This is not what I would consider a ‘typical’ book for me (though I’m not sure I have such a thing as a ‘typical’ book), but there was a reason that I was interested enough to request this book … theatre. Because I write and direct for the theatre I do sometimes look for books such as this for reference material. I recently worked on a show from the period that this book covers and my interest was high.
Author Norma Shephard has done some remarkable research and presents a very detailed, very thorough look at children’s clothes from the time of the American Civil War through the turn of the century and just prior to the Jazz Age. But research is nothing without a great presentation and Shephard walks us through the periods and the styles, detailing when and why are particular style might have been worn, how it came into fashion, and what the other fashions were that complemented it. Because of its specificity it is one of the most detailed history books I’ve read.
This era is ripe with photos as this was the beginning of popular photography as well, and those who chose to be photographed often dressed in their very best outfits. But we also have a tremendous source of newspaper and catalog pages with drawings that represent the styles of the eras.
As someone not as familiar with all the clothier terms that were often mentioned, I really appreciated the “Style Retrospective” at the end of a chapter/era. The end of “Chapter Two. Dressed as Never Before 1870-1880” fascinated me and I had it highlighted in my copy:
Children’s clothing of the period were not designed for
comfort or ease of movement, but for adherence to the
prevailing influence of artistic taste.
Throughout the Victorian period, basic silhouettes
prevailed for lengthy periods, with major changes in contour
appearing only with the arrival of each new decade. Female
children of the 1870s were dressed to delineate a form similar
to that of their mothers. At the outset of the decade, high,
tight bodices with sloping shoulders and tight-fitting sleeves
hinted at feminine helplessness, while basques, high-sashed
waists culminating in backside bows, scalloped jacket hems,
and Van Dyke points drew attention to the derriere. Skirts
fell to a few inches below the knee and were supported by
numerous petticoats as the bustle replaced the cage crinoline.
The horizontally trimmed hems of the voluminous skirts
served to punctuate the sleekness of the lower legs in their
stockinged splendor and ankle-hugging leather boots.
The one down-side for me was the introduction to the book. At well over 40 pages, this is one of the longest introductions I’ve come across in a book. When I was on page 52 and I was at Chapter One I thought, “Wait a minute! What’s going on?!” I’m not sure why this was an introduction and not a chapter. Does it make a difference? Only because of expectations. I expect an introduction to set up what I am about to read and maybe why it’s important or why the author chose to write the book. I do not expect an introduction to give me the history of dyes or the influences on clothing from literature or pages about hats and pages about gloves. These are all great subjects, worthy of chapters or at least inserts within chapters, rather than being bunched together in one very long introduction.
That aside, this is a wonderful book for history buffs, costumers, writers of historical/period fiction, or anyone interested in period clothing.
Looking for a good book? Darlings of Dress by Norma Shephard is a thorough, remarkable book about clothing for youngsters during the latter part of the Victorian Age up to the Jazz Age.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
* * * * * *
Darlings of Dress: Children’s Costume 1860-1920
author: Norma Shephard
publisher: Schiffer Publishing
hardcover, 192 pages