Fashion since 1900

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Fashion Since 1900 (World of Art) by Valerie Mendes, Amy de la Haye, book reviewSince the beginning of the twentieth century fashion has undergone some remarkable changes, affected in part by a recession, two world wars, a huge increase in consumerism and more recently the influence of the Internet. In their study “Fashion since 1900”, Valerie Mendes and Amy de la Haye trace these changes, focusing on hairstyles, accessories and makeup as well as clothes. Whether you want to know which celebrities were setting the trends, which designers were most influential or how international events were changing the way people dressed, you will find something to interest you here.

The book is divided into ten chapters that are arranged chronologically, going from “1900-1913: Undulations and Exotica” in Chapter 1 up to “2000-: Planet Fashion” in the final chapter. Fashion is not seen in isolation; the third chapter links it to the recession of the thirties and the following one to the rationing of the Second World War. Affluence and consumerism are looked at in the chapters dealing with the late twentieth-century; by the 1990s, fashion had gone “Global”.

Fashion since 1900” contains three hundred illustrations, seventy-seven of which are in colour. Captions accompany all of them, giving information as to the designer or sometimes the celebrity featured in the photograph. The frontispiece has a striking black-and-white photograph of Mrs Charles James wearing a gown designed by her husband, dating from around 1948. The gown has a closely fitting, light-coloured bodice that flows into a dark-coloured, long, full skirt; sweeping curtains on either side make this a beautiful composition. In contrast, the photograph of Siena Miller in Chapter 10, taken in 2004, shows her wearing a denim mini skirt with a frayed hem and carrying a huge red handbag on one shoulder. The caption describes her look as “eclectic boho”; fashion had certainly travelled a huge distance over the fifty-six-years that separate the two photographs.

Fashion since 1900” is a book that doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover; if you are interested in a particular period of the twentieth century you could concentrate on one chapter. The book is almost three hundred pages long, and although the text is interspersed with plenty of illustrations, it is printed in a small font so there is a great deal of information. I personally enjoyed Chapter 6 covering the period 1957 to 1967, probably because it was towards the end of that period that I began to be interested in fashion myself. It was in the sixties that there was a shift away from the dominance of the Paris fashion houses, and London began to play a major role in setting the trends. Designers like Mary Quant produced fashion at realistic prices for young people, and we see photographs of bands such as the Small Faces and the Beatles who influenced teenage looks.

““Fashion since 1900” is an authoritative study that has obviously been extremely well researched.”

I did find it interesting to look at the chapters that focused on fashion before my lifetime. Women seem to be the prime focus of the chapters that discuss the early twentieth century, but there is one photograph of men in Chapter 2 that I find fascinating. It shows four members of the Men’s Dress Reform Party in London in 1937. They were taking part in a dress contest, and they make a bizarre bunch. One has quite a feminine looking shirt under his jacket, and his wide trousers are kept up by a cummerbund. Another wears a suit and a bow tie, but his jacket has short sleeves. One member of the group did win a prize in the contest. In his long socks, white shorts and white overshirt with a coloured collar and belt, he certainly stands out from his dark-suited companions.

As well as a full index, “Fashion since 1900” has an extensive ten-page bibliography broken down into sections that would be of enormous use to students of fashion. The sections include individual designers, fashion theory, fashion photography, accessories and magazines amongst others. Details of hundreds of works are given here; they will assist any student or aspiring expert in tracing useful books if they wish to study a particular aspect of fashion in depth.

Fashion since 1900” is an authoritative study that has obviously been extremely well researched. The style of writing is very readable but I did find the print to be a little on the small side. This is a book that could be invaluable to fashion students or to anyone working in the fashion industry. I feel, however, that it also has a wider appeal for people who want to revisit the looks of their younger days or learn more about fashion in the early twentieth century. Even just browsing through the pages, enjoying the wonderful variety of photographs and reading their captions is fascinating, and it will probably encourage you to read a chapter or more in more detail.

Valerie Mendes is a freelance fashion and textiles historian and consultant who used to be Head of the Textiles and Dress Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Amy de la Haye is Reader in Material Culture and Fashion Curation and Joint Course Director for MA Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion.

Fashion since 1900 (World of Art)
by Valerie Mendes and Amy de la Haye
Published by Thames and Hudson, revised edition 2010


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Fashion since 1900 (World of Art)
by Valerie Mendes and Amy de la Haye

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Written by frangliz

I have a degree in Fine Art but never actually worked in that field. After almost two years in Paris, I moved to Cairo and spent many years there teaching English language and literature in schools. I came back to the UK in 1999 and now work with young children. I also tutor students of all ages in French, English or Maths. I enjoy writing reviews in my spare time; another hobby of mine is photography. I have two sons who are now grown up, both working in IT.

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