This bookstore would not exist without the expert recommendations and hard work of Suzi Clarke, Dawn Luckham, Sarah Nucci, and Carolann Schmitt. I cannot thank these wonderful ladies enough for working in concert to compile this very comprehensive list of resources for the historical costumer, home sewing enthusiast, and just plain old fan of beautiful clothing.
We’ve organized these resources into sections to help make it easier to navigate such a long list. Wherever possible, I’ve linked directly to the books for sale. Some books are no longer in print, but it is possible to run searches on their ISBN numbers to locate used copies. The review notes below the books are identified by initials (DL for Dawn Luckham, JC for me, etc.) Enjoy!
- Technical Sewing and Pattern Making
- Historical Costume Reference Books
- Books Containing Graphed Patterns
- Vintage and Retro Sources
- Art Reference
Technical Sewing and Pattern Making
Ahles, Carol Laflin. Fine Machine Sewing, Easy Ways to Get the Look of Hand Finishing and Embellishing. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 2003 (ISBN 1-56158-586-6)
Betzina, Sandra. Fast Fit, Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure. Newtown, Connecticut: The Taunton Press, 2003 (ISBN 1 56158 649 8 )
Harris Kristina. Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. New York: Dover Publications Inc.,1991 (ISBN 0 486 40485 4)
DL: This is a wonderful and worthwhile book to add to a sewing library. It is a reprint of a vintage sewing book originally published as “Dressmaking Up to Date” in 1905. All kinds of early sewing tips, tricks and techniques. Well illustrated in black and white.
JC: This volume contains a wealth of information, including period techniques for altering patterns, placing boning, making garments by hand, and more.
Hazen, Gale Grigg. Fantastic Fit for Every Body, How to Alter Patterns to Flatter Any Figure. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, Inc., 1998. (ISBN 0-87596-792-2)
Joseph-Armstrong, Helen. Patternmaking for Fashion Design, third edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Publishers, 2000. (ISBN 0-321-03423-6)
DL: Technical but thorough. College and university text book. Flat pattern making.
Marsh, Gail. 18th-Century Embroidery Techniques. East Sussex: Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd., 2006. (ISBN 1861084765)
DL: Excellent reference, information and “how-to” book for 18th-Century embroidery. Drawings, colour photos and projects with scaled patterns.
Reader’s Digest. The Complete Guide to Sewing, Eleventh Printing. Montreal: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1985. (ISBN 0-89577-026-1)
DL: This particular edition is one of my all-time favourite general sewing books.
Wolff, Colette. The Art of Manipulating Fabric. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996. (ISBN 0-8019-8496-3)
DL: This is an amazing, detailed book on how to crunch, scrunch, weave, pucker, smock, pleat, shirr, quilt, fold, cord, stuff, stitch (and the list goes on and on). Fabric techniques galore! A book definitely worth having!
Historical Costume Reference Books
Arnold, Janet. A Handbook of Costume. London: MacMillan London Limited, 1973.
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes & Society 1500-1914. National Trust Books (August 17, 2009)
JC: This is one of my favorite coffee-table books on costuming. It contains beautiful portraits, photographs of extant garments, and lots of helpful commentary on what influenced fashion during the eras covered. Fantastic!
Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal, The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. New Haven: Yale University Press in association with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002 (ISBN 0-87935-216-7)
DL: This is a beautiful book from Colonial Williamsburg. It’s a study of many of the garments in their collection and the social meanings of clothing in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
JC: I heartily concur. This is one of my favorite photo books of extant garments. The pictures are sharp, clear, and plentiful. This book is a must-have for the 18th-19th-century costume enthusiast..
Bissonnette, Anne. Fashion on the Ohio Frontier 1790-1840. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Museum, 2003. (No ISBN)
DL: Extensive study on fashionable clothing in a “pioneer” setting. This is an academic work discussing how fashionable clothing was carried to isolated settlements. Discussed are social meanings of dress in these communities. Individual garments are studied. Colour photos. Worthwhile reading for those interested in clothing in North America.
Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail 1730-1930. New York- Hollywood: Quite Specific Media Group,1999. (ISBN 0-89676-217-3)
DL: Another costumer’s standard reference book. Black and white drawings taken from original garments in many different museum collections. Historic notes and details about small things like button holes and ribbon stitching, etc.
