Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book Review: Great War Fashions. by Lucy Adlington

There is very little written about female clothing during the world wars, and hopefully that will change soon. This is an interesting book about woman's fashions during the great war (pretty much just UK). It has good points, and bad points.

It’s a well laid out book with a lot of really obscure information in it. Sadly, it does not have many full color reconstructions as you might have expected. Really only a handful. For the most part it relies on period illustrations, ads, and photos to illustrate the clothing.

One of the things that detracts from the book is that its coverage is just too wide.  There are so many sections covering just about anything you can think of, but do we really need a short section on weddings, stage costumes, swimming wear, and sports outfits of the time? And sadly, it is woefully short on military uniforms. However, anything you might want to know about suffragettes and the movement finds its way into the pages. So you end up with some interesting material, but very unbalanced. Very detailed in some areas, skimpy in others.

I'm not saying that this is bad, but that it just feels like the author should have stuck with the subjects she knew, and left the ones she did not for after she had the time to do the research. The text is almost more of a social history of women of the time instead of just sticking to clothing, but that's OK if you know it going in.

One concern I had, and this is not from me as I am no female clothing expert of the time, but from someone who is, is that there are a few statements that appear to be dead wrong. Now this could be due to an error in editing, but they are so wrong they stand out like a miniskirt at the grand ballroom in 1917.  I do not think that women in WW1 had to take off their corset to go to the bathroom. Considering the time it took for them to put on a corset, having to remove it once or twice a day for bodily functions makes no sense. Plus my double checking confirmed this was not true.

Everyone makes mistakes in books (myself included) and is always horrified to see what the printing actually says, but when you have a few very incorrect issues, and a few questionable ones, it makes me nervous about accepting it as fact without confirmation. I went to the author's website to see if there as any mention of being shocked at what an editor did, but did not see any mention of that. In fact I actually saw something there that I felt (and confirmed later) was not correct.

It's also clear that the author doesn't have any contacts in the military living history scene, as, for example, she shows a pair of hand knitted socks for a soldier, modern made, instead of an original period made pair which are not all that hard to find. And as I said female military uniforms are not given much coverage.  But to be honest, they could be an entire book by themselves.
So, here is what I think. This is a first generation work on women's clothing, and as such is pretty, and a nice overview of that subject. It looks nice and is interesting to read. It will prove to be of great use to the novice of the time period, and will have some material that will interest the experienced WW1 costume historian. I do think, however, there are a few minor but noticeable flaws. The price is not bad, and if your wife/girlfriend/whatever is interested in the period I would recommend getting it, as there's not much else out there that comes close.

It made me realize that in many ways uniform collectors are light years ahead of historic costume people when it comes to books.