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Published: 02 November 2019

By Andy Ross

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English Costume of the 17th Century

The delights of opening an old volume to discover the treasures within cannot be quantified, can they?

English Costume of the Seventeenth Century was first published in 1934, by Adam and Charles Black of Soho Square in London's West End. The book was part of a series which included English Costume of the Age of Elizabeth, English Costume of the 18th Century and English Children's Costume, and, as was common then, the book was illustrated with line drawings and colour plates. It was these that drew me (if you will excuse the pun) to acquire a copy of the revised edition of 1950. Some of the illustrated pages are reproduced here along with the charming frontpapers. The small book is now in the library collection at the studio. 

Iris Brooke herself has proved quite elusive to research. It seems that Ms Brooke was an amateur textile researcher, albeit a prolific one judging by the number of books she wrote and illustrated. One of those, Costume in Greek Classic Drama was the subject of a somewhat dismissive review in terms of its scholarship by a professor of King's College, Cambridge, in 1962, but it is not for scholarship that Ms Brookes wrote these books. Rather they were created in order to help the public understand how people dressed in certain historical periods with the aim of engendering a better representation of costume in theatre. To that end, I think these books are invaluable, not only because they show the costumes clearly but also because they give us a glimpse of what was happening in the entertainment industry in the first part of the 20th Century. 

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