Book Reviews: Victorian Wedding Dresses and Sunbonnets

(Originally blogged March 10, 2010)

I am often sent books to review and recently two books came in the mail from Texas Tech University Press:

Victorian Wedding Dress in the United States is part of the ‘History through Paper Doll’ series, written by Mei Campbell and illustrated by Norma Lu Meehan. The 32 page book includes 20 dresses and 3 paper dolls and sells for a reasonable $12.95 (or less). My only criticism of the book is that I am not sure who it is intended for. The paper doll gimmick suggests a youth audience was in mind but the libretto, which includes good information about the history of the white wedding gown, is written for a sophisticated reader with a good vocabulary and understanding of dressmaking terms (capacious, polonaise, basque.) Both the illustrations and text are well done but together they create a book that must struggle to find a market.

The Sunbonnet: An American Icon in Texas is written by Rebecca Jumper Matheson. The 256 page book is listed at $29.95 (or less) and includes illustrations from several collections that trace the origins of the sunbonnet from the late 18th century to its last vestiges in the mid 20th century. The greatest difficulty for writing a book about the history of the sunbonnet must have been locating the scant research and period references – everyday non-fashionable garments worn by rural women simply didn’t get a lot of press in their day. The book is an easy read and utilizes a variety of resources and interviews. The only thing I am not convinced of is its specific geographical significance to Texas. Sunbonnets were certainly worn well into the 1930s throughout the agricultural south and mid-west as well as in the Canadian Prairies.

The book is excellent and unique on the topic and should become a part of any library relevant to millinery history.

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