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Fashion Hits and Misses from YA Historical Fiction Book Covers, Part 2

2014 April 1
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I love historical fiction.  The drama, the intrigue and, oh– the fashion.  I just assume all the period details regarding clothing are accurate.  Or I did until my friend Liz shared it was her secret delight to troll the adult fiction section and find anachronistic apparel.  Curious to know how Liz knows all that she does about fashion?  Check out her bio in the first post Fashion Hits and Misses from YA Historical Fiction Book Covers.

Turns out a lot of books from specific dates and locations feature outfits as cover art that either haven’t been invented yet or were way out of fashion.  I was eager to know if these same mistakes were being made in Young Adult historical fiction. After all, how was I to know? Here are some examples of books that got it right and those that got it wrong.

In Mozart's Shadow by Carolyn Meyer

In Mozart’s Shadow by Carolyn Meyer

Hit, sort of – In Mozart’s Shadow: His Sister’s Story (alternate title In Mozart’s Shadow: Nannerl’s Story) by Carolyn Meyer

The novel In Mozart’s Shadow: His Sister’s Story is set in eighteenth-century Europe. Older sister Nannerl remains home in Salzburg, Austria while her brother Mozart travels and performs.  How does the cover art compare?

The idea of the appropriate style of dress is there, but the quality of the fashion is poor and ill-fitting.   This particular dress looks like one you would wear for an “old-timey” photo.  The style of the time was a low-necked gown made from woven silks in elaborate patterns worn over panniers, a cage-like garment which extended the hips at the sides.  The bodice would be tightly fitted over a stiff pair of stays, known by modern terminology as a corset.  The front of the bodice exposed a stomacher, which was a triangle-shaped piece which was elaborately decorated.  Sleeves were normally close-fitting and worn to the elbow with ruffle and lace embellishments.  The skirt was often open in the front to expose the petticoat which was decorated to match.  There were several different types of dress worn at the time, but most did follow the same silhouette as described here. 

irene lewisohn

MMA 1750-1775, Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1959

This Robe à la Française is from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History which includes French fashion from 1600–1800 A.D.

Nannerl as a Child, by Peter Anton Lorenzoni, 1763

Nannerl as a Child, by Peter Anton Lorenzoni, 1763

For more appropriate eighteenth-century gowns that might have been worn by Nannerl see Liz’s Pinterest page: Young Ladies Fashions 1756-1781

Miss – My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris

My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris

My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris

My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris is set in modern times. With time travel, Cat Crawford ends up in 16th century Italy.  The dress featured on the cover is from the 18th century and continued to thrive as a major force in art into the period of this book.

The dress featured on the cover is from the eighteenth-century and could have been worn by Nannerl in the previous book example.  The sixteenth-century, on the other hand, is known for the silhouette of an inverted triangle found in the bodice above a wide triangle shaped skirt.  The fronts of the bodices were completely flat hiding the curve of the bust.  This silhouette was created by a pair of bodies, also known as stays in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and then as a corset from the nineteenth-century to present.  The pair of bodies of this period maintained its flat front by a center busk (a flat piece of wood, metal, bone, or scrimshaw).  The skirts were full and cartridge pleated into a waistband and worn over a form of hoopskirt called a farthingale, which created the large triangle-shape on the bottom.  Skirts were often open at front to expose a decorative underskirt.   Although by description this does sound similar to eighteenth-century dress, in reality they were quite different as can be seen in the image examples.

Portrait of a Woman, mid-16th c. Florence, Italy

Portrait of a Woman, mid-16th c. Florence, Italy

Portrait of a Woman, mid-16th c. Florence, Italy (exact artist unknown, possibly Francesco Salviati and, more plausibly, to Michele di Ridolfo Tosini), MMA, The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (32.100.66)

Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo and Her Son, ca. 1545, Agnolo di Cosimo (Il Bronzino), Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo and Her Son, ca. 1545, Agnolo di Cosimo (Il Bronzino), Uffizi Gallery, Florence

If you want to learn more about  18th century fashion try:

  • Dress in Eigteenth-Century Europe 1715-1789 by Aileen Ribeiro

Or for a more colonial look:

  • What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America by Linda Baumgarten

For examples of 16th century fashion, check out Liz’s Pinterest board Sixteenth Century Italian Womenswear.

-Laura C. Perenic, currently reading The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

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