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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why'd They Wear That? By Sarah Albee. National Geographic, Random House. 2015. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"Queen Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) loved clothes, and she knew that fabulous fashion impressed people. She may have owned as many as 3,000 gowns. The queen expected people in her court to dress well, too. For men as well as women, an outfit could cost as much as a house."

Wow! If you have an interest in history, this is a perfect book for you. It is certainly made better if you are also interested in the clothing that people have worn throughout history, and why they actually did wear it?
There is a lot to take in as you wander through fashions that come from the woolens and cottons that were our first textiles, through the beauty of expensive silks, to the styles in Rome:

"Imagine yourself standing in a public square in ancient Rome on a typical market day. You would see teeming crowds of people dressed in a wide array of styles - freeborn Roman men in white togas; well-to-do Roman women, their hair elaborately coiffed and wearing colorful, flowing garments called stolas; laborers, children and slaves in simple tunics belted at the waist; still other slaves, as well as visitors from the provinces, dressed according to the customs of their homelands, some sporting beards, tattoos, sturdy boots, or leather trousers."

Quite the assortment, isn't it?

In the middle ages, they wore hair shirts, bound their feet, and even wore armor. This endlessly fascinating guide that speaks to the social and economic changes that affected what was worn at any time in history has much to teach us. History, and Ms. Albee show us the excessive steps that people would take to adapt to what was considered most fashionable at the time.

Her writing is entertaining, while also not belaboring any points. In that way, we can look at clothing throughout history without readers ever feeling bogged down in the information shared. The color photos and well-drawn illustrations, accompanied by an abundance of useful and spirited captions, ensure that we can make the connections from one era to the next, and understand that one particular article might lead to the development of another. She cleverly makes the connection from the bug spray cans that soldiers had access to during WWII, and how they evolved into aerosol hair spray cans that allowed hair stylists to convince women to sport beehive hairdos which could be better controlled by hair spray!

Every turn of the page led me to a new discovery, and often an 'aha' moment. Adding a timeline, an index, quotation sources, a bibliography, and suggestions for further reading adds to the appeal. Visually stunning, often humorous and very entertaining, leave it on your coffee table. You will return to reading it again and again, and learning as you go. Share it with students in classrooms, and history is sure to find many new fans. What a wondrous way to share stories and remember how clothing was impacted by, and did impact, so many historical events!

"How will the reflection of our society look to future generations? What will your grandchildren laugh at? What will they view with horror? It may be fake tans, low-slung jeans, tattoos, yoga pants, dip-dyed hair, or snapback hats worn backward."


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