Sunday, August 3, 2014

How The West Was Worn Bustles and Buckskins On The Wild Frontier by Chris Enss

This is a fun little book for anyone interested in the history of fashion. I've read and reviewed several of Ms. Enss books over the years and I think this is my new favorite. It’s a unique and delightful look at the way people dressed in the Old West where function, out of necessity, took precedence over decoration and calico dresses and denim jeans replaced velvet and silk.

Here we learn about resourceful pioneer women sewing lead shot in their hems to keep their skirts from billowing up immodestly in the prairie wind, and men wearing their colorful blue and cowboys wearing bonnets to keep the sun out of their eyes before the Stetson came into fashion. Distance and slow communication led to a certain backwardness in fashion, and everyone was always eager to know what was being worn in the fashionable East, every issue of the Godey’s Ladies Book that came their way was eagerly devoured and the styles depicted in it copied as best they could.

This slim volume is packed with wonderful vintage photographs and advertisements and also explores the impact celebrities had on the fashions of the day, like Lillie Langtry, Oscar Wilde, Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill Cody, and the Madonna or Lady Gaga of her day, Adah Menken who created quite a scandal when she appeared onstage in the role of Mazeppa wearing a “nude” body stocking. And there are stories about the creation of blue jeans and cowboy hats by Levi Strauss and John B. Stetson. Another thing I liked about this book is that it is so well-rounded; it does not focus on one sphere of society, but gives space to the clothing worn by rich and poor, famous and ordinary, cowboys, miners, and Native Americans.

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