Fashion, 400 Years In The Making


The past, has always held a certain fascination for me. I love learning about history (in a way which does not involve analysing sources like the school taught type) and I suppose that may be why I adore vintage fashion. It is like owning a tangible slice of that era gone by – the aftermath or legacy of a generation as it were. Thompson Reid has tons of vintage styled clothing like these beanie hats for men.  I honestly believe you can tell a lot about an time period through the dress they chose to wear; not only that, but vintage styling seemed to be more elegant – something the modern world lacks I often feel.I’ll admit to not feeling fully confident on my ability to look at a design and say “oh yes, very reminiscent of 1920s Paris” or some similar mumbo jumbo, but I reckon I’m fairly versed up on at least the basics (i.e. not in depth, but a general jist) of the 1900s – present day (this book helped). So, in a bid to go that one step further with learning about historical dress, I purchased Four Hundred Years of Fashion a short time ago.


The book is, as the blurb states:This lively history of fashion has become a classic in its field. Based on the V&A’s world famous collection, it tells the story of men’s and women’s fashionable dress through the ages right up to the present day. Over 200 illustrations cover clothes for all occasions and include a wide range of fashion accessories. The expertise of the Museum’s Department of Textiles and Dress gives the text unequalled authority and makes it indispensable for students and anyone with an interest in fashion.Considering the fact that I had not read the blurb or seen the book prior to purchasing (amazon & all), it’s hardly surprising that I was slightly shocked when I received it. My first impression was that it was a heck of a lot thinner than I imagined it to be. Couple that with the somewhat drab look of the pages (I’m a fairly visual person and though I love reading novels, for books of this nature, I’m always more enticed to read when the presentation is interesting) and you may be able to grasp why I ended up not reading much of the text.


Accessories pages featured toward back Despite the downfall of the layout, the book is informative and well written (what I did read of it that was, I am planning to read through all the text in small sessions, so I do not get bored or overwhelmed with information). There are a fair few images of the V&A collection which allows the reader to actually see the clothes – I would definitely LOVE to see them in real life. It is structured, as it’s split into sections covering pre-1900s, post-1900s, men’s, women’s and accessories. I like the fact that it covers menswear, something which is often neglected in fashion books, but is just as essential to know about when studying historical wear or fashion in general. It’s all inspiration at the end of the day – you can easily take a technique or idea from menswear to translate into womenswear and vice versa.



Menswear through the ages Of course, as it frequently states throughout the text, the collection of women’s clothing is rather more comprehensive than the men’s, simply due to the typical nature of women and the typical nature of men. There were some absolutely beautiful clothes featured! It’s astounding, especially when you consider that the majority of the pre-1900 clothes are hand-made – no machines whatsoever, just a needle and thread. I found that, especially with the post-1900 stuff, I could picture wearing it in the present day. Maybe it’s just my aesthetic which means that I can easily picture wearing something 1940s-esque today (clearly I like looking like I just stepped out from a different time!) or maybe it was just that I could imagine elements of certain outfits being incorporated into modern dress. Either way, for some of the styles, they did not seem outdated in the slightest – they seemed rather timeless.


Some of my favourites within the book Four Hundred Years of Fashion is, as the blurb states, an “indispensable for students and anyone with an interest in fashion“. It strikes me as a very useful reference tool as opposed to something which will literally spell out the components of vintage style. I love the fact that this book not only looks at ‘fashion’ (as in 20th century – present day, when the concept actually existed) but at styles of dress older than that (pre-1900s). I’d recommend it to mainly those who may be studying fashion or costume in some way (as I wish to be someday…), but if you’re like me and have a love of history & fashion, then it’s probably worth  at least a flick through.