Book Review -- Fashion History: A Global View

19th century chainstitch machine in the PlayMakers Repertory Company costume complex

I can't remember which podcast it was that I heard about this book from, but I knew immediately that I needed to get it and read it. I did, and here's my review of Fashion History: A Global View, by Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun.

If your primary understanding of "fashion history" or "costume history" comes from taking a college class for, say, costume designers in a theatre department, chances are that class was called something like, "Survey of Western Costume" or even "Survey of Costume History." And chances are, it only focused on European nations from the 13th century or later to the present. If you're lucky, perhaps your class began by touching briefly on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

And perhaps, like me, you wondered why we weren't even talking about huge sections of the globe, about prolific countries and cultures with long histories. Why weren't we talking about the clothing people wear in India, China, Japan? Why didn't we learn about the development of dress and adornment in regions of Africa, North and South America, Australia?

Of course the reasons are complex and go back many decades and centuries--racism, classism, Eurocentrism, colonial bias upon the part of the developers of the courses or the writers of the textbooks, etc.

This volume positions itself as a beginning to expanding the view of "costume history" or "fashion history" to more of a global position. It's scholarly but not unreadably dense or full of unfamiliar jargon (they spend a chunk at the beginning clearing defining the terms they will use to talk about their topics). It's not a long book, but it's a big book and an  eye-opening book for scholars of dress and adornment who might have been unaware of their own presumptions with regards to Eurocentrism to the detriment of all else.


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