If you’re interested in dancing or dress, you’ll like this book. In The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780–1830
, Judith Chazin-Bennahum, dancer turned scholar, explores the connections between what was worn on the stage and on the street during the evolution of the French ballet from the end of the baroque period to the dawn of the romantic era. Her examination is thorough, drawing on the simultaneous influences—political, social, and artistic—inevitably brought to bear on costume. A chapter on the neoclassical period, for instance—when a new concept of dress liberated the woman’s body from confinement and wrapped it in the flowing robes of the ancients—draws on history, sociology, philosophy, literature, and the visual arts, even prevailing moral values. Chazin-Bennahum is persistent rather than vigorous in arguing her theories, and unlike the wardrobes it describes, her writing lacks panache. But her style is accessible—a rarity in scholarly work—and her personal fascination with her subject is apparent and contagious. Simply through scrupulous descriptions of what people wore, she brings social and theatrical milieus alive.