That’s not the kind of intriguing tidbit I’d expect to pick up from a book on the history of fashion, but it’s only one of the ways that Why’d They Wear That? exceeded my expectations. Most books on historical clothing are big, glossy coffee table books from museum presses. That’s great as a visual feast, but the focus of such books tends to be narrow, and the text is often dense, dry and in tiny font.
Why’d They Wear That? gloriously smashes that mold, but without sacrificing either visual pleasure–it’s bright, bold and gorgeous–or quality of information. It’s playful in tone, deeply readable and, most importantly of all to me, focuses on whys as well as whats, delving into the practical and societal causes and consequences of what people wear, such as the significance of indigo dye to colonialism and Anglo-Indian relations. And it’s wonderfully broad in scope, not only covering a vast stretch of time but also–as in the Inuit example above–maintaining a truly global perspective.
Obviously with so much to cover in a slim 200 pages, Why’d They Wear That? provides more of an overview than an in-depth examination. But as a casual read for a cozy afternoon, it’s a fabulous choice for anyone (adults too, despite its home in Juvenile Nonfiction!) who’s interested in costuming, fashion or history.