"The Lost Art of Dress" Book Review
"The Lost Art of Dress" by Linda Przybyszedwski, PHD
I will refer to the kind Dr. as Dr. Pski hence forward. Dr. Pski is a professor at Notre Dame, noted historian, and a woman who loves to sew. Don't you just love that combination? She believes she is the only woman to present before the Supreme Court in an outfit of her own making. Our kind of woman, right? In this book she introduces us to the "Dress Doctors", a group made up of retailers, extension agents, home economists, writers and designers. The Doctors taught the nation how to dress for most of the twentieth century. They had rules but it wasn't just about dress either. They insisted that a knowledge of how to dress appropriately was all that was needed, not money or a large wardrobe. In wartime they taught women how to make do and espoused recycling long before the current craze we are now witnessing. Their rules for dress were the rules of Art: harmony, proportion, balance, rhythm and emphasis. They believed in occasion dressing. "Happy" garments were worn in the home while caring for family. In the evenings dinner required a change of dress. The workplace required another, and so on. They taught women how to live with very few garments but they would be quality, well made items of clothing. Variety would be supplied by a varied assortment of cuffs, collars, hats and gloves. Don't you wish we wore gloves again? Love my lovely leather winter gloves but today that is as close as I will get to what the Doctors ordered.
This is a fascinating and entertaining read. What makes it so is Dr. Pski's humor and wit. She is really fun to read. Her account of the Biennial Dress alone is worth the price of the book. What's a Biennial Dress? It was an attempt, one I still find hard to believe, to get all women in America to wear the same dress. This really happened and it was a big deal. It was to encourage thrift. There was a national competition to design it and the design had to be flattering to every shape and size of female. The goal was to own just this one dress and change it up with accessories. I will leave the outcome for you to discover!
Any sewist will appreciate the detail in the garments above. Whiles styles changed detailing continued until the 1960s. At that time dresses morphed to plain little mini dress A lines, a look that had grown women matching the style of their five year old sisters. It was the beginning of the end of great fashion detail and Dr. Pski documents this landslide beautifully.
Dr. Pski takes us from the 1890s to the present as any Dr.'ed historian would. There are details, footnotes , quotes and pictures. Reading it all from the vantage point of 2014 makes it all seem a bit unearthly yet quite entertaining. It is really hard to believe this went on given the state of dress today. But Dr. P provides lots of interesting facts and anecdotes to shed light on this history of garments, their design and construction.
Really fabulous is that this historian is a sewist and can provide an accuracy to her viewpoint that a non sewist couldn't. She talks about the sewing through the decades up until the present with humorous opinions freely expressed. She brings us to the sixties, the Baby Boomers and the end of it all and how that affects what we are making and wearing this very day. We Baby Boomers blew this one as she will prove to you when you read the book. And aren't we paying the price today as an oft described nation of slobs?
Raw edges, unstitched hems, cleavage and poor fit that is seen as the norm today---the Dress Doctors would be looking for the nearest fainting couch. What could have been a really dry college text on fashion history, this book is not. The humor and wit supplied by the doctor make it a thoroughly entertaining read. It really makes you crave a spot in one of her classroom lectures.
Here are a few quotes from the book:
In a description of a 1970s sewing manual, "Clothing Liberation' we have this, "But the piece de resistance of Clothing Liberation consisted of six dish towels sewn together to create a dress. Don't forget to hack a hole for your head. Now you can walk the streets and everyone will want wipe their hands on you. It is a waste of good dish towels."
On cellulite: "The word "cellulite" was introduced to the United States in the late 1960s, when curvaceous women were passed over in favor of underweight teenagers. Vogue magazine wrote of a young woman who had not undertaken an exercise regimen as a teenager, had waited too long to be "diagnosed" for cellulite, and feared it was "too late" to do anything about the disease at the ripe age of twenty two. Fortunately, she had managed to reduce her 39 inch hips down to 34 inches through exercise, "standing correctly", and using "a special rolling pin". If you didn't want to rub your butt yourself, you hired a masseuse to do it for you. "
Dress Doctors Mildred Graves Ryan and Velma Phillips wrote, "Dress is more than practicality. It is the means of expressing your love of beauty and of life". I like that one.
Other links about this book and author:
I highly recommend this book. It is entertaining, easy to read, very informative and explains why we dress the way we are doing today. Yes, this art of dress is lost. Sad thing.........Bunny