Good Reading: “The Fashions of Fiction from Pamela to Gatsby”


Book Review by Kathy A. Megyeri

Since 2007, Karin J. Bohleke, Ph.D. has served as the director of the Fashion Archives and Museum of Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, PA. An avid seamstress, embroiderer and lace maker since childhood, she’s studied vintage clothing styles by creating highly accurate reproduction clothing. She and her husband also collect vintage clothing and fashion magazines in French and English, and use their resources to teach others about American material culture.

As a member of the Costume Society of America, Bohleke pursues her interests in historic fashions, needle arts, languages, social dance, and 19th-century women’s travel accounts, and assists in identifying and dating of nineteenth-century photographs of women and evaluating and dating the costume collections.

What will endear her most to readers is her lavishly photographed and researched book of the exhibit entitled “The Fashions of Fiction from Pamela to Gatsby,” where she brings together the two loves from her academic life: historic costume and classic literature. (“Pamela’s” 18th century gown is part of Shippensburg University’s collection.)

Note perhaps the passage in “Madam Bovary” where she holds out to the fire her foot clad in a small black boot – and see illustrated a pair of the side-lacing boots (“bottines” in French) that were popular in the 1840s, the time period of the classic novel.

In Fitzgerald’s 1923 novel “The Great Gatsby,” Gatsby purchases a dress for his guest Lucile that would cost approximately $3,858 today. The lavish gowns pictured in Bohleke’s book certainly fit that description of French fashion, luxury, and high prices!

We suggest browsing the original novels in one hand and “The Fashions of Fiction” in the other, which brings famous literary characters to life by illustrating how clothing enhances the authors’ character development and context. Amazing!

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