The House of Worth: Fashion Sketches, 1916 – 1918

The House of Worth: Fashion Sketches, 1916-1918 is a well researched and informative book detailing two collections sent to a Litchfield, Conn. socialite from the great early couture house of Worth, Paris. The plates are in full color and three separate introductions (about Litchfield, about House of Worth, and then about the time period) are included.

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Fashion historians will immediately recognize the name of Worth and certainly there are many books collecting fashions from the era. Where this book stands out is that the fashions are from a couturier known for conservative styles (read: older patrons) and emphasis on construction/materials. So while the Sears and other catalogs from the era would feature articles of clothing with inspirations from all over the place coupled with affordability concerns (thanks to a lack of direction from Paris during the war years), these sketches from Worth represent the true state of couture of the time (an average dress from the collection would have cost around $22,000 – $30,000 today). The wildly crazy trends are eschewed for a true vision of the fashion style of that time period.

The introductions are well done, provided great historical perspective to the two collections. They certainly provide the knowledge to appreciate certain aspects of the fashions – from Russian-influenced soutache work to Japanesque kimono sleeves. As well, limitations of materials (of note, wool being in high demand for the war effort) and the importance of wealthy American patrons keeping the fashion world afloat during the Great War.

I do wish the plates were one to a page rather than the two per page. But they are presented in full color and with the swatches of sample fabrics still attached. Perspective photographs on Worth, other fashions of the era, historical images of Litchfield, and portraits of the Litchfield socialites who patronized Worth add to the impressive work on this book.

Worth is considered the founder of haute couture and this collection by his descendants is a fascinating portrait of the house, the era, and a bit of the life of the American wealthy. In all, it is very well done and a great resource for historians, fashion aficionados, and those interested in the WW1 era. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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