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Book Review: Very Vintage

When we were in Barcelona, I was spending a lot of time browsing through museum shops with lots of lovely design books. One of the ones that caught my eye was ‘Very Vintage: theGguide to Vintage Patterns and Clothing’, so I got it out of the library when we returned and now I’m reviewing it for you!

In the authors’ own words, Very Vintage

aims to chart twentieth century fashion against socio-economicand cultural movements. The focus is how fashion was created from these events and discoveries or produced as a reaction to them. Fashion cannot be looked at in isolation and should be viewed as a series of symbols which informs the viewer of our hopes, wants and desires and where we are positioned in relation to the current cultures in which we inhabit (sic). It is these reference points which make garnments become true fashion and not some form of fancy dress.

Sounds good, doesn’t it! The authors have put together a great selection of pictures from the late 19th century until today, lots of vintage photos including fashion in the street, fashion editorials and pictures of the stars that interpreted and created the fashions. There’s even some drawings breaking down how key garments are constructed, though anyone looking for actual patterns will be disappointed.

Despite the ambition of the book to link fashion with its socio-cultural context, words seem secondary to the pictures. There’s not that much writing and it’s all pretty high level stuff, with the occassional foray into baffling amounts of detail in odd places – for example, there is a ten line paragraph on how the costume designer that won the Oscar for Funny Face should have shared her prize with Mr. de Givenchy, since he designed some of the clothes Audrey Hepburn wears in the film.

Overall though, the writing does its job. Its not enough to actually tell you anything very much about anything, but it touches on pretty much everything. All the key names, historical developments and films are referenced so that you can go off and find out more if you’re so inclined.

So content-wise its pretty good, but unfortunately the same can’t be said of structure and style. The book is organised both chronologically and thematically at the same time, with headings like ‘1930-1940: The Magic of Hollywood’ or ‘1970-1980: From Androgyny to Jet Set’. Unfortunately that doesn’t really work as the two ways of structuring the material are in conflict all the time. The actual information provided in each chapter isn’t very chronological at all, for example, the chapter on 1900 to 1930 actually starts off in 1865, and the 1930s to 1940s one starts with a discussion of the origins of the Hollywood studio and star system in the 1910s and 1920s and then goes all the way through to the 80s and 90s. But because they do try to keep it chronologically to some extent, some of this stuff is then repeated later on, without any signposting or acknowledgement that this is what is happening. Some of the headings are quite random too. Theres a chapter called ‘1950-1960: The Two Giant Collossi’ which then goes on to discuss four fashion designers, giving each a couple of pages. No mention is made of which two of these four are meant to be the Colossi.

The writing style also has something of the undergraduate essay about it, i.e. the person writing obviously knows a lot, but in the eagerness to cram as much in and use big words, the point is often lost and there is no logical flow through the text. There are lots of non sequiturs, needless repetition and odd turns of phrase like the use of ‘this very day’ instead of ‘today’. I know Im a factual writing geek so this may not bother some people, but I found it a bit grating stylistically.

What is far more worrying though is that there are actual spelling and grammatical mistakes everywhere. There are lots of examples of sentences that have obviously been rewritten but the old parts of the phrase havent been taken out, so there are too many words, or there are words missing, or the tenses are wrong. Even the section I’ve chosen to quote above has one (‘in which we inhabit’ – someone obviously changed ‘lived’ to ‘inhabit’ and then forgot to ake out the ‘in’). These are kind of things any sort of proof reading really should have turned up. And typos, including ones that arent keyboard based but make me think that the authors spelling may not be all that – for example ‘stiletto heals’! Its the kind of thing you would probaby expect in a blog post, that would be dodgy in a magazine, and that is definitely unacceptable in a book, particularly one that retails for £25.

I don’t want to lay into the book too much, and am resisting the temptation to give you lots and lots of examples of poorly written sentences, because its actually a great idea for a book and it has got lovely images, it’s just a shame it’s so poorly executed. The sloppy writing and obvious lack of editing undermine the whole effort and make the authors seem unprofessional.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out and buy this, though if your library stocks it, it’s worth having a look for the pictures.

Can anyone recommend any similar books that I could go and have a look at and possibly review? I’d be particularly interested in ones that are heavier on the writing.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Debi 16 August 2010, 3:52 pm

    Thanks for reviewing this book! the pictures look amazing!

  • Chelsea 17 August 2010, 1:51 am

    I really like Vintage Fashion, Collecting and Wearing Designer Classics, 1900-1990. You should check that one out. Written by Emma Baxter-Wright. There was another great one that came in at work. Doubtful it is still there, but I'll check for the title. It had pictures of bustles! I realized that I had never ever seen an actual bustle before. Under dresses, sure, but never alone and naked. They are so architectural and space agey.

  • Style Eyes 17 August 2010, 5:46 am

    The pictures in the book look good so will probably have a look in my local library. From what you have said though I probably won't bother reading though.

  • Retro Chick 17 August 2010, 9:42 am

    I reviewed this book too!


    I thought the spelling mistakes were appalling, but there were also some massive cultural history errors like "hop hop emerged in the 1990s" did it heck!

  • Franca 17 August 2010, 12:56 pm

    Chelsea – thank you, I will see if my library stocks it. I don't even know what a bustle is!

    Gemma – I missed the hip hop thing, that is awful! Glad i'm not the only one slating it. I thought I was being a bit harsh (and this is toned down A LOT from the first draft), but now I feel ok about it.

  • sartoriography 18 August 2010, 11:34 pm

    I've read this book, as well, and I was equally unimpressed. I give it cred for the attempted scope, but I think it was overly unambitious. And no joke about the spelling and grammatical errors- so frustrating and unprofessional. The amount for incorrect information is appalling. Still, I did enjoy seeing the photos.

    I can recommend "Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion" by Palmer and Clark. It has been a while since I've read it and I don't remember the writing being amazing, but it was comprehensive and quite interesting. It starts with the historical context of fashion and goes on from there.

    "Clothing as Material Culture" by Kuchler and Miller is also really interesting, though maybe too away from what you're interested in.