Costume Books

Renaissance and Medieval Costume Books

This is a list of Renaissance costume books. Most all of the popular ones are listed. There are even some not so popular ones listed. If you know of a particular book that I have not listed, please let me know so I can add it.

Patterns of FashionPatterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C1560-1620 (Paperback)
by Janet Arnold

Once again, Janet Arnold has firmly reinforced her position at the top of the world of historical costume research. Housed within the pages of this book is some of the most invaluable research in the field of 16th century costuming. Arnold examines extant clothing of 16th century nobility and drafts the pattern pieces in detail. Rare photographs of these garments, as well as detailed shots of seams, linings, and stitching and fabric close-ups makes this book one of the most important in the field of historical costuming. Patterns are given for the garments examined, but be aware, they are not sized. Some knowledge of pattern drafting, or access to an enlarger of some kind will be needed if you want to take a pattern from this book and make it fit a human being. But don’t let that discourage you! The information within this book is priceless and for any die-hard 16th century enthusiast, it is perhaps the best book available on the subject.

Medieval Costume in England and FranceMedieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries (Paperback)
by Mary G. Houston

Carefully researched, meticulously detailed account of the style and construction of period costumes. Includes descriptions and illustrations of royal apparel, elaborate ecclesiastical dress and vestments, academic and legal garments and civilian dress of all classes. Also discusses jewelry, armor, textiles, embroidery and hairdressing.

Dressing RenaissanceDressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing (Hardcover)
by Carole Collier Frick

As portraits, private diaries, and estate inventories make clear, elite families of the Italian Renaissance were obsessed with fashion, investing as much as forty percent of their fortunes on clothing. In fact, the most elaborate outfits of the period could cost more than a good-sized farm out in the Mugello. Yet despite its prominence in both daily life and the economy, clothing has been largely overlooked in the rich historiography of Renaissance Italy. In Dressing Renaissance Florence, however, Carole Collier Frick provides the first in-depth study of the Renaissance fashion industry, focusing on Florence, a city founded on cloth, a city of wool manufacturers, finishers, and merchants, of silk dyers, brocade weavers, pearl dealers, and goldsmiths. From the artisans who designed and assembled the outfits to the families who amassed fabulous wardrobes, Frick’s wide-ranging and innovative interdisciplinary history explores the social and political implications of clothing in Renaissance Italy’s most style-conscious city.

Frick begins with a detailed account of the industry itself — its organization within the guild structure of the city, the specialized work done by male and female workers of differing social status, the materials used and their sources, and the garments and accessories produced. She then shows how the driving force behind the growth of the industry was the elite families of Florence, who, in order to maintain their social standing and family honor, made continuous purchases of clothing — whether for everyday use or special occasions — for their families and households. And she concludes with an analysis of the clothes themselves: what pieces made up an outfit; how outfits differed for men, women, and children; and what colors, fabrics, and design elements were popular. Further, and perhaps more basically, she asks how we know what we know about Renaissance fashion and looks to both Florence’s sumptuary laws, which defined what could be worn on the streets, and the depiction of contemporary clothing in Florentine art for the answer.

For Florence’s elite, appearance and display were intimately bound up with self-identity. Dressing Renaissance Florence enables us to better understand the social and cultural milieu of Renaissance Italy.

Authentic Everyday DressAuthentic Everyday Dress of the Renaissance : All 154 Plates from the "Trachtenbuch" (Paperback)
by Christoph Weiditz

Classic costume book of the 16th century depicts dress of Europeans (especially Spanish) of all classes. Special section on Aztec Indians brought to Spain by Cortes and sketched from life there by Weiditz. All 154 original plates have been meticulously reproduced, complete with English captions. Indispensable resource for costume and cultural historians—anyone interested in how life was lived in the mid-16th century. Notes on plates.

The Medieval TailorMedieval Tailor’s Assistant: Making Common Garments 1200-1500 (Paperback)
by Sarah Thursfield

For anyone interested in making a medieval garment, but who doesn’t know where to begin: this book is for you.

This book covers everything you ever wanted to know about medieval clothing, from measurements, patterns and materials to methods of construction. It has over 400 illustrations of medieval clothing, and 121 patterns for shirts and smocks, cotes, doublets, kirtles, hose, surcotes, cotehardies, gowns, overkirtles, cloaks, children’s clothing, headwear, and accessories.

Current books on the subject of Medieval costume concentrate either on research (with good information on what was worn, but little on how to actually make it) or towards theatrical costume (with information on how to make the items, but dubious historical accuracy.) The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant is the best of both worlds, combining solid research and detailed "how-to" information into one volume.

The Cut of Womens ClothesThe Cut of Women’s Clothes, 1600-1930 (Hardcover)
by Norah Waugh

Each period in the history of costume has produced its own characteristic line and silhouette, derived from a cut and construction which varies considerably from age to age. Here are patterns taken from actual dresses, many of them rare museum specimens, illustrated by sketches of the dresses. There are notes on the production of women’s dress, with references to early technical books and journals, together with diagrams from some of them. Numerous illustrations show the dresses as worn complete with their hairstyles, jewelry, decorations and accessories.