JC: I love the drawings in this book, which are detailed and fascinating to look at. Even if you don’t plan to reproduce historical garments, it is just fun to look through this and appreciate the intricate work.
Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis The History of Underclothes. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.,1992. (ISBN 0-486-27124-2)
DL: An excellent basic reference book about undergarments.
JC: This is a fun read even if you never intend to reproduce period undergarments and are just curious about where they came from and how they changed over the years. Lots of great illustrations.
Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.,1990. (ISBN 0-486-26323-1)
DL: This is a costumer’s standard. Originally published in 1937, this research has stood the test of time. Dover’s publication makes this a reasonably priced book crammed full of good information. Black and white photos and illustrations.
Fukai, Akiko. Fashion, the Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, A History from the 18th to the 20th Century. Los Angeles: Taschen Press, 2004. (ISBN 3-8228-1206-4)
DL: This is the single volume issue of this Book. Gorgeous colour photos, minimal text. Great price for what you get. This is easily classed as “eye candy.”
JC: The photography here is just about the best out of all the museum catalogs and collections I have seen. Just be warned that there are some nasty surprises sprinkled through the “fashions” catalogued from the 1960s onward. If you’ve got young children in the house, a judicious use of a sharp knife to excise some pages will be in order.
Grimble, Frances. The Lady’s Stratagem, A repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette. San Francisco: Lavolta Press, 2009. (ISBN 0963651773)
DL: Fascinating reprint of original instruction manuals written in the 1820’s in France. Advice on making one’s own clothing, with pattern shapes given, as well as advice on housekeeping, etiquette, and cosmetics. These booklets were originally written for young middle-class women.
Harris, Kristina. Victorian Fashion in America: 264 Vintage Photographs Dover Publications; illustrated edition edition, May 9, 2002 (ISBN 0486418146)
JC: I could pore over books like this for hours. Kristina Harris pulls together over 260 photographs from the 1850s through 1910, giving us a glimpse of the everyday clothing of boys, girls, and women. Beautiful!
Hart, Avirl and Susan North. Historical Fashion in Detail, The 17th and 18th Centuries. London: V&A Publications, 1998. (ISBN 1-85177-2588)
DL: Lovely close-up colour photos of details on garments in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. Black and white line drawings and notes on the garment.
JC: This is another favorite museum book of mine. If you can’t travel to see extant garments at the V&A, this is the next best thing.
Johnston, Lucy. Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2006. (ISBN 1-85177-4394)
DL: Lovely close-up colour photos of details on garments in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. Black and white line drawings and notes on the garment.
JC: A natural companion volume to the one above.
Langley, Susan. Vintage Hats & Bonnets 1770-1970 Identification & Values. Paducah, Kentucky: Collector Books, 1998 (ISBN 1-57432-028-9)
DL: Beautiful colour photos of extant bonnets and hats. An excellent image resource.
JC: This one’s a must-have if you’re a milliner or just a hat enthusiast. Beautiful images.
Leisch, Juanita. Who Wore What? Women’s Wear 1861-1865. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications,1995 (ISBN 0-939631-81-4)
DL: This is a very detailed study of women’s clothing in North America for a very specific time frame. An excellent resource for the American Civil War reenactor. Details include lace, jewelery, cut of garments hair styles, and headwear.
JC: This is one of my all-time favorite “myth-buster” books for the American Civil War reenactor. If you’re new to reenacting and want to be serious in your approach to your costume and accouterments, get this book.
Leventon, Melissa. What People Wore When: A Complete Illustrated History of Costume from Ancient Times to the Nineteenth Century for Every Level of Society St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008 (ISBN: 0312383215)
JC: This is a very good broad visual review of the history of fashion through different cultures. Some cultures are given more space than others, but you get a good overview. The illustrations are basically updates of two of the finest 19th-century fashion illustrators, Auguste Racinet and Friedrich Hottenroth. There’s glossary to help with terms, but it’s a little limited. If you want a full dictionary of fashion and clothing terms, go for Mary Brooks Pickens’s Dictionary of Costume and Fashion, listed above.
Pickens, Mary Brooks. A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion: Historic and Modern Dover Publications, 1998 (ISBN: 0486402940)
JC: This is one of my favorite reference tools when I run across a fashion term I’ve never heard of. Pickens compiles definitions for over 10,000 clothing and fashion terms–everything from “aal” to “Zulu cloth!” Sprinkled throughout are clear illustrations of things like collars, shoes, and hats to help you visualize what is meant. Very helpful for the fashion historian.
