One truth emerged from my browsing: fashions of the 20s looked far better on the stick-thin ladies in the illustrations than they did on real women. Even starlets and 1920s-era models were chunkier than we see them today. Chanel herself was a little bird, probably considered scrawny. Maybe a real-life Lady Mary could pull them off.

Calling Lady Mary

The book has been criticized as being somewhat random. That's true— even within the categories of daywear, outerwear and eveningwear, visuals are not placed chronologically. I didn't really mind, though, and enjoyed playing a little guessing game as to where looks fell in the decade.

The twenties did not move in a straight line, with everyone bobbing her hair and hiking up her skirts at the stroke of midnight, 1920. As in all fashion decades, there was an ebb and flow of influence from popular culture and political events. The captions are minimal, but a 25-page preface is must-reading for the scholar. The rest of us will just enjoy time-traveling and hoping some current designer with the ability to reproduce these creations will be inspired to do so.

"Fashion Sourcebook 1920s" is edited by Charlotte Fiell and Emmanuelle Dirix, both British fashion historians. They have also published similar Sourcebooks for the 1930s and 1940s. I hope there's enough summer left.

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