A Decade of French Fashion by Mary Carolyn Waldrep

The 1930s are still a very unexplored decade for fashion; while movies, pop culture, and TV shows brought attention to their era’s styles (e.g, Titanic gave us pre WW1/Edwardian, Downton Abbey and Great Gatsby the 1920s, Rockabilly the 1940s/1950s, Mad Men the 1960s, etc.), the 1930s has never had a tentpole to bring a resurgence of interest. As such, this very definitive book provides much needed perspective. It beautifully presents the looks that women wore during the US’s Great Depression: long, lean, tailored but easy, wider shoulders and emphasized waistlines. It’s the glamour of Hollywood before Austerity and World War II led to a greater severity out of necessity.

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There are many books on fashion eras and certainly Dover has been in the forefront of publishing the best. This particular volume collects fashion plates which were disseminated to the world by French publishers from 1929 to 1938. What makes this series of plates especially interesting is that they are in full glorious color, had front and back views, and descriptions of the changing styles were given for each look. Those details are useful for understanding how the fashion evolved over the years and what each year brought in minor changes.

The presentation of the plates are s full page on white with a small border and the year printed at the bottom. It makes for a clean and lovely display – uncluttered and large. A typical description of a fashion by the French publisher is: “Two piece frock of line jersey with rich diagonal tucked trimming. Flat collar. Sweater buttons all the way down. Slightly flared skirt.” Accessories are displayed for each look (from gloves to fur), and there is a line drawing of the back of each fashion.

The plates are diverse – from evening gowns to day suits, afternoon dresses, to coats. Owing to the era, the drawings are fairly elongated and figures are not to scale (legs are much longer than head/torso). Most plates have one style but some have 2-3 similar looks (or e.g., one dress and then coat/hat options). The shoes have no details and are generic/not discussed. Some plates even have a small drawing of the sewing pattern and how the pieces are laid out on the fabric.

Because of the huge diversity and sheer amount of fashions beautifully presented in full color, this is definitely a ‘must have’ for fashion historians, costumers, seamstresses, and those interested in the era. I’ve owned many Dover fashion books over the past 3 decades and this is definitely one of the best. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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