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Review from July 1st. The full book title is Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915.

Which is basically what you get. This is an extremely useful book if you are interested in historical clothing that is a reasonable compromise between appearance and accuracy. Well, historical clothing from Western Europe, mostly. The progression goes Egypt, Greeks, Romans, Dark Ages, and continues from there; there's a generic Chinese and generic Japanese no-period-given set of patterns, which would bother me more if the rest of the patterns weren't also very generalized, but still bothers me.

Each time period gets generic that-era male and female outfits, with a few having variants shown for different classes or social groups. The amount of time that elapses between outfits is kind of odd-- we get three separate thirteenth-century things, for instance, and one fourteenth-century, and I'm not quite sure why. All the garment terminology is correct as far as I know. Hats get patterns, as do belts. Shoes don't, but they are pictured. Undergarment patterns happen when they are necessary for supporting the outer structure, so that you can build a working bustle or hoopskirt from this book but you're on your own at figuring out what, if anything, to put under the bishop's robes. Each pattern set also has a page of suggested embroidery/decorative motifs, and points out when odd fabrics and furs would be appropriate.

All of the patterns are duplicated at 1/8" to the real inch, with several methods of enlarging them given-- this book is old enough not to be able to mention that you can just scan them, blow them up, and print them out, which is what my house does-- and they all come in three sizes. The designer assumes you know the basics of draping and seam allowances and, well, standard garment construction; she'll tell you if there's anything really peculiar going on, and admits that nobody, but nobody, likes building hosen now that it would take too long to knit them so maybe you should just buy tights.

I would like to reiterate that this is clothing meant to look good at a distance, and that the designer expects you to put in the work yourself to modify it for whatever purposes you need, and says as much directly. If you are a stickler for specificity and accuracy, this is a starting point, not an end. That said, the overall authenticity level is, let us say, about two hundred and fifty percent better than your local Renaissance festival, at least. With the willingness to do a little research, you can get spectacular things out of this-- we've had the book in the house for several years, it's one of Thrud's most used references, and I'd flipped through it but never sat down and read it through before.

The interesting thing when you read it straight through is watching the evolution, because clothes basically start with 'here is a piece of cloth which we will keep on a body somehow', and then continue to ring changes on that until a technical innovation comes along, at which point they ring all the changes on that. You can really see the shapes of garments shifting here. It's also neat tracking at which eras men's garments were silliest and at which eras women's were; it does not quite alternate.

Also, of course, the burning question with this sort of book is which clothes you'd want. Thrud uses this to prop up her collection of seventeenth and eighteenth-century menswear, because Thrud dresses that way all the time. I find, and this deeply confuses me, that the clothes here that make the most sense to me in terms of clothes I know how to wear (and you do have to know how to wear historical clothes; some of them have high skill thresholds) are the ridiculous seventeenth-century dresses, that somehow I picked up and internalized all the rules about what to do with one's gloves and how the layers work and how to sit and get through a door and all that. Which is ridiculous, because that is just about the silliest possible era of women's fashion, but it is that or modern menswear in terms of my preferences, there is no middle ground.

Anyway, this is a worthy and useful book, adaptable to many purposes and capable of taking the kind of beating that you get in the organized chaos of costuming multiple persons. I only wish we had something similar for, well, any bits of the world that aren't Western Europe.


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