Dress in Anglo-Saxon England by Gale R. Owen-Crocker is a marvelous book. Piecing together a visual history of the Anglo-Saxons is very difficult because Old English texts don’t have the lavish descriptions of clothing common to medieval romances and little textile evidence survives. Dress puts together archeological evidence, artistic evidence, and textual evidence to make some summaries about what the Anglo-Saxons wore, accompanied by comparison to Scandinavian and Celtic evidence where necessary. The book is prefaced with a brief historical overview so the reader has a context for the book’s main content.
Dress has extensive records of materials and designs accompanied by many illustrations. This book was originally published in 1986, but realizing that many people use this book for costuming purposes, Owen-Crocker has included information on how to wear historical costumes in this updated version. Owen-Crocker has even modified some research on the basis of advice from historical costume reproducers, such as the idea that wrist clasps are terribly uncomfortable for working, so Anglo-Saxon women would likely have rolled up their sleeves for work and worn wrist clasps only on social occasions.
Much of the evidence for Dress comes from grave goods. Reading the catalogues of personal items does get a little tedious, but it is also a wealth of information not only for dress, but also religious development. The type of items carried by men, women, and children also gives insight as to their positions in society and the items most treasured by or most useful to a man or woman of the period.
Dress is divided chronologically, which allows it to trace clothing development by period. Men’s and women’s clothing are discussed separately. Each chapter is divided by types of clothing (for example, shoes versus hair), and divided geographically where necessary. Footnotes are extensive, as is the bibliography. One may easily use this book both for research and for producing costumes with a great deal of accuracy. One warning is necessary—it rarely mentions armor, so if you’re interested in the dress of warfare, this isn’t your book.
I feel the need to include a comment that has no relevance to this review, but has been a point of conversation with my colleagues who have seen this book. It’s really heavy. I don’t know why. Perhaps the paper is very thick. Perhaps the cover is very dense material. Regardless, it’s remarkably heavy for a book of its size. I’ll take it as a sign of important knowledge.
Table of Contents
- List of illustrations
- Introduction to the revised edition
- A historical framework
- Women’s costume in the fifth and sixth centuries
- Men’s costume in the fifth and sixth centuries
- Women’s costume from the seventh to the ninth centuries
- Men’s costume from the seventh to the ninth centuries
- Women’s costume in the tenth and eleventh centuries
- Men’s costume in the tenth and eleventh centuries
- Textiles and textile production
- The significance of dress
- Appendix A: Old English garment-names
- Appendix B: A possible cutting plan for an eleventh century gown (Robin Netherton)