Books for Costuming References
By P. Teubner

( l color = hyperlink to other websites)


          When I began costuming, I always started by asking myself,  “What did women wear at this time? How was it made, and what was it made of? And what else was worn with it?” As I had no one to tell me the answers, I started looking for them in books. This led to many years of buying and reading various types of costume-related books. In the process, I’ve found some that were of little help, some that were very helpful, some that were fun and some that were genuinely inspiring. I’ll try to share some of the books that I feel are the best for costuming.

 Since I sew at least some of my costumes, I have books dealing with costume construction techniques.

Here are some titles: 
After a Fashion: How to Reproduce, Restore and Wear Vintage Styles by Frances Grimble does just what it says.  For a broad overview of the subject, it is excellent and has a great deal of information (and a lot of sketches!)
Another book that covers a wide range of time is Patterns for Theatrical Costumes by Katherine Strand Holkeboer. Her sketches show the basic look of each period and are accompanied by simple pattern drawings showing how the garments are made, as well as some information on decorative patterns used in trims, edgings, etc. 

Period Costume for Stage & Screen
by Jean Hunnisett is also a very good book. While aimed at the theater, the information it contains is helpful to anyone interested in making costumes. It also contains scale drawings of patterns that can be sized up and used to create garments.

However, the best book for patterns and construction details is Patterns of Fashion 1, (also 2) by Janet Arnold. Her sketches and patterns are of real garments from several collections in museums in England. She includes information on dressmaking in the periods covered by the books, as well as instructions on how to use the patterns to create a garment for yourself. Her two books cover the period from 1660 to the 1940’s and are considered the authority for those trying to create accurate reproductions.

Another useful series of books are those published by Sally Queen & Associates: Textiles for Colonial Clothing, Textiles for Clothing of the Early Republic, 1800-1850, and Textiles for Early Victorian Clothing, 1850-1880. These are especially helpful, as they are swatch-books with actual sample of fabrics, as well as the historical information about them and the garments in which they were used.


Some books I classify as “talkies”, as they are more writing than pictures. Even though I usually prefer picture books, there are some that I’ve found helpful in studying costume. One of them is History of Costume by Blanche Payne (who was a University of Washington professor). Her book is considered a classic text on costume, with excellent information, along with a fair number of sketches and photographs of portraits to illustrate her points. She also includes scale drawings of patterns from actual costumes. Another text with a great deal of information is Historic Costume for the Stage by Lucy Barton. This book covers a broad time period and is organized well, making it easy to research a particular time. It contains a fair number of small sketches to show the information discussed in the text, and sections dealing with constructing costumes and finding accessories and other things for stage productions. Another text, one that I have used a great deal, is English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by C. Willett Cunnington. It contains discussions of the social aspects of the clothing of each style period, well-organized descriptions of each period, photographs of real garments and sketches from fashion plates, and several excellent glossaries at the back.

Another category I make in the books I’ve collected is “surprise” books. These are books that I bought because they had wonderful pictures, but when I actually read them, they turned out to have a lot of good information as well! Three of these deal with the 18th century: What Clothes Reveal--The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America by Linda Baumgarten; Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe by Aileen Ribeiro; and 18th Century Costume in National Museums Liverpool by Pauline Rushton. Several others deal with other or broader time periods, such as The Art of Dress—Clothes and Society 1500-1914 by Jane Ashelford; The Opulent Era—Fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat by Elizabeth Ann Coleman; and A Separate Sphere—Dressmakers in Cincinnati’s Golden Age 1877-1922 by Cynthia Amneus. All of these books are wonderful, both to look at and to read.

For inspirations for costumes, I usually turn to my “picture” books. Some are books of sketches, such as those put out by Dover Publications, Inc. that are reproductions of fashion plates from magazines: Fashions and Costumes from Godey’s Lady’s Book and Ackermann’s Costume Plates—Women’s Fashions in England, 1818-1828, plus my favorite, Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazar—1867-1898. Stella Blum edits all of these. There are also several published by Pepin Press: Fashion Design 1800-1940 and Fashion Design 1895-1920. All of these are helpful because of the sheer number of illustrations they contain.

For information about authentic costumes, Dover produces several photographic books such as Victorian Fashion in America - 264 Vintage Photographs, edited by Kristina Harris, that are invaluable in learning what was really worn by people. Costume collectors’ books are also helpful. Schiffer Publishing Company puts out some, such as Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women, 1840-1919, by Kristina Harris. The color photographs of these real garments give a much better idea of colors and fabrics, as well as styles, and their dating is usually fairly accurate. The books of collections in museums, such as those of the Costume Collection at Bath, England, are extremely helpful, as they, too, show real garments in full color, usually with dates given for each garment.

My favorite category of book is what some call “coffee table” books - or for me, “drool books”! These are books with photos of real costumes that are so gorgeous they almost make me salivate! The series, Fashion in Detail from the 17th and 18th Centuries by Avril Hart and Susan North, Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnston, and Modern Fashion in Detail by Claire Wilcox and Valerie Mendes are of this type, as well as The Style & Spendor of Queen Maud of Norway by Anne Kjellberg and Susan North. All of these books are not only inspiring, but also educational in the histories of the garments and the details of construction that they show. Perhaps my favorite costume book is another one of this type-- Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century, published by Taschen. It is a photographic tour of the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute. I turn to it most often because of the beauty of the costumes, the level of detail shown in the photographs, and the breadth of the time period covered. I highly recommend it to anyone seriously interested in costume.


There are many books on accessories such as purses, shoes, hats, fans, gloves, jewelry, etc.  These will help give ideas as to the other items that went into a lady’s costume, including—and, perhaps most importantly, what went underneath it! To save space, I’ll list a few of my favorites below:

Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh         

Vintage Hats & Bonnets 1770-1970 by Susan Langley  

Handbags by Roseann Ettinger                        

Hats-A History of Fashion in Headwear by Hilda Amphlett       

Ladies in Furs 1900-1940 by Anna Municchi   

Ladies’ Vintage Accessories by LaRee Johnson Bruton

Fans by Alexander F. Tcherviakov                    

Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry by C. Jeanenne Bell

The Corset-A Cultural History by Valerie Steele

Collecting Victorian Jewelry by C. Jeanenne Bell

Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930 by Nancy E. Rexford 


          Needless to say, there are many more books on costume, costume history and related topics. Whether old or new, just published or many times reprinted, each has something to teach us about what people wore, how they made their garments, and, sometimes, why and how they wore them. For me, this is part of the pleasure of costuming. I hope the information I’ve given here will help add to yours.  Happy costuming!


Updated April 10, 2009