The Cut of Mens ClothesCut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900 (Hardcover)
by Norah Waugh

This book traces the evolution of the style of men’s dress through a sequence of diagrams accurately scaled down from patterns of actual garments, many of them rare museum specimens. The plates have been selected with the same purpose. Some are photographs of suits for which diagrams have also been given; others, reproduced from paintings and old prints, show the costume complete with its accessories. Quotations from contemporary sources–from diaries, travelers’ accounts and tailors’ bills–supplement Norah Waugh’s text with comments on fashion and lively eyewitness descriptions.

Patterns for Theatrical CostumesPatterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915 (Paperback)
by Katherine Strand Holkeboer

This book is the most comprehensive, single-volume collection of historical patterns (from Ancient Egypt through 1915) available today for men’s and women’s costumes. While the pattern designs are very simplistic, present little detail on closures or embellishments and present only general instructions on construction, they are functional and very easy to make, represent nearly-authentic cuts and effectively achieve the intended essential look for their specific period.

Each pattern in the book is presented in three sizes and, for the individual pieces of a complete garment, a label is often attached, giving its historical name and a brief description of its appearance or use. As a bonus, patterns for specialty costumes (fantasy, religious, Chinese, Japanese, and animals), undergarments, hats, wigs and masks are included, and its Introduction explains, in a step-by-step format, costuming techniques such as enlarging patterns, fitting designs, and draping.

Period Costume for Stage and ScreenPeriod Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress 1500-1800 (Hardcover)
by Jean Hunnisett

I received this book as part of a group of textbooks received for my costume design course at FIDM. I used a nice, red, ballpoint pen (this would’ve been 1990, y’know, before acid/lignin-free – and especially non-bleeding – pens were freely available) to mark out my ten-grid grid. Anyway, I used the Phoenix (Elizabethan or Jacobean) corset pattern to make one of my projects, and it turned out beautifully (if only it still fit me!). I also drafted a Tudor corset from one of the patterns, and we did a panier petticoat from this text as well.

A Pictorial History of CostumeA Pictorial History of Costume From Ancient Times to the Nineteenth Century : With Over 1900 Illustrated Costumes, Including 1000 in Full Color (Paperback)
by Max Tilke, Wolfgang Bruhn

This invaluable pictorial history of fashion—a classic in its field—takes readers on a grand tour of the world, starting in ancient Egypt, ca. 2200 B.C., and culminating in Paris in the late 19th century. More than 1,900 items of clothing are shown in beautiful, accurately rendered illustrations—from furs, veils, ruffs, and pointed bodices, to cloaks, leggings, waistcoats, and breeches. Headgear and footwear abound as well. Essential for costume designers and students of fashion history, this detailed survey will particularly delight the armchair time traveler. 57 color plates. 69 black-and-white plates.

Queen Elizabeth's WardrobeQueen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d
by Janet Arnold

This is one of the best books ever written on the subject of Elizabethan Costuming. It mainly contains all of the details of Queen Elizabeth I wardrobe but it has unique points in the society that surrounded the dresses. This book helps to explain the Gloriana image that became so popular and it helps us to understand all the little details that went into the dress of the period.

What People WoreWhat People Wore : 1,800 Illustrations from Ancient Times to the Early Twentieth Century
by Douglas Gorsline

Reprint of a reference originally published in 1952 ( New York, Viking Press). Meticulously researched and rendered line drawings are grouped chronologically and identified. Includes sources and a bibliography.

20000 Years of Fashion20000 Years of Fashion
by Francois Boucher

This scholarly, absorbing history of dress, an updated edition of a 1966 reference work, ranges from prehistoric costume through present fashion. From antiquity to the 14th century, costume was generally long, loose and draped, not nationalistic in character, and reflected magical and religious functions. From the 14th century, when costume became short and fitted, to the 19th century, clothing acquired personal and national characteristics. The third fashion phase, under the influence of industrial mass-production and European expansionism, beginning in the mid-19th century and continuing to the present, is less personal and more international, although there are also exclusive haute-couture designs for moneyed clientele. Readers will delight in the superior 1188 illustrations, including 356 full-color plates, that feature a bell-shaped, skirted terracotta idol from the eighth century B.C., sixth century B.C. funerary stele of the warrior Ariston, late 13th century Sicilian silk cloth, 17th century Rubens and Van Dyck and 19th century Renoir portraits, and a 1965 Saint Laurent minidress. The late Boucher and Deslandres were director and assistant, respectively, of the French Center for Costume Studies.

A History of CostumeA History of Costume
by Carl Kohler

Egypt , Babylon, Greece up through 19th-century Europe; based on surviving pieces, art work, etc. Includes many clear, measured patterns for reproducing historic costumes. Full text. 595 illustrations. "…landmark in the field of Western European costume.

