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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

20 October 2006

Top Picks: Medieval Costume Books

This post is from an author who writes medieval romance and has a VERY limited collection of historical costume books. So I went to Amazon and spent some time perusing medieval costume books that focus on 13th,14th, and 15th century France and England. I thought I might share what I found in the way of inexpensive, highly rated reference books (books that an author on a budget could afford).

I excluded the "how-to-make costume books" because I don't sew and I really, really need wonderful color illustrations so I can get a visual of my hero and heroine's clothing. I hunted for books that were noted for their references: specifically, the dates and sources (e.g. bibles, manuscripts, psalters, rubbings, statuary etc.).

Two books that fit those criteria and consistently scored high with reviewers were:

Medieval Costume and Fashion (Paperback) by Herbert Norris
Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries (Paperback) by Mary G. Houston

The first is under $20 and the second is around $20. I've picked up a few costume books at the national RWA library bookstore that cost a lot more, but these two seem like they might be especially useful. I put an order in today.

Next, I'll look into textiles and fabric books. I know velvet and damask were worn by the very wealthy as early as the 13th century in France and England (and of course, silk) . . . so it wasn't all just wool, hemp, and leather--- and on occasion, horse hair shirts. But that's another post . . .

If anyone has a favorite costume book for this time period, I'd love to hear about it!

Kathrynn

7 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I think leaving out books about how to sew the clothes can be a mistake. It's these kinds of books (like the ones by Janet Arnold) that show you all the nuances of the clothing: Where the openings were, where the pockets were (if they even had pockets), how they closed (hooks and eyes, ties, etc.). If you’re just looking a pics of guys in Hoolapndes how do you even know what stage his hose are at (leggings only, leggings with a butt, leggings with a butt and codpiece). This is kind of important information.

IMO, if you're writing romance it's essential to KNOW this kind of stuff (assuming there are extant garments to study and this information is obtainable). I mean, do you know how many times I’ve had to explain that Yes, Regency gowns did sometimes button up the back.? Or that the line of tiny pearl buttons down the back of a Victorian gown is decorative only 99% of the time (there are hooks and eyes hidden under there).

8:46 PM  
Blogger Karin Tabke said...

Perfect timing. I just sold two medivals to Pocket. While I do have one decent reference book on garments, a few others are always welcome.
Thnx

1:58 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Ooooooo, you sold the historicals!!! Whoopie! I'm so glad to add you to the list of authors we can profile on this blog.

When are your books set, Karin?

2:18 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Congrats, Karin!

10:30 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wow, Karin! I love that you sold two medievals! Way to go...I'll be looking for them.

And yeah, Kalen, I figured you would say not to forget the "how to sew books" but, but peasant 12th and 13th century clothing, for the most part, wasn't that complicated, lucky for me. Looks like tunics and over gowns were sort of unisex in design, and as for underclothes in the medieval period, well, we've had that discussion!... There doesn't seem to be many extant examples of clothing that survived this time period. A few papal tunics, coronation mantles, shoes, an occasional princesses gown from later periods etc..

Getting the chain mail on and the order of dressing a knight (or undressing) does however, take a bit of study. ;-)

Now if I were writing about Hoolapndes or codpieces other . . . heh-heh, that would be a different story.

Kathrynn

12:23 PM  
Blogger Karin Tabke said...

Thanks for the congrats, ladies, I'm happy, and very intimidated. I have sooo much research to do, so you can well imagine how happy I am you started this great blog.
Kalen, the first book, ONE WICKED KNIGHT, is set in 1066 England. The second will be slightly later, maybe 1070. They will be stand alone but connected through characters.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Over on Carla Nayland’s blog we were just discussing a book about the English resistance to the Norman invasion. The book, The English Resistance: The Underground War Against the Normans, by Peter Rex sounds fantastic.

And if you local Bay Area writers ever wanted a little hands-on amour into, my friend Steve Moffatt is just down in San Jose. He makes armor for a living (amazing, museum quality stuff). I’m sure he’s love a look in from the ladies. *GRIN*

3:17 PM  

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