Katherine Morris Lester, Bess Viola Oerke. Accessories of Dress: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2004. 587 pp. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-486-43378-3.
Phyllis G. Tortora. The Fairchild Encyclopedia of Fashion Accessories. New York: Fairchild Publications, 2003. 165 pp. $48.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-56367-283-5.
Reviewed by Starleen Meyer (Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, Milan, Italy)
Published on H-Museum (October, 2005)
Two Modes of (Ad)Dressing Fashion
Fashion is important to us, as scholars. Or, it should be. Whatever the field of historic inquiry, from socio-economics and liturgy to diplomacy and art history, modes of dressing were significant and signifying to the people whose lives wove the history under our scrutiny. The importance of fashion to the study of portraiture is obvious, but also subtle, and fashion-related inquiries spin out endlessly. Like the warp and woof of cloth, they intersect other disciplines studying craft-made and industrial materials, production, commerce, transport, distribution, marketing, acquisition, consumerism, and use of goods, even when "only" in a comparative role. Similarly, the central place of clothing as a signifier in international, local, professional, and personal exchanges broadens the range of historical inquiry to which the study of fashion may provide profound illumination.
The two works in question (one by Phyllis Tortora and the other by Katherine Lester and Bess Viola Oerke), both in traditional book format, are similar in content, focusing on fashion's sub-discipline of accessories, and both (apparently) are encyclopedic in scope, yet they provide very different results for very different audiences.
Phyllis Tortora's The Fairchild Encyclopedia of Fashion Accessories, as declared in the acknowledgements, is largely an offspring of the Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, originally written by the late Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta; the recent third edition was edited by Tortora. Many individuals and professional associations contributed content and editing advice. The methodological approach remains principally traditional, and focuses on practical issues.
The work is divided into two main sections, both subdivided thematically before presenting the definitions in alphabetical order. Each significant subdivision is introduced by purposefully brief comments that attempt to place the topic in historical context and, where necessary, explain the physical structure of the item at hand. The first section deals with the components of accessories, while the second deals with the accessories themselves. One appendix lists trade associations (conveniently providing web site addresses, when available), while the other could have been titled simply "Bibliography." There is no index, although the table of contents is well articulated. The few aspects provided by the introduction not already treated in the preface could have been integrated into the latter, in order to avoid repetition. The visual presentation of the content and scattered line-drawings are clear. The book's slim, large format and lively book cover (in line with others produced by Fairchild) hint at some of the work's intended audiences, as listed in the preface: the general reader, media and advertising personnel, and fashion consumers. Other declared audiences less well-served by the informal presentation of the work are fashion designers, manufacturers, retailers, and students of fashion. For each prospective audience, particular goals are listed, but the first sentence of the preface summarizes the book's principal goal: to be a basic reference that provides a broad overview of contemporary fashion accessories. For further information, the reader is referred to three other Fairchild publications.
The first section of the book begins logically with the production of natural and manmade fibers, proceeds to different kinds of fabrics and designs, then addresses the various other materials often found in accessories, such as leather and various kinds of trimming, and construction techniques. Typical uses given for fabrics will be helpful to students and designers. The second section of the book deals with the various kinds of accessories. Thematic categories and the terms defined within each category in both sections are arranged in alphabetical order. The thematic organization contextualizes the individual terms, while the scattered line drawings, chosen to illustrate less common aspects, are very helpful, more so than photographs would have been. Although not explicitly encouraged to do so, perspicacious readers will be able to use the myriad of terms defined, not only for immediate clarification, but also as opportunities to re-think their approaches to designing fabrics and accessories.