Rickman, David W. Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park Costume Manual, A Guide to the Clothing Worn in California and the Far West ca 1845. (You can run a search for this one on BookFinder4U.com.)
DL: This was purchased as an unbound package of printed pages. It’s a positively wonderful and well done collection of clothing suggestions for staff and volunteers working at Sutter’s Fort. Beautiful drawings, colour and black and white. Descriptions of aprons to military garb and native costume.
Riley, Mara. Whatever Shall I Wear? The Guide to Assembling a Woman’s Basic 18th Century Wardrobe. Excelsior Springs, Missouri: Graphics/Fine Arts Press. 2002. (ISBN 09638158-7-3)
DL: This is an excellent little guide book for those getting started in dressing themselves for the 18th century. This cover’s a woman’s basic wardrobe. Black and white drawings by Cathy Johnson.
Severa, Joan. Dressed for the Photographer, Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995. (ISBN 0-87338-512-8)
DL: Excellent photographic evidence of costume for the years indicated. Author adds summary of decades and analyzes individual photographs subject’s clothing.
JC: Seeing hundreds of photographs of original clothing can really help with a historical interpretation. Being “authentic” is so much more than choosing the right fabric and pattern–it also involves hairstyle and accessories. Photo books are invaluable!
Shep, R.L. Federalist & Regency Costume: 1790-1819. Fort Bragg, California: R.L.Shep Publications/Mendocino, 1998. (ISBN 0-914046-25-X)
DL: This has an incredible amount of excellent information for the years indicated. This is mostly a text book with black and white images. Amazing help with men’s clothing.
JC: Detailed information on men’s clothing from this time period can be hard to come by if you don’t have immediate access to a museum collection like the one in Williamsburg, Virginia. This book provides much-needed information to fill that gap — not to mention all the help for women’s clothing as well!
Books Containing Graphed Patterns
Alcega, Juan. The Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589 Quite Specific Media Group; Facsimile edition, April 12, 1999 (ISBN 0896762343)
SC: Men’s and women’s pattern diagrams from 17th-century Spain. Not actual patterns but how to lay them out to waste the least material. Some skill needed.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860 (Women’s garments only) Drama Publishers; Revised edition, June 1977 (ISBN 089676026X)
Patterns of Fashion 2: 1860-1930
(Women’s garments only) Drama Publishers; 3rd edition, June 1977 (ISBN 0896760278)
Patterns of Fashion 3: 1560-1620
(Men’s, women’s, and children’s garments) Drama Publishers, May 1985. (ISBN 0896760839)
Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women C. 1540-1660 Costume and Fashion Press, October 9, 2008 (ISBN 0896762629)
SC: Series of patterns of clothing and some accessories on a graph, with a great deal of construction detail of how the original garment was made, drawings and photographs of the original garments, plus a great deal of historical information. P of F 4 is mainly linen, underwear and similar.
JC: This is one series no historical costumer can afford to be without. Janet Arnold’s meticulous research and attention to detail are world-renowned. Her beautiful sketches and graphed pattern pieces make it possible to recreate period authentic clothing with wonderful accuracy.
Baumgarten, Linda. Costume Closeup: Clothing Construction and Patterns, 1750-1790 Quite Specific Media Group, January 4, 2000 (ISBN 0896762262)
SC: 18th-century men’s, women’s, and children’s patterns of clothing, underwear, and accessories on pages marked for enlarging with a great deal of construction detail of how the original garment was made, photos and drawings, and historical information.
Burnham, Dorothy K. Cut My Cote Royal Ontario Museum; illustrated edition edition, 1973 (ISBN 0888540469)
SC: Scaled patterns of men’s and women’s garments cut from straight lengths of cloth, mainly shirts, with some construction details, photos, drawings, and some historical detail.
Burnston, Sharon. Fitting and Proper Scurlock Pub Co, March 1, 2000 (ISBN 1880655101)
SC: Patterns of 18th-century men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, headwear and accessories on a graph. Some construction detail, photos and drawings, and historical information.
Davis, R.I. Men’s 17th- and 18th-Century Costume, Cut, and Fashion Players Press, December 2000 (ISBN 0887346375)
SC: Patterns of clothes on a graph. Not much construction detail. Photos and drawings. These are sometimes a bit theatrical and not necessarily historically accurate.
