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March 2017

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Book review: The First Book of Fashion (Bloomsbury, $45)



The First Book of Fashion (ed. Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward) encompasses two books, in fact: essentially 15th and 16th century "dress diaries" of a father and son, Matthaus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg. The two men hired a series of artists to draw miniature full-color portraits of their clothes, a project which encompassed forty years of the father's life and six years of the son's adolescence. The men were serious clothes-horses and major fashion mavens, with the books serving as amazing windows into the daily clothing choices made by men of their class at the time.

This full-color edition depicts the two volumes in their entireties, along with translations of the Schwarz's accompanying diary text, which is often both illuminating and endearing, describing the materials of the clothing and personal details. Some examples:

  • ...silk from Arras lined with Siberian squirrel fur...

  • The riding gown had 40 pleats.

  • This is when i began to be fat and round.

  • At this time i greatly enjoyed hunting.


In a lengthy section at the back of the book, a scholarly analysis of each plate is appended, in which every element of dress and adornment is discussed, as well as any socially-significant elements shown in the background. Two lengthy scholarly articles by the editors serve as Introductions I & II, which provide a historical background for these men's lives, the town/country in which they lived, the general state of clothing production/techniques/styles at the time, and the larger historical picture of the era.

At only $45 for this 410-page hardback  volume, this is an excellent and reasonably priced resource for costumers seeking primary research for this time period and location. It's also a fun glimpse into these guys' lives, and their witty, self-conscious comments feel as familiar as any fashion blog or social media feed.

Some examples:


In 1512. In my mind, i was a bad-ass, and very keen on horse riding, when my father sent me to Munich for his business. 15 years old.

On 28th November 1519, my father died and I mourned him...

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