Book Review: The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim

Can we just talk about The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion? This book, released in 2015 by curators, scholars, and historians Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim, is so far up my alley it might actually be in my courtyard. I read this thing like a page-turning novel.

Simply put, this book is a guide for analyzing historical garments for scholarly research. Whether your purpose in doing so is within the context of a larger project, or if the analysis itself is the end in and of itself, Mida and Kim outline a practical three-pronged approach involving observation, reflection, and interpretation. They've included checklists in their appendices and detailed explanations for how to use them as tools to aid in a garment analysis, which demystify the process of object-based research.

Seven case studies using extant archival garments are incorporated as well, which serve as practical examples of how the methodology can be deployed to serve various researchers' means/goals. I loved reading these chapters, not only for their value as working examples of analytical process, but also for the minutiae of object detail: the dimensions and documentaion of a hidden watch pocket in a working-class woman's bodice, or the potential reasoning behind the stitching up of a pocket in a beautifully-decorated pelisse.

I should note that if you are seeking practical guidance about artifact storage--sourcing archival/acid free containers, collection database development, safe handling practices, etc--this guide does not address any of that. Still, I couldn't be more enthusiastic about the book as a whole because it's such a concise, clear handbook for a range of readers--whether you are connected to an archive/costume stock/storage collection or are a scholar visiting one as part of your research, this will help you organize your thoughts about the garments from antiquity which have survived.


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