Grimble, Frances. Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 1: Undergarments, Bodices, Skirts, Overskirts, Polonaises, and Day Dresses 1877-1882 Lavolta Press, September 2004 (ISBN 0963651757)
SC: Contains 160 authentic women’s clothing patterns for Victorian reenactment and theatrical costuming.
Grimble, Frances. Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 2: Evening, Bridal, Sports, Outerwear, Accessories, and Dressmaking 1877-1882 Lavolta Press, September 2004 (ISBN 0963651765)
SC: Contains 184 sewing, needlework, and millinery patterns. Includes an illustrated 87-page manual on 1870s and 1880s dressmaking, tailoring, corset making, and millinery techniques.
Grimble, Frances. After a Fashion: How to Reproduce, Restore, and Wear Vintage Styles Lavolta Press; 2nd edition, January 1998 (ISBN 0963651730)
SC: How to make men’s and women’s historic clothing from Middle Ages to Art Deco. In addition to sewing techniques, this book gives instructions for pattern drafting and alterations. It also gives detailed instructions on buying, restoring, and altering men’s and women’s vintage clothing.
Grimble, Frances. Reconstruction Era Fashions: 350 Sewing, Needlework, and Millinery Patterns 1867/1868 Lavolta Press, September 2001 (ISBN 0963651749)
SC: Women’s clothing and needlework patterns. Useful to reenactors who want an in-depth knowledge of the era’s fashions, sewing techniques, and needlework techniques. Shows how these changed two to three years after the American Civil War, and how they remained the same.
Grimble, Frances. The Voice of Fashion: 79 Turn of the Century Patterns with Instructions and Fashion Plates Lavolta Press; 1st edition, April 1998 (ISBN 0963651722)
SC: Patterns for women’s styles from 1900 through 1906.
Grimble, Frances. The Edwardian Modiste: 85 Authentic Patterns with Instructions, Fashion Plates, and Period Sewing Techniques Lavolta Press; 1st edition, July 1997 (ISBN 0963651714)
SC: Patterns for women’s styles from 1905 through 1909. Includes edited selections from a 1907 dressmaking manual.
Harris, Kristina. Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns: A Complete Lady’s Wardrobe Dover Publications, May 13, 1999 (ISBN 0486407217)
JC: All of Kristina Harris’s books are fantastic, crammed with instructions for period sewing techniques and including graphed patterns.
Hunnisett, Jean. Period Costume for Stage and Screen, Medieval-1500 Players Press; illustrated edition edition, June 1996 (ISBN 0887346537)
Ibid. Period Costume for Stage and Screen 1500-1800 Players Press; First US Edition edition, March 1991 (ISBN 0887346103)
Ibid. Period Costume for Stage and Screen 1800-1909 Scarecrow Press, June 1991 (ISBN 088734609X)
Ibid. Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Outer Garments : Cloaks, Capes, Stoles and Wadded Mantles Players Press, September 2001 (ISBN 0887346650)
Ibid. Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Dominos, Dolmans, Coats, Pelisses, Spencers, Calashes, Hoods & Bonnets Players Press, October 2003 (ISBN 0887346707)
SC: The first three books have patterns of clothes and underwear on a graph, photos, drawings and some historical information. The later books have graph patterns taken from earlier garments, including headwear, with original construction detail; the earlier ones are from serious research, although the construction is mainly theatrical. Almost all these patterns are for women only, although some medieval and outer garments can be made for men.
Lady, A. The Workwoman’s Guide: A Guide to 19th-Century Decorative Arts, Fashion and Practical Crafts, 1838. Opus Publications, Inc., 1986. (ISBN 0940983001)
SC: Mainly women and children, some household patterns. Scaled down pattern pieces for everything from caps and bodices to pants, table linens, and knitting patterns. Written in 1838, so instructions can be difficult to follow.
Mikhaila, Ninya. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress Costume & Fashion Press, April 1, 2006 (ISBN 0896762556)
JC: This fabulous book provides detailed instructions and graphed patterns for men’s and women’s fashions of the time period. The photography alone is a great reason to add it to your library, but the wealth of details is just a treasure, particularly for a period that can be hard to reproduce without authentic sources at hand.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume, from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965. (Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 65-10419) You can run a search for this one on BookFinder4U.com.
