Whether in movies, television show or online, photos of beautiful historical costumes are always breath-taking. Yet how often are those costumes either Renaissance (16th century) or Georgian/American Colonial (18th century)? What happened to the 17th century? What about the Restoration of the Monarchy? What about all that beautiful Baroque fashion? Surely someone out there in the costuming world is doing that.
The resources for 17th century costuming are scarce, but they are out there. I began my historical costuming career in a Swedish living history group that covered the years 1630-1632 and will be happy to share my favourite references with you. Also recently some new books have been added to the world library by excellent authors and curators of extant 17th century costume.
This is the book that got it all started: Fashion in Detail. This is basically a book of close-up photographs of 17th (and 18th) century garments in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The photos are so artfully taken and so impressive that you will be inspired with every turn of the page. You will want to make everything in this book. You'll wish you could quit your job and dedicate your life to making these costumes. Among my costuming friends, we call this "The Crack Book" because the costumes are so lovely that just looking at the photos is euphoric. It is truly addictive. I've gone through two copies because I turn the pages so often that they eventually fall out!
The only problem with Fashion in Detail is that it doesn't include any patterns or construction details. You have to figure all that out for yourself.
Susan North and Jenny Tiramani came to our rescue in June of 2011 with their new lovely book, Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns Susan North is a curator in the V&A Fashion, Textiles and Furniture Department. Jenny Tiramani was a member of the wardrobe team at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.
Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns is a historical costumers' dream come true. Not only are patterns for the garments included in this book, but the original construction techniques are explained in detail. Furthermore, the original garments were X-rayed and the X-ray photographs are printed in the book so you can see every layer of the garments and how they went together.
Stunning. It's like they read our minds!
The book only covers 1600-1650 with most of the garments coming from the 1630. Terrific for Jacobean, Early America, and English Civil War, but not for we Restoration costuming buffs.
Fortunately Ms. North and Ms. Tiramani aren't finished yet. A second book is planned for release this year. I can't speak about it because it's not yet in print, but if it follows the pattern of the first book, it is well worth pre-ordering so you can get your copy ASAP.
These are the best resources for 17th century costuming that I have found. Have a look at Amazon through the links in this article. Or see if your local library has a copy of them. They are wonderful books. Even if you never intend to make 17th century costumes yourself, these books are a treat for the senses.
Here are links to those books on Amazon:
Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail
Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns: Book 1 (Womens Dress Patterns 1)
Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns: Book 2
Note: The books reviewed in this article were purchased by me with my own funds.