Fashion Hits and Misses from YA Historical Fiction Book Covers

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?  Here her bio:

I have had an interest in fashion history since I was young.  My mother would take me to estate sales and auctions where I would buy vintage fashions with my allowance.  After graduating from high school I found I did not know exactly what I wanted to do and ended up going to Miami University for costume design.  While studying I found the thing I loved most about designing costumes was actually doing the research that went into the design.  After this discovery I finished up my Bachelor’s Degree at Miami and moved to New York City to study what I loved most.  I got my Master’s Degree in Costume Studies at New York University and have been working in museums since..  Being with the objects in such an intimate setting has allowed my passion to continue to grow and for me to learn more about every aspect of fashion and clothing construction.

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.

Hit:  His Fair Assassin Trilogy. Grave Mercy (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults) and Dark Triumph (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults) by Robin LaFevers

his fair assassin
His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers

This series is set in Brittany in 1485.  Brittany is a region of North West France.  The book covers features the main character Ismae and Sybella. Both of these costumes are acceptable imitations of clothing found in 15th century France.  The v-neck style does appear to be more indicative of middle 15th century fashion instead of what you would find in the later half of the century. But because fashion didn’t change as fast at that time it would have still been common later in the century, especially for the masses.  Fashion was fairly limited at the time due to the production method and dyes used to make textiles.  Nicer textiles would have been astronomically expensive and impossible for commoners to own because of strict sumptuary laws that restricted the clothing that could be worn by different classes.  The hair, on the other hand, is very inaccurate as you can see from the comparisons below.


Portrait of a Girl
Portrait of a Young Girl, Mid-15th c., Petrus Christus, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Roman de la Violette
Art from the Roman de la Violette written by Gerbert de Montreuil a poet, mid-15th c. Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Miss: The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen (2009 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

The Luxe series is set in Manhattan, 1899. The covers of this popular four-part series are eye-catching, but they feature inaccurate imitations of 1899 fashion.  The skirts are entirely too full and reminiscent of 1980s dresses because of the colors, necklines, and extended waists on Rumors and Splendor.  Skirts of the period would have been slightly fitted through the hips and more full at the hem.  Realistically, these young socialites would have been wearing to the minute fashions from well-known couturiers.  Often they would have gone to Paris specifically to have gowns made for them from the designers at the epicenter of fashion at that time.  These designers included Jacques Doucet and the fashion house of the first couturier, Charles Frederick Worth, the House of Worth. Unadorned jewel tones, as seen on these covers, were not common.  Instead, these young ladies would have been wearing white, pastels and black options encrusted in sequins, rhinestones, and decorative embellishment evoking the style of the Art Nouveau period.

The Luxe series by Anna Godberson
The Luxe series by Anna Godberson

Here are some examples of what people really would have worn. This evening dress from the House of Worth was created by French designer, Jean-Philippe Worth around 1898.  You can see this outfit in amazing detail online at the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Evening dress House of Worth (French, 1858–1956)
Evening dress 1898
House of Worth (French, 1858–1956)


Portrait of Lisa Colt Curtis, 1898, John Singer Sargent, Cleveland Museum of Art
Portrait of Lisa Colt Curtis, 1898, John Singer Sargent, Cleveland Museum of Art
Mrs. John Vinton Dahlgren, 1899, photograph by Dupont, New York, Munsey’s Magazine

This beautiful ball gown is also from Paris and designed by Jacques Doucet, between 1898-1900.  You can see close up photographs of this dress’s designer label and other embellishments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

jacques doucet
Doucet, 21 Rue de la Paix, Paris.

Gifted to The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Gift of Miss Eva Drexel Dahlgren, this gorgeous dress is exactly the style the daughter’s of the Holland’s and the Hayes might wear and is the epitome of Art Nouveau style.  Unfortunately, this dress is not on display and can only be appreciated online.

Drexel Dahlgren
Evening dress , 1898-1900,
House of Worth (French, 1858–1956)

Accurate apparel, like these and other examples of period costume are always available at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other fine art museums worldwide.

If you want to learn more about historical garments from this period and see more examples, check out Liz’s turn of the century Pinterest page.

For for a more broad look at fashion history check out these books from your local library.

  • 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment by Francois Boucher
  • The History of Costume: From the Ancient Mesopotamians Through the Twentieth Century by Payne, Winakor, and Farrell-Beck.



Laura C Perenic is reading Article 5 by Kristen Simmons.

4 thoughts on “Fashion Hits and Misses from YA Historical Fiction Book Covers”

  1. LOVE the costume pictures! Especially the black and cream Nouveau Worth evening dress, drool! I agree, I would love to see more comparisons ;)

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