A reminder: “the bookshelf” won’t feature long reviews, but will just call people’s attention to various books that may be of interest. Some will be reference books for one or another topic; some will be eye candy with or without well-researched text; some will be more social history. Some will be of interest to a wider audience; others may be quite esoteric for the serious costume specialist.
Joan Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 and My likeness taken : Daguerreian Portraits in America are two sources I return to again and again when I want to try to date a garment– or a photo, by looking at the clothes. Joan was a costume historian who looked at huge numbers of photos in many different museum and private collections in order to get a wide variety of people, representing different races, recent immigrants, working class and middle class and well-to-do, old and young, to analyze the clothing of all. Her commentary on each photo explains what the sitters are wearing, and what dating clues she is using to arrive at a date for each image. Often this involves looking at conflicting clues–an older or more conservative woman’s hair will be out of date, or the younger generation will be wearing more up-to-date styles than their parents, and so on.
Juanita Leisch’s Who Wore What? Women’s Wear 1861-1865 focuses on women in the Civil War years. Her book was intended to guide reenactors of this period in choosing styles that are both typical and appropriate to the age or status of whomever they are portraying. Using her own extensive personal collection of photos of the period, Leisch analyzed how often this or that garment combination or hairstyle or accessory was worn by women of various ages, and so on. Having done the statistical breakdown of styles in hundreds and hundreds of photographs, Leisch knows what she is talking about. So while her book has a limited timeframe, it’s absolutely invaluable for this period.