Having thought long and hard on this one, I have decided not to recommend a “classic” historical sewing or costume book for this prompt. Generally I love working with “Patterns of Fashion”. Having drafted the 1630s stays and two other garments from it, I am in love with Janet Arnold’s works and detailed writing. But we all know the series is great already, right? ;)
So today I have picked a little gem that seems to go overlooked a lot. It is an extant book I stumbled across in an online library. Archives like these, especially Gallica and the Library of Congress, are my guilty pleasure. Sometimes I spend whole evenings there, just going on treasure hunts. This is how I found the “Manuel des dames” by Mademoiselle Clenart.
As the title suggests, it is written in French and no, there are no drawings in it. For a not-so-advanced French speaker like myself this can make reading the book a bit tricky and even some native speakers get puzzled with some of the expressions used by the author.
But still, this book is great. The second edition found online dates to 1833, but it is a re-print of an edition published at least 10 to 15 years earlier. So it is sort of a “style guide” for the savvy late-Empire lady. It has everything from potion, powder and soap recipes to washing directions for period fabrics as well as advice on etiquette and fashionable dress. I especially love the corsetry chapter, which offers advice on different corsets, stays and belts for every occasion. This includes a section on maternity stays and directions to add fan-lacing to a pair of stays. I used the advice when making my morning belt last year.
Despite the “language barrier”, I recommend this book to everyone interested in early 19th-century costume or just curious about reading extant sources. You can download a PDF of this book here on Gallica. Enjoy!