Book Review: Patterns of Fashion 5

Patterns of Fashion 5: The Content, Cut, Construction, & Context of Bodies, Stays, Hoops, & Rumps, c. 1595-1795, was released last month by the School of Historical Dress, which houses the Janet Arnold Archive. This is probably one of the most anticipated historical dress books to be published in years, and certainly the most important volume on stays to be published in decades--maybe ever. 

Does it live up to the hype? Oh, yes. 

The School had a tall order: to honor the late Janet Arnold's legacy, to expand upon her research, and to hold true to the aim and theme of the entire Patterns of Fashion series, while utilizing new tools and technology. In short, to publish the definitive work on this section of fashion. And they had to do it as a group effort, with team members scattered across Eurpope. The author list includes Janet Arnold, Jenni Tiramani, Luca Costigliolo, Sebastien Passot, Armelle Lucas, and Johannes Pietsch.

They've succeeded. 

I have read nearly every book that is available in English about 18th century stays. I have studied them in person. I have spent 10 years re-creating them, developing patterns, testing ideas. And I learned new things within 30 seconds of cracking open my volume. 

(For those unfamiliar, Janet Arnold was a renowned dress historian, teacher, author, and costumer. Her Patterns of Fashion volumes are some of the most influential and well known works on historical dress. When she passed in 1998, she left behind an archive of unfinished research and books.)

What's great about it and what's in it?

Firstly, this book is massive. It is at least twice as thick as Patterns of Fashion 1, which speaks to the volume of information included. 

Secondly, it is in color, unlike the earlier volumes published 30+ years ago. The color images and diagrams jump off the page and add so much depth of information. 

It contains 26 gridded patterns for stays, 10 hoops, and more. There are color photos of every garment.

The focus on content and context, mentioned in the title, are standouts for me. Details about the whaling trade, which grasses were actually used for bents, how the raw materials were processed, fabric weaving--this context helps one understand the broader social and economic context of staymaking in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The front of the book consists of a very detailed section going into all of these details, and more, including drafting methods and excerpts from tailors manuals at the time. It is my understanding that many of these have been translated to English for the first time for this book.

The cut and construction info in the gridded pattern section of the book is of course stellar. This is the first publication to really delve into the layers within stays--did you know it was extremely common for them to include paper? X-ray technology has allowed the authors to reexamine some of Janet Arnold's earlier work, adding depth and new information. 

What's important about it?

Groundbreaking discoveries were made during the investigation of the Spanish hoop included in the volume. Hearing the story of how they discovered it at the Structuring Fashion conference in Munich was just fascinating. The method of using grasses to create long roping for hoop stiffening is new to me. 

This book is also important as it brings a shift in terminology. We now know to refer to stitched stays and covered stays, not stays and bodices. Indeed; until the Mantua, it is covered stays we are seeing as outerwear on women, not bodices. This is honestly a shift in the entire thinking of 17th century fashion.

The curved drafting system as explained by Luca Costigliolo is a revelation that we'd only partially understood before.  

Who is it for?

I have had several people ask me if this book is good for beginners. My reply is--if you are truly interested in historical dress from this period, why spend time with watered down or outdated information, when you now have access to this? Start with the best research. It's OK if you never use one of the patterns from the book, or you've never used a gridded pattern. You will learn so much just from reading through it. 

After all, I've been studying historical dress for 15 years and I have still learned an astonishing amount from the book. One of the things I'd like to do soon is compare the patterns from the extant stays to the ones I've drafted from photos of the same stays, to see just what I got wrong.

Where to get it?

There has been some confusion about how to acquire Patterns of Fashion 5. The School of Historical dress has chosen to self publish and act as sole distributor, so that more of the profits feed directly into the school. This does mean shipping from the UK, but also means more funding for future volumes. That's fine by me!

The School is releasing it in waves, so they aren't stuck with 5,000 orders all at once. If the website says out of stock, just check back the following day.

Get your copy here.


A special moment at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, book in hand and actual garment before me.

Bravo, team. Now I eagerly await the 19th century volume...

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