DL: Be sure to get the OLDER 1965 edition for pattern drafts. These are wonderful graphed patterns, but it is my understanding that the newer reprinted edition does not have the patterns included. Good general historic costume information. Black and white photos and illustrations.
Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Routledge/Theatre Arts Books, 2004. (ISBN 0-87830-526-2)
DL: Excellent historic costume undergarment reference. The standard by which others are measured. Scaled patterns. General information.
JC: This one is a must-have for every serious costumier’s library. Understanding foundation garments is essential to reproducing beautiful, accurate outer clothing.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 New York: Routledge/Theatre Arts Books, 1987. (ISBN: 0878300260)
JC: This is another essential book for the serious costumier. The graphed patterns help you see exactly how garments went together. Invaluable resource!
Wright, Merideth. Everyday Dress of Rural America, 1783-1800, With Instructions and Patterns. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1992. (ISBN 0-486-27320-2)
DL: This is a great little starter book for the period indicated. Patterns, historical notes and graphed patterns. This book contains black and white drawings. I would caution, however, that the women’s clothing presented in this book does not “spill over” into the early 19th century. The men’s clothing will gently carry over, but the women’s clothing does not touch on the high waist that became fashionable in the 1790’s.
JC: The keyword here is “rural” — you are looking at clothing worn way out on the frontier during this time period rather than what was worn in up-to-date East Coast cities. Europeans were often surprised to find how fashionable American ladies were in the big cities like Philadelphia and New York, so if you’re reproducing clothing for the middle-class lady of the town, this book will not help. However, if you’re looking at clothing for the frontier or for the poor, this one’s a fantastic help.
Pickens, Mary Brooks. One Hour Dress — 17 Easy-to-Sew Vintage Dress Designs From 1924 (Book 1) Bramcost Publications, 2007. (ISBN: 1934268666)
JC: Mary Brooks Pickens wrote a series of excellent sewing books in the 19-teens and 1920s. Her books do not contain actual pattern pieces but instructions to show you how to create the pieces from simple measurements. The book includes detailed, easy-to-follow illustrations to create 17 different dresses.
Pickens, Mary Brooks. One Hour Dress — 17 Vintage 1924 Dress Designs with Detailed Instructions for Sewing (Book 2) Bramcost Publications, 2008. (ISBN: 1934268798)
JC: This is the second book in the series. See my comments on the book above.
Pickens, Mary Brooks. One Hour Dress — 21 Vintage 1925 Dress Designs with Detailed Instructions for Sewing Bramcost Publications, 2008. (ISBN: 1934268801)
JC: Yet another “one-hour dress” book–this one from 1925.
Vintage and Retro Sources
Rennells, Laura. Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styles with Step-by-Step Techniques HRST Books; 2nd Edition edition, 2009 (ISBN: 0981663915)
JC: I have gotten so many requests over the years for vintage hairstyle tutorials. There are some sites out there, but there is nothing as comprehensive as this amazing book. Crammed with detailed photos in glorious color, you learn how to create styles from the 1920s through 1960s. The tutorial on pin curls alone is worth the price of the book! Also included are makeup tips from the decades covered. This is a fantastic resource for ladies looking to add a little bit of vintage glamour to their everyday wardrobe!
Laboisonnierre, Wade. Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1950s. Schiffer Publishing, 1999 (ISBN: 0764309196)
JC: This is a compendium of pattern images from the 1950s, including over 600 color photos for a visual feast from the 1950s. Also provides a brief history of the pattern industry (particularly as couture designers came on board). Wonderful for those who enjoy the fashions of this period and want to research everything from lingerie to evening gowns.
Harding, Anneliese. John Lewis Krimmel, Genre Artist of the Early Republic. Winterthur, Delaware: Winterthur Publications, 1994. (ISBN 0-912724-25-0)
DL: This is a must-have book for the 1812 reenactor set. John Lewis Krimmel was a painter during this period. His minutely detailed paintings of crowds of people make spectacular studies of what was worn by whom.
Pyne,W.H. Rustic Vignetes for Artists and Craftsmen, All 641 Early Nineteenth Century Illustrations from Ackermann’s Edition of the “Microcosm”. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1977 (ISBN 0-486-23547-5)
DL: From 1802-1807 William Henry Pyne worked on little sketches of common class working people in England. They were originally published in a subscription series entitled “Microcosm.” This is a Dover reprint of these drawings. This is excellent study for the 1812 reenactor.