How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 21st Century


by Lydia Edwards

Why we have selected this book:

How can you tell when a garment was made by looking at it? Why is this or that fabric, colour, decoration in fashion? A wonderful book to find the answers to these and other questions is How to Read a Dress” by fashion historian and teacher Lydia Edwards. Her approach to fashion history has proved so popular that, after the first version of the book, which starts in the 18th century, and “How to Read a Suit” for men, a new version of “How to Read a Dress” has been published which, unlike the first, covers a longer period of time. The author’s excellent, visually illustrative approach is based on specific historical garments, the photographs of which are accompanied by short, precise descriptions of the characteristics of the different decades. The chronologically arranged chapters are complemented by longer overviews of the fashion features and historical context. A must-have for anyone interested in fashion history! 

5 in stock


Book Overview from the Publisher:

Fashion is ever-changing, and while some styles mark a dramatic departure from the past, many exhibit subtle differences from year to year that are not always easily identifiable. With overviews of each key period and detailed illustrations for each new style, How to Read a Dress is an appealing and accessible guide to women’s fashion across five centuries. Each entry includes annotated color images of historical garments, outlining important features and highlighting how styles have developed over time, whether in shape, fabric choice, trimming, or undergarments. Readers learn how garments were constructed and where their inspiration stemmed from at key points in history – as well as how dresses have varied in type, cut, detailing and popularity according to the occasion and the class, age and social status of the wearer.

This new edition includes additional styles to illustrate and explain the journey between one style and another; larger images to allow closer investigation of details of dress; examples of lower and working-class, as well as middle-class, clothing; and a completely new chapter covering the 1980s to 2020. The latter demonstrates how the late 20th century and early 21st century firmly left the dress behind as a requirement, but retained it as a perennially popular choice and illustrates how far the traditional boundaries of ‘the dress’ have been pushed (even including reference to a newly non-binary appreciation of the garment), and the intellectual shifts in the way women’s fashion is both inspired and inspires.

With these new additions, How to Read a Dress, revised edition, presents a complete and up-to-date picture of ‘the dress’ in all its forms, across the centuries, and taking into account different sartorial and social experiences. It is the ideal tool for anyone who has ever wanted to know their cartridge pleats from their Récamier ruffles. Equipping the reader with all the information they need to ‘read’ a dress, this is the ultimate guide for students, researchers, and anyone interested in historical fashion.

Contents List:

Acknowledgements • Preface • Introduction • 1. 1550 – 1600 • 2. 1600 – 1699 • 3. 1710 – 1790 • 4. 1790 – 1837 • 5. 1837 – 1869 • 6. 1870 – 1889 • 7. 1890 – 1916 • 8. 1918 – 1929 • 9. 1930 – 1946 • 10. 1947 – 1959 • 11. 1960 – 1979 • 12. 1980 – 2020 •

This book is brought by Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 9781350172210

Additional information

Weight 0.790 kg
Dimensions 24.6 × 18.9 × 1.5 cm











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