Exceptional value for its price.

Fabulous Costume JewelryFabulous Costume Jewelry: History of Fantasy and Fashion in Jewels
by Vivienne Becker

This gorgeous book is a delight for all who are interested in fine craftsmanship, beautiful jewelry, and the role of fashion in an ever-changing world. Costume jewelry is an intimate reflection of its age. Shaped by the attitudes and fashion of the women who wear it, this jewelry reveals their temperaments, their fantasies, and the spirit of their times. This lushly illustrated book is a comprehensive retrospective of commercial costume jewelry, from 18th century Georgian, Neo Classic, and Romantic pieces to 20th century Edwardian, Art Deco, Cocktail, and modern "Glam Rock" jewelry. It discusses in great depth the roots of jewelry movements, the cultural trends that influenced jewelry designers-industrialism, wartime, the growth of Hollywood, technological breakthroughs, and the women’s movement-and the effects jewelry had on women’s fashions.

 A History of UnderclothesThe History of Underclothes (Paperback)
by C. Willett Cunnington, PhiIlis Cunnington

Fascinating survey of various undergarments worn by the English over six centuries. Well-documented, scholarly presentation enhanced with over 100 period illustrations depicting laced-up bodice of the 12th century, embroidered linen drawers (1500s), hooped petticoat support in bentwood (c. 1750), footed long drawers (1795), 19th-century bustles, early 19th-century corsets for men, Victorian "bust improvers," much more. Engaging and valuable reference book for costume historians, sociologists, and general readers.

Medieval CostumeMedieval Costume and Fashion (Paperback)
by Herbert Norris

This superb panoramic study of clothing worn in the Middle Ages will fascinate costume enthusiasts, fashion historians and anyone intrigued by medieval life. A meticulously researched text is enhanced with nearly 700 illustrations depicting all manner of apparel—from fur-trimmed cloaks and brocaded robes of courtiers and the nobility to simpler mantles, tunics and trousers worn by merchants, huntsmen, and other commoners. Also included: hairstyles, foot-covering, jewelry, headgear, weapons, and even advice on table manners. "Fascinating in its detail and particularly clearly and well arranged [this book is] a helpful and welcome means of refreshing one’s memory with long-forgotten dates.

Ancient European Costume and FashionAncient European Costume and Fashion (Paperback)
by Herbert Norris

Scrupulously researched book by noted authority traces the development of European clothing styles from prehistory to the Norman Conquest in a.d. 1066. Over 160 illustrations, including 17 full-color plates, display draped robes of classical Greece, the jewel-encrusted apparel of a 10th-century Byzantine emperor, garments of peasants, as well as footwear, hairstyles, headdresses, and jewelry. Accompanying text chronologically traces origin and development of a garment and its relation to forerunners and successors. Immensely valuable reference for students, historians, artists and anyone intersted in costume history.

British Costume from the Earliest TimesBritish Costume from Earliest Times to 1820 (Paperback)
by Mrs. Charles H. Ashdown

Hard-to-find classic drew on primary sources–actual costumes, illuminated manuscripts, effigies, etc.–to provide authentic detailed coverage of what people wore in Britain from the early Saxon period (ca. 460 a.d.) to the reign of King George III (1820). Clothing of commoners, royalty and ecclesiastics. Indispensable for fashion historians.

Costume and FashionCostume and Fashion: A Concise History (World of Art)
by James Laver, Amy De LA Haye

This book is aptly titled. It gives just a little bit about everything from ancient Egyptian styles to fashion in the 1990s. Those of you looking for photos and descriptions with great attention to detail should look elsewhere, but those of you looking for just an overview of fashion, this would be a good introduction.

The author discusses the rise and fall of fashion trends through the ages, and how society, industry, and particular people influenced them. The text in this book seems as informative, as it is concise. However, other reviewers seem to think that the author’s information about pre-20th century costumes is inconsistent with other sources, but the post-20th century information is consistent with what I have learned from other sources.

Therefore, I recommend this book with some hesitation. If you want a good overview of fashion history, especially a pictoral history, I would recommend this book. On the other hand, if you are looking to learn more about a particular era, especially ancient costumes, I would recommend choosing a book specifically written about that era.

A History of Children's CostumesHistory of Children’s Costumes (Costume Reference)
by Marion Sichel






Costume History and StyleCostume History and Style
by Douglas A. Russell

Russell’s Costume History and Style is a very good resource for students, theatrical designers, or anyone interested in learning more about the history of fashion. The book accurately covers what is known about the evolution of costume from the Prehistoric to modern times. I was introduced to the Russell’s text as a reference for a university History of Costume course, and it soon became a favourite reference for the class’s research. The book not only gives an accurate description of the costumes for each period, but also outlines the events of the era, as well as interesting stories surrounding the adaption of various styles. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a general overview of fashion history, or as a supplement to more period-specific and detailed works.


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