Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear
By Lucy Adlington
(Random House Books, 454 pages, £16.99) This book, as the author states, sets out to tell the “extraordinary stories of our most ordinary possessions”, namely the clothing we put on and wear every day. Each chapter covers an area of clothing including trousers, pants, coats, knitwear and swimwear. Their history is traced through a collection of anecdotes and insights, which Adlington always draws to a conclusion by discussing how we use that piece of clothing today. As she remarks, current fashion is all about reducing bulk, not artificially creating it, as it has been for many periods in the past.
This is a very enjoyable read and easily y accessible to anyone with an interest in th he history of clothing, or history in general. There is a focus on items sometimes glossed ove er in other costume histories – for instance, soc cks and knitwear. Using some oral testimonie es, Adlington tries to get under the skin of how people feel about their clothing and new fashions. Snippets about how our language has been influenced by clothing g are scattered throughout. ‘Blue stocking’, for example, was used as a derogatory term for women from the 1750s; ‘bombast’ was a stuffing of sawdust and horsehair used to give a full belly to doublets for the 16th- and 17th-century man leading to the term bombastic; ‘ living on a shoestring’ came about as shoshoestrings were quite flimsy.
The focus is naturally on the last 2200 years although items are traced baack further where possible including Viiking and Classical examples.
More illustrations, as this is really a visuual subject, would have been nice but theree are some colour plates and more numeerous black-and-white images. It is an entertaaining addition to general histories of clothclothing.
Alison Toplis writes on the history of clothing
and is a honorary fellow at the University
Lucy Adlington has written an overview of the history of clothing