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BOOK LOOKS : "Underwear: The Fashion History" : Author: Alison Carter. : Info: Drama Book Publishers, 1992. 149 pages plus 12 pages of references including appendixes, glossary and index. Illustrated.

November 17, 1994|MARIA D. LASO

Sadly or refreshingly, depending on your viewpoint, this book is not nearly as scintillating or titillating as the topic--or the pink satin knickers blooming on the cover--might indicate. What it is, however, is a thoroughly researched (if surprisingly dry) history of undergarments throughout history.

You wouldn't believe there was this much to it, but you do have to believe that there can't be many camisoles left unturned in Carter's search for facts.

Through text and illustrations, many taken from period advertisements, Carter builds a chronology that is part historical survey and part sociological study. The years from 1490 to 1840 are given three chapters as a foundation. The rest of the book is divided 1840-1890, 1890-1940 and 1940-1990.

Each 50-year segment covers: "Outside In: The Silhouette," "Inside Out: The Undergarments" and "Round About: Wearing, Making and the Industry."

The author explains: "The aim of the 'Outside In' sections is to look at the outer clothes and the various layers which would have been worn beneath. . . . The 'Inside Out' sections take a look at accidents of survival and documentary evidence to draw out key characteristics of each period including a survey of available materials and trimmings, the cut of named garments, and how different named garments developed out of one another." The "Round About sections consider the social context of the underwear, what it was like to wear, how it was washed, who made it and where."

The focus is on women's wear, although items for men and for children are included as appropriate, usually for influencing a women's fashion or, more often, the reverse.

* This book is available at Barnes & Noble, Costa Mesa, and other area bookstores.

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