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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Art of Dress

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America StylishThe Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nowadays clothing is cheap, plentiful, and ephemeral: wear it for a season and get something new.  That was not the case a century ago.  Up until the 1950's, whether they sewed their clothing, had it sewn for them, or bought ready-to-wear, American women's wardrobes spanned seasons and years.

Linda Przybyszewski tells the story of the Dress Doctors, the pioneering home economists who advised generations of American women how to get from fashion (what designers proposed) to style (adaption to suit the individual). What neckline flatters a round, oval, or heart-shaped face? Update a plain wool dress by changing the collar and cuffs!  Foundation garments can make all the difference. Construction details--plackets and pleats, matching plaids and finished seams--are noticeable.  There was a distinct difference between clothing for girls and teens and clothing for adult women, and fashion favored the latter.

The era of the Dress Doctors ended in the 1960's when mod and youthful became the keywords, with fashions designed for Twiggy-thin bodies. Przybyszewski acknowledges that current fashion has convenience but she encourages less-is-more and quality over quantity.

If only all scholarly books were written with such spriteliness! If you are interested in women's history, home economics, or the evolution of fashion design, add this to your must-read list.

P.S. Kudos to Przybyszewski for writing: "If you cannot walk more than a block in your shoes, they are not shoes; they are pretty sculptures that you happen to have attached to your feet. You could hang them from your wrists for all the good they are doing you in terms of locomotion. Better to put them on a shelf and admire them from afar."

The author teaches at Notre Dame. Here's her blog: http://professorpski.tumblr.com/ -- lots of vintage fashion photos and commentary.


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