The work, as handy as it may seem at first, has some fundamental drawbacks. First, its very goal of brevity and focusing on the contemporary has fostered much too brief historical contexts and some vague repetitive definitions. Literally a few extra words here and there would have improved the definition and/or context and, hence, the understanding of the term, its referent, and its possibilities as a font of inspiration, greatly. Regarding the historical context, for example, although mentioning that each European country developed its own kind of embroidery (p. 60), the text does not mention the nationalistic uses to which this was put during the nineteenth century, including the establishment of schools for disadvantaged girls to keep them from turning to prostitution. Another significant example is the abandonment of obvious wig use in the nineteenth century (p. 155), related, in fact, to widely influential Romantic currents preferring naturalism-primitivism and sentiment to logic and what was seen as artificial social constructions. Next, more attention to the order of arguments addressed would have enriched the understanding of the individual sections/terms while keeping true to the goal of brevity. For example, the historical discussion of the development of knitting should have been included in the introduction to knitting techniques (p. 17) in order to precede subsequent discussions of knitted items, such as gloves and stocking caps, and not just hosiery, where the development of knitting is mentioned, but almost at the end of the book. Further, organizing first a scheme to be used for the entries would have ensured that important elements, such as materials and production methods, were mentioned briefly for all items; for example, what kind of animal is a "kolinsky" (p. 39)?
The work also does not declare its American bias, which, in itself, is not a fault, but the occasional references to federal laws, without this declaration and as if they were universally applicable, does grate; a related criticism would be a limitation to sources in English in the bibliography. The work also does not declare that it will be dealing principally with lay wear, as opposed to ecclesiastical and uniformed (military and non-military) wear. Although a seemingly obvious focus, these latter aspects also provide creative employment possibilities for the student and designer, yet have very specific requirements that, even if not discussed at length, should be mentioned, in order to alert the reader to these possibilities. The work also rarely, and then only briefly, touches on other concerns in the forefront for decades, which might be of great concern to potential consumers: gender, the environment (for example, dying, plating and plastics processes), fur and skin production/use/importation and capital-labor-production issues. It also misses the chance to touch on the interrelationship of production methods and tools and such fundamental practical issues as the final product, its use and its costs. For example, mentioning typical production widths of cloth for prêt-a-porter clothing construction would have helped students and designers develop their creative ideas, including the possibilities of length/size and motif repetition, within feasible industrial production cost limits. The work also occasionally neglects to define industry-related terms that are used in other definitions (for example, "dickey," p. 160). The lack of an index means that someone completely unfamiliar with the sought-for term must read through the entire book to find it, and precludes important referencing across categories. A very few corrections should be made, as, for example, to the definition of "abstract," explained as "not related to natural or real objects" (p. 19), when, in art historical terms that--one imagines--should apply to discussions of visual designs, "abstract" refers to designs no longer realistic that have been abstracted from realistic images, as seen, for example, in Mondrian's seemingly purely geometric designs actually matured through a long process of abstraction from nature, passing from realistic views of landscapes to ever more blotchy and Impressionistic images, and resulting in designs that have no apparent relationship to nature, and yet were abstracted from it. Finally, as a minor aspect, some recurring errors, such as numbering the first definition of a term when there is only one definition given, should have been caught during the editing process.
Even keeping in mind the goals of contemporaneousness and brevity, what else should be added to this book? An appendix for fabrics, objects, and clothes as design sources would have been important for the student and designer; museums with clothing and accessory collections (for example, LACMA-the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or MAK-the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna); museums with fabric collections (including MAK and the Ratti Foundation in Como, Italy, which has an extensive computerized database of fabrics); various directories of museums of fabrics and clothing; and centers for the restoration of historic fabrics (such as the Abegg Foundation in Switzerland) from which much--applicable to developing contemporary designs, as well as theatrical costumes--can be learned about historical fabric and clothing design and production.
Originally titled Accessories of Dress: An Illustrated History of the Frills and Furbelows of Fashion, Katherine Morris Lester and Bess Viola Oerke's 1940 work has been republished as Accessories of Dress: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Dover Publications. Compiled principally from renowned secondary sources available at that time, the work did not claim, even then, to contribute much new to the field, but rather, to offer a "consecutive story of each accessory, thus giving the student a comprehensive view of the particular ornament or detail of costume and its place in fashion history" (p. vi). As to be expected of a reprint from that period, the methodology is traditional, principally driven by stylistic and personality arguments, set within a vague historical context. As is to be expected of Dover publications, the work has been republished in unabridged fashion.
