Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century

comments (0) January 23rd, 2008     

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GorgeousThings Ann Steeves, contributor
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Not only does clothing define us, it defines eras in history, too. Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century (25th Anniversary Special Edition), by the Kyoto Costume Institute, catalogs three centuries through the fashions worn during each. The Kyoto Costume Institute arguably houses the greatest collection of fashion available today, and this masterfully photographed, beautifully laid out book ably displays much of that collection.

Three centuries, two volumes
Fashion is divided into two distinct books. Volume I covers the 18th and 19th centuries, while Volume II is devoted entirely to the 20th century. It's interesting to note that 319 pages are devoted to the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas there are 376 pages devoted solely to 20th-century fashions. If you want proof that fashion has evolved at a faster pace since the early 1900s, this is compelling evidence. A fascinating aspect for me was how shedding the corset propelled fashion forward in the early part of the 20th century.

Gross anatomy and details
One of the wonderful things about this book is the attention to detail the authors have given the garments in their care. In both its physical displays and the photographs in the book, the Kyoto Institute presents garments to reflect the manner in which they were worn. As a result, the reader gets a snapshot of the period. The authors juxtapose the clothing with contemporary paintings of people wearing the garments, giving the reader a good feel for how people lived back then.

Fashion goes to great lengths to showcase details of fabrics, trims, undergarments, and accessories. These detail shots are some of the most breathtaking pictures in the books. The embroidered men's waistcoat from 1790 (Volume I, page 117) is stunning in its intricacy. The chenille bouillon fringe on the gown on page 237 is sumptuous to see. They provide endless inspiration to textile designers, seamsters, and embellishers alike.

Fashion Japonesque
This book points out something that I had not noticed before: the influence of Asian, specifically Japanese, culture on textiles and fashions. It is amazing how many iconic Asian and Japanese images (chrysanthemums, kimonos, etc.) have been assimilated and reworked by Western fashion designers. The book devotes extensive space to the works of contemporary Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Mamamoto, as well as several others.

My favorite part
This book is a fantastic survey of clothes from many fashion eras. It's hard for me to pick a favorite. But I have to admit, the section that keeps drawing my attention is the period from 1960 to 1970. The fashions during that time were so diverse and cutting edge that they provide endless inspiration.

Get your own!
Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Centuries is published by Taschen. It's also available at local book retailers, or from online sites such as

posted in: clothing, exhibition, history

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