I can’t. I really just can’t. You can’t seriously expect an English teacher who is also a costumer to recommend just ONE book. Ain’t gonna happen. I will, however, limit myself to the books that I pick up most frequently.
- The Cut of Women’s Clothes by Norah Waugh: This is one of the few books that I got really early on that I still refer to very frequently. I like that not only is it a sort of overview of fashion over the ages, but that you get to see what the actual pattern pieces look like–how they were shaped and where seams were placed.
- Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield: This is the other book that I got when I first started that I still constantly turn to. How wide were the skirts? What shape were the bonnets? Where were the closures? So many questions can be answered in those sketches.
- Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh: Another great resource for determining shape and seamlines. Incredibly helpful on boning placement as well.
- All of the Janet Arnold books as well as the Jean Hunnisette books. I purchased all of these right around the same time. Even when I’m not using them for the patterns themselves, I refer to them while working in order to double check shape and seam placement.
- Seventeenth-Century Dress Patterns, edited by Susan North and Jenny Tiramani: This book series seriously raises the bar for costuming resources. Not only do you get beautiful, up-close photos of extant garments, but you also get a step-by-step breakdown of how the garment was constructed. This was incredibly helpful when I was working on my recent 1660’s gown.
- Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 by Linda Baumgarten and John Watson with Florine Carr: This one sat on my shelf for a long time before I was ready to really jump into historically accurate construction for 18th century. During my last 18th century project, the book lived on my sewing table.
You’ll notice that all of my recommendations pretty much focus on books that contain patterns and are intended to help you with properly constructing a garment for a particular era. I have MANY other books that I also go to for inspiration, but so much of that sort of thing is also available online nowadays that I don’t think they are absolutely essential pieces in my library, though I do still love browsing through them when I’m looking to start a new project.