When I was teaching, one of the questions most asked by parents was, “How do I get my child to read?” By this they were really saying, “My kid won’t sit down with a book and enjoy it.” As the conversation progressed it was usually revealed that the parent never read either. Of course, there were the dozens of excuses with, “I don’t have time,” being the big winner.
I was lucky. My mother managed to do a full day’s worth of housework by one in the afternoon, and the time between lunch (and Jeopardy, which came on at 12:30) and dinner was her reading time. She always had at least one book with her place marked, as well as a magazine of two. I don’t think it is a coincidence that her four children turned out to be big readers as well.
Whenever anyone asks how I’ve learned about fashion history, I tell them the truth – that I read a lot. When I get a new book, I read it immediately, or put it in my reading queue. If the reading queue runs dry, I pull out an older book to reread. So I always have fashion or textile history of some kind on my mind.
Lately, I’ve discovered a new source of excellent clothing and textile information. On rainy days I often drive over to the Goodwill Clearance Center, where there are usually eight or ten bins of used books. In such a place you can experience first hand the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” I’ve learned to open and flip through any book that seems remotely promising. That’s how I learned that craft books, especially older ones, often have excellent historical information about the craft.
Tartans, Their Art and History, was an easy one, as the authors come right out and let the reader know this is not just about weaving. And it is not just history, but also the process of making tartan. Above you can see a vintage photo of women and girls gathering lichen which was used for dye.
And if the reader happens to be a weaver, there are beautiful photos of many tartans with the weaving diagram for each.
Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans is for knitters, but it too has lots of information about the history of fishermen’s sweaters and the symbolism they contain. The author, Gladys Thompson actually went to the traditional fishing villages and followed any man who was wearing an interesting sweater. Today she’d be accused of stalking.
This book is a Dover reprint of a 1969 work, and is still available on their website.
My latest find, and the one I’m currently reading, is Smocks and Smocking by Beverley Marshall. It was published in 1980 at the end of the big crafts revival and back to nature movement of the 1970s. From the cover you might think it was just another lets-get-funky-and-wear-funny clothes tome, but a glimpse inside tells another story.
There is a large and fascinating look at the historical garment which traces the evolution of the smock from agricultural clothing to fashion statement.
It also has good instructions on how to make a smock, and some 1980s dudes awkwardly modeling the modern examples.
I have a pretty good fashion library (and you can too) but the information in these books is so specialized that it would be hard to find elsewhere. I’d love to hear of other unexpected sources of fashion information that you might know of.