Costume Class Project: Primary and Secondary Research on an Historical Costume Topic

Many costume students are drawn to the field by an enthusiasm for one or more historical periods of dress. This project allows you to research an era, or ideally a small easy to handle segment of it, such as an object like a codpiece or a flag fan, or a particular type of garment, and make a new web page devoted to it. To do this well, and legally, you will need to find visual representations of your era or object that are copyright expired, make ones you create yourself, or which date before the concept of copyright existed. Before uploading images please refer to Wikimedia Copyright Rules to determine what is OK to post.

You also will wish to research your topic two ways. You will wish to consult both secondary sources and primary sources. In the case of costume history, examples of a primary source would include:

Historical garments

Paintings, drawings, photographs or sculptures showing those garments that were made during the era they were worn

Written descriptions, satirical poems, advertisements, inventories, wills, bills, magazines etc, of the era with information on your garments

Sewing Patterns and How-to books of the era

Memoirs, written after the era by a person who lived in it, recalling details of the wearing of the garments in their own time

You will also wish to consult secondary sources for two reasons, one, many times you will be unable to personally view and paw over historical garments, and secondary sources written by people who have had that opportunity are highly illuminating. The second reason is that, as a student, the scope of a class project will be limited in both time and topic, and it is good to learn the points of view on your topic by persons who have had the time and experience to study costume history in a broad and deep enough way that they were able to fill a book with their knowledge and persuade a publisher to print it. It gives you a shortcut to perspective. Examples of this sort of secondary source are things like:

Pattern books by Janet Arnold which show details of the construction of historical dress that are only apparent after days, if not weeks, of near microscopic in-person analysis.

Broad old survey books by authors such as Herbert Norris, Mary G. Houston, and James Laver that while lacking a more modern understanding of the social history of dress, are nonetheless great primers in the eras they cover, and who helped create the foundation upon which modern Fashion Theory was able to be built.

Fashion Theory books, such as the series Dress, Body and Culture that look at dress both in history and now as part of a complex social structure with competing desires, demands and meanings that were and are expressed through dress.

You should consult more than one (ideally many) sources in both categories to make your own analysis. Then make a web page on your blog or website where you write your own brief history of the costume, object, or slice of era in your own words. You should also perhaps use short quotes (which you attribute) to supporting information. If you quote from a book that is still available for sale, link to a place where a reader may purchase it, to help support its author. If you quote from a book in the public domain, try to link to it on Project Gutenberg if the book is out there.

Enliven your narrative with images that illustrate your point, but keep in mind the copyright guidelines above. If the era you are focusing on is one that is too close in time to easily get copyright free images, consider making your own, by drawing images yourself, photographing vintage clothing, or by scanning photos out of family albums.

Complete your page and send the URL to your teacher or to the class message board.