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.
The jazz age of American history is very popular right now in TV and books. Recent Hub posts like Get Ready for Downton Abbey Season 4 With These Books, The Glamour and Greed of The Great Gatsby and Prohibition Era: Ohio Roots in History and YA Lit highlight our current fascination with the 1920s and 1930s. While imitation is meant as a sincere form of flattery, this only works if the copy is accurate, no matter the intention.
Here are some Young Adult historical fiction novels sent during the Roaring Twenties with covers that try and sometimes fail to reflect accurate costuming/
Set in 1918, bombarded by the war and Spanish Influenza Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is mistrustful of popular fad spirit photography until a seance takes on personal meaning. This dress is a bit short length-wise, at this time you would expect to see a longer hem. Overall style is decent. The fashion of the time often featured a waist that was accentuated with a belt or sash.
This cotton dress was a gift of Mrs. Edwin Stewart Wheeler in 1956 to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This costume is not on display and can only be viewed online.
This dress is from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gifted to the museum in 1955 by Mercedes de Acosta, the garment is made almost entirely of lace and was made to worn over a dark colored garment to highlight the workmanship. This costume is not on display at the museum and can only be viewed online.
Find a variety of other fashion plates online thanks to Costume Institute Fashion Plates of Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries.
Miss: The Flappers series by Jillian Larkins (A Jazz Party for the Books)
Think Gossip Girl set in 1920s Chicago and you have Flappers. Cigarettes and cropped hair dos are as prevalent as sultry secrets and social climbers. While each new novel may leave readers clambering for more drama and romance, the covers are sadly uninspired. Set during the Roaring Twenties, you’d expect to see drop-waists and knee length skirts. But these covers feature girls in empire waist dresses and straight skirts. With the focus on socialites and soirÃ©es, much of The Flappers takes place during cocktail hour. “The cocktail affair generally took place between six and eight p.m. Cocktail garb, by virtue of its flexibility and functionality, became the 1920s uniform for the progressive fashionable elite.” Problematically, Vixen shows a 1930s Garden party costume. Nothing about the cover is from the 1920s. Ingenue isn’t a complete miss since the cover doesn’t show enough to really critique. Flapper outfits were made to catch the light and the attention of other partygoers. The dark, drab attire hardly seems festive. Diva is a near miss in terms of accuracy. The jewelry and hair style are good examples of 1920s fashion. Even the textiles used for the dress are appropriate for the time but the style is wrong.
This silk and rhinestone dress from France has a column shape that was common for the time. The details are in an Art Deco style and close-ups of the embellishments can be see online.
Any flapper would feel grand in this bedazzled dressed designed for maximum shine. Decked out in sequins, it is the polar opposite of both the ready to wear costume seen on In The Shadow of Blackbirds and the strangely tailored dress from Diva. Designed by Edward Molyneux, this fabulous frock was a gift to The Metropolitan Museum of Art from Mrs. Adam Gimbel in 1942.
For more images of correct costuming check out the Pinterest page Fashion History: 1920-1930 The Museum at FIT, Fashion Institute of Technology.
More in this series:
-Laura C Perenic, currently reading A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin