Mourning Dress, a costume and social history

A lively study of a potentially dispiriting subject.

Clothes are generally regarded by the professional historian merely as providing purely illustrative material for 'back-ground'; they are rarely regarded as constituting a serious field of study, even by the social historians who in the last generation have taken on board a whole range of themes previously left to antiquarians and students of the picaresque. The economic historians still focus on such matters as the wool trade, cloth exports and cotton factories; they stop firmly short of what was actually done with the textiles whose production and distribution they chronicle so closely. Consumption is all too often regarded as regrettably frivolous, or unapproachable. Yet clothes are the most conspicuous of all forms of consumption, revealing all sorts of things not only about the individuals who wear them, but also about the societies which generate the myriad styles and types of clothing. In traditional Western European society, moreover, something like a quarter of national income is spent on clothing. The subject surely deserves more attention than it gets.

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