In Cesare Vecellio's costume books, Degli Habiti antichi et moderni di diverse parti del mondo (1590) and Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il Mondo (1598), the basic premise of the costume book—that it recorded styles of dress being worn at the moment of publication in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the New World—was challenged by a range of cultural transformations: changes in the style of clothing, the categories of people who wore particular fashions, the disappearance of fashions over time and through political changes, and the infringement of sumptuary laws. Vecellio acknowledges all these changes, often in a tone of regretful melancholy. This essay analyzes the losses he records as he comments on the 430 to 500 woodcuts that make up his books, which, under pressure from historical shifts, call the epistemological claims of the genre into question.

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