Scandinavia is from the National Costume Reference series by Marion Sichel. Since it was about Scandinavia I of course picked it out of the pile at work meant for recycling. It was a library discard for a couple of reasons: it was from 1987 (and thus still had references to the Soviet Union) and hardly anyone had taken it out in the last three years. It featured examples of the national dress from the four Scandinavian countries, Finland, Lapland as well as Greenland and the Faroe Islands. There were no photos and all the illustrations were drawings, and all of them quite awful, but aside from the front cover and a short centre spread which were in colour, all the other drawings were in black and white. In spite of my interest in this region of Europe I found the descriptions of clothing styles with only black and white references to be a very boring read. I cannot imagine that a book published in 2015 about the national costumes of various nations wouldn’t be illustrated with anything but colour photographs. So maybe if I had read this book 28 years ago I wouldn’t have been so bored, but on the other hand, who’d find black and white drawings interesting if you knew from the centre spread that there was a colour option available? Perhaps such a book–a reference book after all–was not meant to be read cover to cover, so the repetition in clothing descriptions (made even worse by having colourless drawings) inspired more yawning than awe. No illustrator was identified and thankfully so, for the drawings were haunting in that all of the facial expressions were depicted using pointillism. This effect only served to make each figure look like a Nordic Quasimodo with acromegaly.

I learned more about bodices and plastrons than I could ever imagine. I found the dresses of Fanø, Denmark to be the most interesting of all in that they resembled niqabs. Facial covering was required to protect the face from blowing sand. Almost all the countries had variations among their styles, with varying patterns and colours used, often to denote a woman’s marital status. However Iceland really had no variation in its styles and in Greenland the clothes were designed to be worn by either sex. What might be considered fey in the 21st century was common for men in Scandinavia: the wearing of pom-poms at the end of their britches.

I can see why my library withdrew Scandinavia from its collection, and I will not be keeping this book in my collection either.

The styles of Fanø, Denmark

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