Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why'd They Wear That?

Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History 
by Sarah Albee
National Geographic, 2015
ISBN: 9781426319198
Grades 5 and up

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

Sarah Albee's latest nonfiction book for tweens and teens is a fascinating look at the history of fashion through the ages. Why'd They Wear That? is the kind of book you can sit down and read from cover to cover (like I did) or readers may select chapters and passages of interest to read.

Albee explains in the Introduction, "What people wore can tell us about human history because fashion never stands still." There is a plethora of information in the book about fashion, history, society, and religion, Albee organizes the chapters by time periods and uses catchy headings like "Wrapper's Delight," "Dressed to Kill" and "Going for Baroque."

Readers will learn about culture, social classes, religious beliefs and science from this book. For example, purple is considered a royal color because it was so rare. The Phoenicians created Tyrian purple from the mucus of a snail, so it was in short supply. Hundreds of years later, it was still hard to produce purple dyes, so it was only worn by royalty.

The comprehensive book describes the history of armor, undergarments, shoes, makeup, wigs, and much more.  Not only does the book document centuries of fashion, but it explores how and why people wore what they did during each time period and across the continents.

Albee's conversational writing style will appeal to kids.

"Pestered by fleas? You could try a flea fur to rid yourself of those pesky bugs. This solution was popular among Europeans of high rank in the mid-1500s. Here's what you you: Take a small dead animal- head, claws, tail, and all- and drape it jauntily over one of your arms. Then wait for awhile." (p. 64)

By the way, flea furs didn't work as a way of getting rid of fleas. According to the book, fleas are attracted to body heat not fur.

The design and layout of the book are outstanding. The size of the book (9 1/8" x 10 7/8") allows ample space for the numerous photographs and artwork. Fact boxes and sidebars are off-set in colorful blue and yellow, which doesn't interrupt the flow of the main text. The images are effectively placed near text on that that subject. One amazing photograph shows a young woman in an extremely tight corset. On the next page readers will be astonished by a series of four photographs that illustrate how a woman wore a hoop under a dress in 1860.

Albee's extensive research process is evident in her writing and the hundreds of images used in the book. Back matter includes a lengthy bibliography and a list of the images used. Why'd They Wear That is a highly recommended purchase for a school or public library collection, and it would make a fun gift for a middle grade reader.

Other books by Sarah Albee include Bugged: How Insects Changed History and Poop Happened!: A History of the Wold from the Bottom Up.


  1. Awesome review of a cool book! Who doesn't love history with humor?

  2. This looks great. Fashion is a big topic of interest for my daughter, but it's been hard for her to find books about historic fashion. This looks perfect!