By: Kate Havelin
Publisher: Twenty First Century Books
Publication Date: October 2011
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 2012
Anyone who has seen photographs of Queen Victoria in her latter years would never believe she had influenced fashion. In fact, she was a "fashion icon in her time" as were her children. One of the styles people adopted for their children was the jaunty sailor suit. Styles for women were often uncomfortable and some women even "fainted or suffered dizziness, headaches, or stomachaches because of tight corsets," but they wore them anyway. Fashion for many was dictated by how wealthy they were, but everyone wanted to appear stylish, including men.
Women wore those impractical corsets, crinolines, hoop skirts ("tilters"), bustles, shawls, hats, gloves, and a wide assortment of fashionable clothing and accessories. Hair styles also changed with relative frequency. It wasn't only the women who were under the influence of fashion. For example, "styles for men's ties [seemed] to change often" in the 1860s. Women were quite interested in their appearance. While their clothing was much simpler than in the days of powdered wigs and lace ruffles, it nonetheless changed frequently.
Men wore disposable collars, sleeveless vests, an assortment of coats, pants, and shirts. They had casual, sports, and formal attire to consider. It wasn't just the middle or upper class man who was interested in fashion. Amazingly, "miners and cowboys went wild for Straus's well-constructed jeans." Sound familiar? Perhaps you can recall a fashion fad that drove you wild. In this book you'll be able to take a look at the whirl of fashion during the middle of the nineteenth century. You'll be able to look at the fashions of men, women, children, soldiers, slaves, you'll learn how clothes were made, why certain people wore particular fashions, you'll meet the "first modern fashion designer," and you'll learn many interesting facets about the fashion world of yore.
This book is not only a look at fashion, but also a statement on United States history and culture during this period. The young reader will find interesting details that could very likely be a stepping stone to a school report. For example, they will learn that "many African-Americans, both free and enslaved, wanted to fight for the Union" as did some Native Americans. Some of the facts are amusing. For example, some of the men didn't want to wear "drawers," a type of underwear.
This book is very generously illustrated with photographs and a few art reproductions. There are numerous informative sidebars that add additional historical vignettes to the text. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a timeline, source notes, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore. There are free downloadable educational materials on the publisher's website.
Quill says: This is a fascinating look at fashion during the Civil War era.