With the Christian Dior and Mary Quant exhibitions at the V&A in London, and an increasing awareness of the dangers of disposable fashion, plus an appreciation of the ability of fashion to define an era, an identity, a personality, it feels timely to introduce the study of fashion and clothing to children. I have encouraged my children to learn to sew (something I never mastered), in the hope that they will mend and re-use, rather than succumb to the fashion pitfalls of wearing something only once. For those who prefer to indulge their fashion sense with reading, here are some stunning options – all beautifully produced as one would expect from a fashion book.
Here, the illustrations walk the clothes.
There are 25 scenes of fashion history from around the world, capturing the time and place of that moment, in chronological order throughout the book from 1890 to 2012.
The first scene shows a waltz in a ballroom in 1890 in the UK. The captions give a perfect flavour of the era, but also show how carefully the illustrations have been chosen and annotated – there is intense attention to detail within the book, including pointing out how the corset made a ‘pigeon breast’ shape, and how wide necklines accentuated the curve of the shoulder.
Just as every stitch counts in a dress, so every word has been carefully placed here. There is more too, from the hairstyles to the accessories, highlighting both men and women’s fashions.
The 1930s moves to Shanghai where the clothes tended to be figure-hugging with upright Mandarin collars. The scene highlights the street, a bustling metropolis featuring expats as well as residents, modes of transport, and even points to culture and politics in explaining about the movie stars in China, and the rise of the feminist movement.
Further in, readers can compare Bollywood with Hollywood, understand the effects of wartime on fashion, and begin to understand how fashion became a statement.
And at the back, there are some brilliant timelines, featuring moments of political, social and cultural significance as well as timelines dedicated to silhouettes, shoes and bags.
This book is a riot of colour, charm and clothes. A classy reference book for age 8+. You can buy it here.
A younger, more straightforward look at clothes and their uses is The Wonderful World of Clothes by Emma Damon. Ordered completely differently, this is not a historical look at clothes, but a celebration of global fashion, showing cultural diversity, the future of technology in clothes, and the bits and bobs that may seem like trivia, but actually make an outfit.
Damon looks around the world to see what people wear in different climates and why. She then explores the clothes people wear to do different things – whether it’s uniform, sports clothes, equipment for a job, or for religious and celebratory purposes. This is fascinating, stemming from an underwater photographer to a Sikh wedding ceremony.
For me, the real fun came with Damon’s small vignettes about accessories, exploring different types of shoes (tiger slippers and brogues, for example) to jewellery and buttons (the satsuma button stood out, as did her clever instructions on how to wear a kimono and sari).
With bright personable illustrations, and an eclectic gathering of information, this is a unique and quirky book. Highly recommended for children aged 6+ years. You can buy it here.
Where better to go for clothes information than to Lara Flecker, who worked for 15 years as a Senior Textile Conservation Display Specialist at the aforementioned Victoria and Albert museum in London.
Midnight at Moonstone by Lara Flecker, illustrated by Trisha Krauss is an adventure novel for children aged eight and over, and takes the reader on a journey with Kit, who has gone to stay with her grandfather at Moonstone Manor, a costume museum threatened with closure.
Creative Kit decides she must save the museum, particularly after realising that the costumed mannequins come alive at night, and by persuading them to help under cover of darkness, and encouraging her grandfather that it is worth saving, Kit manages to pull off a feat of some imagination and skill.
With nods to the meaning of teamwork, family, and above all the wonder and usefulness of creativity, this is a marvellous novel.
Moreover, to fully celebrate the costumes, the book is illustrated throughout with modern scenes of Kit, but also the most exquisite capturing of the mannequins donning their costumes, from 18th century silks to Chinese dragon robes, 19th century bustle dresses and more.
Designed with French flaps, and patterned borders around the text, as much love has gone into the production of the book as the writing of it. This is a treasure to look at and read, so much so that I had to buy a finished copy after seeing just a few pages of the proof.
A wonderful paean to the inspiration of costume design and small museums everywhere. You can buy it here.