The work is divided into six main sections following, according to the authors, the time-honored sequence of going from head to foot, then arms-hands and, finally, things attached to the clothes. All sections are subdivided thematically before presenting the material in chrono-geographical order, and each begins with a literary snippet, which the authors may have thought added a poetic touch to the work, but from which today's attentive reader may profit as examples of the importance of the subject-in-hand to then-contemporary consumers. A brief bibliography, obviously no longer up-to-date, concludes each section, and is supplemented by occasional footnotes. The table of contents is well articulated, and a general bibliography is followed by an index to the illustrations and to the text, and a long list of other Dover publications. The visual presentation of the text and numerous black-and-white photographic and line drawing illustrations is a bit crowded, as is typical of the period, but clear, nonetheless. The new cover, reproducing a detail of an (unfortunately unidentified) painting of an aristocratic woman holding a fan and wearing elaborate eighteenth-century dress, seems a good balance of needs--to attract the eye, yet to convey scholarly legitimacy of content. Stated prospective audiences are "teachers of home economics, homemakers, club women, students of the theater, students of costume, and all others historically minded" (p. v).
The work suffers, if only a little, from two inherent and unavoidable characteristics: being dated and brevity. Obviously, a work published in 1940, and not updated since then, displays points-of-view and methodologies no longer upheld. For example, male gender is given to generic human subjects; vanity is attributed to the feminine world; little, if any attention, is given to the less wealthy classes; and the taint of necessary evolution possible in the chronological approach, as helpful as it may be to place issues in context, is not questioned. Because of the original publication date, however, the work cannot be expected to take into account issues which have emerged as important since then (environment, gender, class, production, and so forth). On the other hand, a work of that period offers richness in stylistic comment that may be slighted by a work published for the first time today, and the book does offer occasional tantalizing, but unexplained, hints at avenues of current methodological interest, as found, for example, in the notation that tall "butterfly" headdresses of handmade lace for women were denounced by preachers, and banned by Louis XIV, as costly, although without mentioning sumptuary laws, or lace production, which also might involve gender issues (pp. 18, 34). Next, a single-volume work, particularly one that does not purport to be encyclopedic, even if focused on a particular topic and consisting of 575 pages, cannot be expected to set out at length all concerns related to the subject at hand. Indeed, even Levi Pisetzky's five- volume work (cited in the endnote) and dedicated only to Italian post-antique dress, often seems too brief. Nevertheless, the broad and ample historical context of this book, even if brief and limited in scope, offers a sufficient initial backdrop for a discussion of the subject at hand. A discussion, however, which must be supplemented by up-to-date methodological treatments. Finally, the greatest disservice to the book was the change in title. The word "encyclopedia" conjures up a whole other set of expectations dashed by the book, innocent of any such pretensions.
Even keeping in mind the goals and original period of the book, what else should have been added? An initial comment by Dover, calling to the attention of the not always attentive reader the necessarily dated nature of the book, not necessarily a fault, should have been included. Further, the work would have been greatly improved, but perhaps also greatly increased in price, by an updated adjunct to the bibliography. These two suggestions, however, could apply to any similar publication by Dover, and, as such, frankly are worth little. Dover's apparent goal of republishing "classics as-is" as inexpensively as possible already is a great service to the general and scholarly public, and, once acquainted with this approach, the reader is forewarned.
In conclusion, both works have been published in traditional book format; only the Tortora work, following traditional encyclopedic format, would have been assisted substantially by being completely illustrated, and released in CD format. Although the Tortora work, for the want of a few well-placed comments and sometimes slightly more complete definitions, only partially achieves its encyclopedic, even brief, goals for its intended audiences, and should be updated every so often to accommodate developing interests and methodologies, it still makes a helpful contribution to its field, and would be worth the purchase, but perhaps at less than the listed price. The Lester and Oerke work fully achieves its goals of presenting accessories to its intended audiences in historical context. In addition, as kindly commented to me by Sandra Rosenbaum (recently retired Curator-in-charge, The Doris Stein Research Center for Costume and Textiles, Department of Costume and Textiles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), the work also offers occasional gems of information previously hidden even to experts in the field, and so it exceeds its goals. Dover has done a service to fans and scholars of costume by reprinting this book, well worth the purchase price.
. Along the lines sketched above, some initial bibliographic suggestions for occidental ecclesiastical liturgy and garments include: Egerton Beck, "Ecclesiastical Dress in Art: Article 1: Colour (Part 1)," Burlington Magazine, 7 (July 1905): 281-288; "Ecclesiastical Dress in Art: Article 2: Colour (Part 2)," Burlington Magazine, 7 (August 1905): 373-376; "Ecclesiastical Dress in Art: Article 3: Colour (Conclusion)," Burlington Magazine, 7 (September 1905): 446-448; "Ecclesiastical Dress in Art: Article 4," Burlington Magazine, 8 (October 1905): 47-50; "Ecclesiastical Dress in Art: Article 5," Burlington Magazine, 8 (December 1905): 197-202; "Ecclesiastical Dress in Art: Article 6 (Conclusion)," Burlington Magazine, 8 (January-March 1906): 271-281; "The Ecclesiastical Hat in Heraldry and Ornament before the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century," Burlington Magazine, 22 (March 1913): 338-344; "The Mitre and Tiara in Heraldry and Ornament," Burlington Magazine, 23, no. 124 (July 1913): 221-224; "The Mitre and Tiara in Heraldry and Ornament: 1: The Mitre (Continued)," Burlington Magazine, 23, no. 125 (August 1913): 261-264; and "The Mitre and Tiara in Heraldry and Ornament: 2: The Tiara," Burlington Magazine, 23, no. 126 (September 1913): 330-332. Also see, Josef Braun, Die liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient, reprint (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1964); Mechtild Flury-Lemberg, Textile Conservation and Research: A Documentation of the Textile Department on the Occasion of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Abegg Foundation (Bern: Schriften der Abeg-Stiftung, 1988); Pauline Johnstone, High Fashion in the Church: The Place of Church Vestments in the History of Art from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century (Leeds: Maney Publishing, 2002); Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia), reprint (Westminster, MA: Christian Classics, 1986); J. Legg Wickham, Notes on the History of Liturgical Colours: A Paper Read before the S. Paul's Episcopal Society, on Thursday, January 13th, 1881 (London: John S. Leslie, 1882); Christa Mayer-Thurman, Raiment for the Lord's Service: A 1000 Years of Western Vestments (Chicago: Chicago Art Institute, 1975); and Janet Mayo, A History of Ecclesiastical Dress (New York: Homes and Meier Publishers, Inc., 1984).
For historical occidental clothing and textiles, and their production and relationship to design, see: Ferruccia Cappi Bentivegna, Abbigliamento e costume nella pittura italiana: rinascimento (Rome: Carlo Bestetti, 1962); Bulletin du C.I.E.T.A.; Dress (official journal of the Costume Society of America); Giovanni e Rosalia Fanelli, Il tessuto moderno. Disegno moda architettura. 1890-1940 (Florence: Vallecchi editore, 1976); G. R. B. Richards, ed. Florentine Merchants in the Age of the Medici. Letters and Documents from the Selfridge Collection of Medici Manuscripts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932); Jacqueline Herald, Renaissance Dress in Italy: 1400-1500 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981); Rosita Levi Pisetzky, Storia del Costume in Italia, 5 vols. (Milan: Istituto Editoriale Italiano, 1964-19690; Luca Molà, The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000); Antonino Santangelo, A Treasury of Great Italian Textiles (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1964); Margaret Scott, The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1986); Margaret Scott, Late Gothic Europe: 1400-1500 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1980); and Mike Williams with D.A. Farnie, Cotton Mills in Greater Manchester (Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing Ltd., 1992).
For the interactive relationship between conceptions of body and clothing, and/or a brief introduction to the development of military clothing-armor and its interactive relationship with social, technological, and fashion developments, see Anne Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993 ); and Museo Stibbert, L'Abito per il corpo. Il corpo per l'abito. Islam e Occidente a confronto (Florence: Artificio Edizioni, srl, 1998).
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Starleen Meyer. Review of Lester, Katherine Morris; Oerke, Bess Viola, Accessories of Dress: An Illustrated Encyclopedia and
Tortora, Phyllis G., The Fairchild Encyclopedia of Fashion Accessories.
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