Review by Choice Review
Influenced by recent sociological studies of popular culture, Breward demonstrates how interpretations of fashion can be extremely complex when based on considerations of class, gender, age, sexuality, and location. He asserts that ahistorical approaches to society, e.g., Marxist theory, contribute little to understanding the intricacies of social interactions regarding dress. Disdaining generalizations, he calls for a careful empirical use of art history and literary and social data. This chronological narrative overview from the Middle Ages to the 1990s shows how dressing the body reflects the evolution of European culture. It is a study of individualism and democratization as expressed sartorially. Breward shows how the cult of personality, marketing, and journalism, coupled with advanced technology (materials and mass production) and capitalism, have produced a "clothes conscious world society." Although most sources are British, with a few acknowledgments to Hollywood as the modern world's "dream peddling" capital, scholars beyond Britain can benefit from this thought-provoking study that illuminates new and potentially rich research directions. Even the 107 illustration labels are nontraditional, interpreting illustrations iconographically rather than documenting each image. Upper-division undergraduates and above. B. B. Chico; Regis University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
English design and fashion historian Breward constructs an informative history of Western European fashion that draws equally on established scholarship (based primarily on formal developments) and more recent critical theories. Starting with the Middle Ages, each chapter is devoted to a different century and paradigm, from how fashion shaped the body during the 14th century to the impact of consumer culture in this one. The effect is akin to watching one of those time-lapse sequences of flowers blooming, as hemlines rise and fall, corsets squash and squeeze, flounces come and go and colors grow florid and fade while listening to a learned commentary on the social, political and cultural significance of this seemingly arbitrary activity. Indeed, there are many voices, as Breward quotes generously from period documents as well as from contemporary scholars. This is one of the book's strengths, along with its focus on men's fashions and the politics of gendermale homosexuality in particular. Some weaker aspects are the author's prose style, which can be inelegant, and the uneven picture research. When it comes to this century's fashions, the book's English bias also proves problematic. (The current street fashion is summed up by a picture of a bloke in a baseball cap and flight jacket.) Otherwise, this is a solid survey of dress and the issues currently surrounding itthere's much to know about a farthingale. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved