The Anatomy of Fashion


Colin McDowell

Fashion is about the body. The first book to reflect this truism, The Anatomy of Fashion, is the ultimate guide to how we dress, why we look the way we do and how this has changed over time.

Hardback. 358 pages. 450 colour illustrations, 150 black and white illustrations

SKU: 9780714849478 Category:


Why do we dress the way we do? Why has fashion changed and evolved over the centuries? How did the 3-piece suit come about? What is a ruff? Why have hemlines risen and fallen over time? Why did a suntan replace the pale, peaches-and-cream face as the sign of a high-class woman? In this book, fashion specialist Colin McDowell goes beyond standard fashion histories and narrative surveys to answer all these questions and more.

Fashion is both functional and expressive – we wear clothes to keep warm or for protection – but they also articulate the way we feel and are often used to impress. Fashion trends are influenced by history and their social context. For example, the waistcoat is often believed to have been introduced as part of the Victorian 3-piece suit. In fact, it was brought to England by Charles II in 1666 after his restoration and return from exile at the French court. Samuel Pepys, diarist and civil servant, wrote: ‘The King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how.’ Charles wanted the new garment to be part of a restrained national dress for gentlemen and the vest flourished throughout Georgian times as a show-off garment made of rich silks and heavily embroidered, often in silver and gold

The book is divided into 3 main sections. Section 1 looks at the body unclothed and the different ‘skins’ that cover it; subjects include human skin, pale skin v. tanned skin, tattoos; materials and fabrics; colours and pattern. In section 2 fashion is broken down into body parts and the relevant individual elements of dress are discussed – from head to toe. Body parts include the head (e.g., hats, hair, wigs), the shoulders (e.g. shoulder pads), hands (e.g., gloves, jewellry), legs (e.g., hem lengths, pantaloons, skirt shapes, hosiery) and feet (eg. shoes, boots). Section 3 returns to the body as a whole to consider how these elements combine to create ‘fashion’. It analyzes themes in the history of dress, such as escapism or alienation) and also explores the significance of particular looks, from military uniform to cult styles including the grunge look, goths and gangs. By breaking down and reassembling the constituents of fashion in this way, the book provides a thorough investigation of why we dress the way we do and how it has been shaped throughout history.

The first section of the book comprises three thematic essays – Skin, Materials and Colour and Pattern. Section 2 analyzes clothing for different parts of the body in a series of self-contained spreads; head, for example, has three spreads – on hats in general, practicality and protection – while neck has one spread. Each spread features a gallery of up to nine or ten images, allowing for stimulating visual contrasts and comparisons; each image is fully discussed in a short text on a tip-in text page. So, for example, a spread on neck would include a brief introduction and a selection of images (photographs, painting details and drawings of collars, exposed necks in geisha costume, chokers etc.) with short texts that explain their historical context, their function and how they have changed over time. The third part of the book is again a series of self-contained spreads, arranged in A–Z order, each of which explores a major theme or look in fashion, accompanied by stunning large images.

The book also includes an extensive timeline that traces developments in clothing and appearance from earliest times until today, providing a chronological framework for the rest of the book and allowing the reader to follow thematic developments through time.

The book’s dynamic structure and layout are equally suited for browsing and for serious reference. However, The Anatomy of Fashion is not simply a picture book. It is a sourcebook by one of the world’s leading fashion scholars that seeks nothing less than a thorough analysis of the roots of every aspect of fashion today.

‘Filled with captivating images and noteworthy facts… Accompanying the fascinating images is McDowell’s entertaining, witty and knowledgeable commentary, weaving through the centuries with his unique narration… Every angle, ground breaking advertising campaign and historical turning point is collected and considered, their relation to today’s fashions captivatingly explained… All the style answers you’ll ever need have been carefully considered and collected, so swot up and impress.
Inside Out, Top Shop Blog

About the Author
Colin McDowell is one of the fashion industry’s most senior and respected commentators, with a global profile and following from his thirty years in the business. During that time, he has acted as magazine editor, illustrator, commentator and writer, as well as being the only major fashion writer to have worked as a dress designer for several years. He is the author of over 20 books related to fashion and style, including Phaidon’s Fashion Today (2000), and has written various scripts for television and radio programmes devoted to the social history of dress. His work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and periodicals – for many years he was Senior Fashion Writer for The Sunday Times Style. He is also the founder and chairman of Fashion Fringe. McDowell is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Senior Fellow of the Royal College. In 2008 he was appointed MBE for his services to international fashion.

Additional information

Weight 2.5 kg