V4: Book Review: “Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg” by Linda Baumgarten

Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg
Linda Baumgarten
(c) 1986 by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
ISBN 978-0-87935-109-0

In preparation for my trip to Colonial Williamsburg this coming October, 2012, and because I’m obsessive, I’ve been collecting books on the subject of 18th century clothing, their details, construction, and general history.  My most recent acquisition is “Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg” by Linda Baumgarten, a delightful survey of some of the clothing housed in the Williamsburg collection.

The Pros:
Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg” is a survey of 18th century clothing.  It covers firstly women’s various garments, including accessories, then men’s, then children’s.  The photos of each piece are clear and easy to study, with several being in color.  In addition, there are contemporary illustrations, paintings, and cartoons that support the extant examples.

Via CW’s eMuseum

This is an excellent book for those who are new to 18th century costuming.  It discusses the major styles of gowns as well as jackets and articles of undress, and covers a basic history of textile production as it pertains to the American colonies.  Attention is paid to hats, aprons, muffs, pockets, shoes, fans, and gloves as well, which I find to be under-represented in other publications.

Notably, this book is written by one of our premier experts on textiles, Linda Baumgarten, who has been the curator of textiles at Colonial Williamsburg for longer than I have been alive.  With two masters in costume design and textiles, this lady knows her stuff!

The Cons:
If you have already been studying 18th century clothing for some time, you may find this booklet to be remedial. The pictures are lovely and always a good source of inspiration and information, but the text is meant as an overview of fashions of the period rather than an academic look into the specifics.

I would definitely recommend this book paired with another in the Colonial Williamsburg collection, Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790, which contains patterns and construction details for several of the Williamsburg garments.

Another drawback is that the book is primarily printed in black and white.  It is difficult to imagine the colors of 18th century clothing, but luckily (and this is actually a “pro”), all the garments can be seen in color on Colonial Williamsburg’s website (click here), but are not so easily saved to your inspiration folder, Tumblr, or Pinterest boards.

One of the gowns also shown in “Costume Closeup”

I do recommend “Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg” for those just starting out in 18th century costuming, those preparing to visit Colonial Williamsburg, and anybody wishing to brush up on their knowledge, particularly of clothing history in the American colonies.  It’s a nice little book to have on your shelf, written by a consummate expert on the subject, so go and buy it and enjoy!


  • Becky

    January 4, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    I was so excited to see that you'll be getting to visit Williamsburg soon! It is absolutely my favorite place in the world (probably because I've yet to visit Versailles).

    You are absolutely right in that the book you reviewed is more of a primer. For a more in depth read, I would recommend What Clothes Reveal also by Linda Baumgarten. The price is a bit steep, but there is a cheaper paperback being published due out in February and it really is an amazingly comprehensive book.

    While you're there I highly recommend going on a slower day and visiting the milliner. If it's relatively slow, they're always more than happy to take things out and down for you to look at and touch. They have so many beautiful things stashed in boxes behind their counter. ^_~ More than once I've threatened to run off with their box of stomachers! Also you'll still be in time to see many of the pieces that they discuss in these books at the DeWitt Wallace museum, so don't miss it!

    I would love to be a resource for you if you have any questions about visiting! I'm so excited for you, and to see your trip on the blog eventually!

  • Lauren R

    January 5, 2012 at 3:22 AM

    Becky, I've added "What Clothes Reveal" to my Amazon list, so hopefully I can get it soon.

    We'll be in CW for a week, I believe, so will have time to visit the milliner's shop, once the re-enactors have left. I look forward to seeing their creations in person 🙂

  • Anna

    January 5, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    What a crazy coincidence, I just got this book on Tuesday and have been enjoying looking through it. I knew what I was getting myself into because I have borrowed everything I can through the library, and while it's not terribly informational it's fun to see it documented that there were plenty of frilly gowns in America rather than sober homespun. Have you gotten Dangerous Liaisons yet? I have never experienced greater gown lust than when flipping through its pages, so it's a good thing I can't find it cheaply anywhere to own.

  • Lauren R

    January 5, 2012 at 8:20 PM

    Annabelle, I haven't gotten Dangeroue Liaisons yet. It's an expensive one, so I'm saving up, but it's definitely on my list. My "costume lust" book was and still is the KCI book, but LACMA is up there too, and occasionally a browse through the "Costume in Detail" books will produce some drooling 🙂

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