Last September I noticed that a new book on Regency fashion was due to come out at the start of October: Cassidy Percoco’s Regency Women’s Dress: Techniques & Patterns.
I’ve long thought that one of the things the historical costuming world is really lacking is a comprehensive book on Regency fashions. I’ve also felt that my personal historical wardrobe is sadly lacking in some good Regency pieces. Percoco’s book just might be the perfect answer to both needs!
So I added the book to my wish-list, and made a mental note to check it out once it became available in New Zealand, or browsable online (the overflowing state of my bookshelves combined with the high cost of buying books in NZ, or getting them shipped here, means I have to be really committed to a book before I can allocate it shelf space). And then the publisher wrote and asked if I would review the book for its Southern Hemisphere release. Yes please!
As it happened, that meant I got the book three days before Christmas, which is a terrible time to review books, because it’s too late for people to buy it as a present, and no-one is reading blogs anyway.
But the holiday’s are past, people are reading and ready to shop again, and I have had time to thoroughly peruse the book. So, ladies and gentlemen, a review.
The book includes descriptions, sketches, detail images, and patterns for 26 garments representing women’s dress items from 1800 to 1827.
The garments are well chosen to represent the type of garments that a general re-enactor of the period would want, rather than focusing on more ‘interesting’ but less universally useful unusual garments, as Salen’s Corsets did. The patterns represent everything from chemises, two styles of stays, to dress for a variety of occasions from informal to formal.
Each pattern comes with a overview of the garment, the type of event it would be appropriate for, provenance information when known, and the a general description of the construction details, giving a fairly extensive background into how to make and were to wear the garment.
The book begins with an excellent overview of fashions in the period 1790-1830, covering the different types of dress, changes in styles from year to year, and the basic stylistic differences between French, English & American fashions. I would disagree with Percoco’s concluding statement that “The fashions at the beginning of the nineteenth century signalled an enormous break with the dress that came before them, which had been almost unchanged in fundaments for the entire previous century.” as I can see a clear transition (rather than break) in styles from the 1770s into the 1800s, no more or less enormous or fundamental than the changes in styles from the 1710s to the 1740s. This aside, the overall description of Regency fashion is one of the most comprehensive I have read, and is quite impressive in both depth and breadth for its three-page length.
The ‘this could be good or bad, depending on your perspective’:
All of the garments in the book are drawn from collections of smaller museums in New York state. This makes the book an excellent resource for US re-enactors wanting to recreate the types of clothes worn by women in the East Coast of the US in this period, but slightly less useful for those outside the States wanting to replicate the fashionable dress of England or continental Europe.
Unfortunately there are a few definite drawbacks to the book.
First, there are no photographs of the complete garments for each pattern, just small detail images of a the fabric or a construction feature. This may have been done for reasons of space, as an aesthetic choice, for cost (perhaps the museums were asking very high fee licenses for full-garment images? ), or because too many of the garments were in too weak a state to be mounted for full display. There are sketches of the full garment that accompany each pattern, but they are quite simplistic, and show only one angle of the garment, leaving the reader to attempt to visualise the back or front based on the pattern pieces. The book would have benefited immeasurably from either full photographs, or very detailed technical drawings of the garments and some of the more intricate construction features, a la Janet Arnold or Norah Waugh.
Each garment does come with a period fashion plate to illustrate the style, but not all of the fashion plates are exact, or even close, approximations, of the garment depicted.
The patterns themselves are fairly simple hand-drawn patterns, and, while excellent for giving overall shape, would have benefited from a few more details in regards to decoration and trim.
The editing of the book is slightly rough in a few places, with the occasional confusing grammatical construction, and at least two typos, one of which is a fashion plate dated to c. 1903 rather than c. 1803. Rather unfortunate.
I would have liked to have seen a glossary or a bit more description of the fabrics used in each garment, to assist in reproducing. Most garment’s fabrics are mentioned, but it is never made clear that, for example, the silk crepe used in a Regency evening gown would be quite unlike the silk crepe one could buy today.
Finally, I felt the book was lacking slightly in the ‘techniques’ mentioned in the title. While the construction descriptions with each dress are nice, it might have been a better book with one less pattern, and a four-page description of basic construction techniques and stitches for one garment.
The book is an excellent addition to the bookshelves of the dedicated multi-period costumers, or the specifically Regency re-enactors. The range of patterns given and the very helpful overview will be of great assistance in dating and recreating a whole range of looks and garments. Percocco certainly knows her period, and gives some very interesting insights into regional and dating differences that I have not encountered elsewhere.
If you aren’t that dedicated, or have limited space or budget, I’d probably recommend investing in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I, Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail, or Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930 first. Percoco’s book does have the distinct advantage of including patterns for almost every garment you might wish to wear, but the lack of detailed patterns, sketches, or full-garment images does limit its importance and helpfulness.