It’s rare for fashion to receive the same analysis and critique as the art, music, or literature of an era. Susan J. Vincent points out that unlike other art forms, when we discuss clothing it is often in a way that “renders its wearers somehow less intelligent, less rational, less sexy, less like us.” Instead of presenting past fashions as ignorant or laughable, Vincent puts them in a historical context so we can see the purpose each piece of clothing served in its time (even if that purpose was simple vanity in some instances). No body part is excluded in Vincent’s analysis, with chapters broken down by head and neck, breasts and waist, hips and bottom, genitals and legs, and concluding with skin. The research is thorough, for she draws material from old diaries, quotes from historical magazines and journals, and period drawings and cartoons, with each example helping to normalize the clothing of different time periods. With a fuller understanding of why clothing and accessories were worn, or why certain products were used, this book helps us scrutinize our own practices in a way that makes our ancestors in powdered wigs, tight corsets, and hooped skirts seem not unlike ourselves.
by Susan J. Vincent (Berg Publishers)
reviewed by Jaclyn Irvine (originally published in Worn Fashion Journal Issue 11)