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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Dressed by Claire Regnault

This is an exquisite book, from its tactile padded cover, stunning black & white and colour images, through to the detail of a pink bookmark ribbon; Dressed is a book to savour slowly.

Claire Regnault is known as the @dressdetectiveagency on Instagram, and she is also the senior curator of New Zealand histories and cultures at Te Papa. What a fabulous job she has done with Dressed. As well as over 300 images of colonial dresses from 1840 to 1910 in Aotearoa New Zealand, the book teems with the fascinating lives of society women, businesswomen and civic figures. It’s a brilliant way to bring the featured dresses to life, as women go to balls, get married, have children and go about their lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the chapters in the book, but a standout is the chapter on balls, with the most gorgeous dresses featured. But also of great interest was the rites of passage, especially the widows in mourning and what they were expected to wear for the next two and half years. I also enjoyed the way local Maori would often wear European clothing to completely suit themselves, even it might raise a few eyebrows. It was interesting how women were so clever at adapting a dress to suit different needs, making a dress work from daywear to night-time, through pregnancies and nursing their babies.

There is a stunning section in the middle of the book, which has a sampler of nineteenth-century fabrics from Te Papa’s collections and fashion spreads from magazines of the time. The fabrics are incredible – there is nothing dull about any of them – they are colourful and beautifully textured.

Dressed brings to life fashionable dresses and their wearers in New Zealand from 1840 to 1910 with a great deal of style with stunning photographs and lively text.

Reviewer: Karen McMillan

Te Papa Press, RRP $70.00


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