Book Review—Fashion: A Timeline in Photographs, 1850 to Now by Caroline Rennolds Milbank

MilbankEver since I received noted fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbanks’ new book from my university library, I have been reveling in its wonderful pictures. This richly illustrated volume published by Rizzoli was obviously a labor of love. Beginning almost with the start of photography, it shows fashion changes year by year.

Milbank draws on family and studio pictures, as well as shots by professional fashion photographers. Although mostly featuring whites, the book also includes a few photos of blacks and Asians. Scattered throughout the text are one- to two-page spreads on special topics, like gigot sleeves and campus style.

This book is especially useful for someone who is trying to trace the sometimes minute fashion shifts that occur from year to year. There isn’t a lot of explanatory text, but what there is highlights those changes. In one paragraph, for example, Milbank explains that very wide brimmed hats emerged in 1906 but didn’t really catch on until 1907.

Poiret's Jupe Culotte, 1911. From Fashion: A Timeline in Photographs

Poiret’s Jupe Culotte, 1911. From Fashion: A Timeline in Photographs

Milbank has a fascination for women in pants, something also of great interest to me. In her special features, she includes the bloomers of alternative dress, turn of the century sports trousers, Poiret’s “Jupe-Culotte” (skirt-pants), and beach pajamas. There are pants and pants suits scattered through the general text as well. Unfortunately, there are very few photos of older women, let alone older women in pants.

The book is arranged chronologically with a number of photos for each year. Text is minimal, and you have to turn to end notes at the back of the book to find brief description of the source and content of each image. There is no index, so if you remember a designer or a style but not the date, you have to thumb through the pages to find what you need.

But if you are looking for a collection of fascinating fashion photographs, this is a beautiful and rewarding book.  I got mine from the library, but plan to buy a copy for myself–if only to remind myself of the wonderful jupe-culotte.

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