History of Costume, by Rachel H. Kemper

2966116“Fashion is identity. It tells us at a glance the nationality, occupation, and social station of the wearer—and often something about his or her religion, education, and sexual proclivities as well. From wedding band to old school tie, from hardhat to sensible shoes, every item of apparel helps to establish its owner’s place in society. There is no readier index to an individual’s wealth, power, taste, and influence than what he or she wears.

The notion of costume is as old as man, for it is the wearing of clothes, rather than the opposable thumb, that separates man from the lesser primates. The initial function of clothing was largely practical: it protected primitive man from the elements and from predators—including other men. The knight’s armor, the hockey player’s shin pads, the astronaut’s spacesuit— all were designed for utility, not elegance. But at least since the invention of modesty, costume has served another, equally important function: it has played a principal role in courtship, seduction, mating, and marriage (…) The concept of what constitutes beauty has varied greatly from culture to culture and continent to continent (…) but the pursuit of beauty has remained a universal constant.”

I read this book while I was studying this subject for the final I mentioned some posts ago. After reading a large part of Boucher’s overwhelming 20000 Years of Fashion, I found this one to be a very interesting and relaxed reading, and I believe it’s a great approach into the subject. It’s entertaining, well written and gives a great general sight of western history and its effects on costumes.  It concentrates a great amount of information in not so many pages, without leaving you exhausted and without being shallow and leaving you with the feeling that you didn’t learn much.

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