ed. by Patricia Mears and G. Bruce Boyer. Fashion Institute of Technology, New York; Yale University Press, April 2014. 256p. ill. ISBN 9780300204209 (cl.), $ 55.00.

Reviewed July 2014
Vada Komistra, Library Technician – Acquisitions/Cataloging, National Gallery of Art, Art Research Library, v-komistra@nga.gov
Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s offers the reader a wealth of information pertaining to the social and financial history of style that has come to define an iconic era of the twentieth century. Patricia Mears, G. Bruce Boyer, and others bring together a versatile resource for novices and specialists alike. Accompanying the exhibition on view at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum (February 7 – April 19, 2014), the catalog succeeds in highlighting pieces from the MFIT collection as well as emphasizing technical and aesthetic innovations put forth by designers and couturiers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The catalog is comprised of seven essays aiming to acquaint the reader with a fresh perspective on fashion history. Four essays explore fashion outside the realm of women’s couture and include an overview of the origins of the modern man’s wardrobe in Hollywood, London and Naples; an analysis of the westernization of Chinese fashions; the role of women’s accessories; and a discussion of the phenomenon of athleticism and activewear in Europe and the United States. Craftsmanship is emphasized as an overall theme to address the significance of a new society born out of economic disaster and realized through stylistic reinvention.

The two essays of greatest length are devoted to the histories of designers and couture creations for women. Patricia Mears discusses the skilled innovations of couturiers to reshape the fit of clothes for women. The designs of Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionnet, and Augustabernard feature prominently, stealing the focus from iconoclasts such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. Mears spares no detail signifying the body and a new physical ideal as the primary inspiration for 1930s fashion. In addition to the fashion scene in Paris, trends in New York and Hollywood are examined and contrasted revealing a unique perspective of social morale and a fresh look at the expectations and challenges of American consumers.

The hardcover catalog is not an oversized volume, but it is not lightweight. The book’s size is justified by numerous color plates featuring fashions in the MFIT Collection. The plates are placed throughout the catalog to accompany the text. Color reproductions of period advertisements, as well as black and white photographs are also included. The book contains an introduction, acknowledgements, and a bibliography.

Elegance in an age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s proves to be a viable resource, offering new perspectives on well-researched subjects. This book would be a welcome addition in academic, research, and special collection libraries.
© 2014 ARLIS/NA