There are a few books that come up over and over again when I talk to people about historic costuming. Nora Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines, originally published in 1954, is one of them. While it had been republished periodically over the decades, when I last tried to get my hands on a copy it was out of print and crazy expensive. That’s why, I was so happy when I saw a new edition, edited by Judith Dolan sitting on the “new books” shelf of my library. So, of course I added it to my check out pile. I fully intend to take shameless advantage of having access to a university library while still in school!
The book covers European/western women’s undergarments from the 1500s to the 1920s. Each part of the book starts by describing the basic elements of fashionable dress in the given period. There isn’t much in the way of interpretation and the styles aren’t placed in a larger historical context. However, that’s not really the point of this book. The real draw is the numerous illustrations, including patterns. These patterns need to be scaled up in order to be usable, but I also find that they’re useful as is when I’m trying to understand the silhouette of a garment.
So, who is this book for?
Costumers, both professionals and hobbyists, would get the most out of it. This is exactly the sort of information you need if you want to recreate a corset, either for yourself or for someone else. Costume historians would also find this a useful reference tool to have around (this one certainly does!). The casual reader, on the other hand might be better off with something like Valerie Steele’s Corsets: a Cultural History, which delves deeper into the meaning behind the garments.
Overall, I was sad to have to return this to the library. I’m trying to keep my book collection somewhat under control (I don’t want to move 20 boxes of books when I finish school in the spring!), but I will probably eventually buy a copy of this one!