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The History of Underclothes The History of Underclothes
By C. Willett and Phillis Cunnington. (Dover Publications, Inc., New York: 1992. Pg. 266. 119 b&w Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-486-27124-8.

This book can be ordered directly from Dover Publications at: www.doverpublications.com
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - July 1, 2010

Often unseen, underclothes have long influenced not only fashion, but also society's perception of itself and the human body. In this wide ranging survey on English underclothes from the medieval period through to the 1930's, C. Willett and Phillis Cunnington take readers on an unforgettable journey to the unmentionables of both men and women. They detail what was worn, during what periods, and by whom. Items detailed range from nightdresses, petticoats, and corsets to drawers, braces, and under-vests. They also discuss, on occasion, such intriguing tidbits as price, practicality, and how much material was required for various pieces. Accompanied by more than 100 illustrations, this book is a must have reference for anyone with an interest in textiles, period costumes, antiques, or who are simply curious about what people in the past wore beneath their outer garments.

The History of Underclothes is a fascinating and informative book. The book begins with an introductory essay that explains the function of this book, as well as the function and purpose of underclothes - from helping preserve body heat to engendering class distinctions. Thereafter the information is organized into chapters covering unique fashion periods - beginning with the medieval period and then covering shorter spans of time such as 1626-1710, 1821-1840, and 1909-1918. Each chapter begins with an introductory essay that provides historical information that helps to place the period into context with wider ranging events and to point out unique features of the fashions worn during that period.

An outstanding reference, the only item lacking in this book is instructions or information on how these garments were constructed. However, such information is available elsewhere for those interested recreating these garments. What this book does do is to provide an immensely readable and fascinating account of what was worn beneath for nearly 600 years of English history. Historians, writers, costumers, and general readers alike will find this book of immense value.


Related Reviews:

English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, by C. Willett Cunnington.
Remarkably thorough illustrated overview based on rare period photographs, periodicals, other contemporary sources. Description and information about hundreds of fashions: morning dresses, riding outfits, carriage costumes, evening dresses, bridal gowns, more.

An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality, by Jill Fields.
A sweeping overview of the history of women's intimate apparel in the twentieth century.

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