A Review: How to Read a Dress

This week, I dug in to How to Read a Dress by Lydia Edwards. This was a fairly short book and a very quick read, given that most of the book was excellent photography of dresses from the 16th through 20th century, with asides detailing what changed year over year.

Where possible, Edwards used photographs of extant gowns; however, especially with the older styles, Edwards reverted to analysis of portraiture from the time. This book was in no ways meant to be an in depth analysis of changing styles, and was instead a fast review of how styles changed. This was excellent formatting as this timeline configuration gives one a real grasp of just how rapidly fashion could and did change in even a brief 10 year time span. Each section included an introductory essay, indicating some of the reasons for the changing fashions and how trends came to be.

Some of the downsides though are that most of the dresses are only shown from the front, with just one picture of each gown. I understand limitations in spacing, but it makes for a frustrating experience when as much can be learned from the back of the dress as the front, given differing tailoring techniques and undergarments that effect hem length and drape. Additionally, during several of the chapter essays, Edwards would allude to something in a picture, but there was no picture to actually refer to included.

While overall this was an excellent introductory piece to the evolution of European fashion, I would be interested to see an expanded version that details the back of the dresses, and hopefully includes the missing photographs alluded to throughout the book.