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"A tribute to a time when style -- and maybe even life -- felt more straightforward, and however arbitrary, there were definitive answers." -- Sadie Stein, Paris Review As a glance down any street in America quickly reveals, American women have forgotten how to dress. We lack the fashion know-how we need to dress professionally and beautifully. In The Lost Art of Dress, hi "A tribute to a time when style -- and maybe even life -- felt more straightforward, and however arbitrary, there were definitive answers." -- Sadie Stein, Paris Review As a glance down any street in America quickly reveals, American women have forgotten how to dress. We lack the fashion know-how we need to dress professionally and beautifully. In The Lost Art of Dress, historian and dressmaker Linda Przybyszewski reveals that this wasn't always true. In the first half of the twentieth century, a remarkable group of women -- the so-called Dress Doctors -- taught American women that knowledge, not money, was key to a beautiful wardrobe. They empowered women to design, make, and choose clothing for both the workplace and the home. Armed with the Dress Doctors' simple design principles -- harmony, proportion, balance, rhythm, emphasis -- modern American women from all classes learned to dress for all occasions in ways that made them confident, engaged members of society. A captivating and beautifully illustrated look at the world of the Dress Doctors, The Lost Art of Dress introduces a new audience to their timeless rules of fashion and beauty -- rules which, with a little help, we can certainly learn again.


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"A tribute to a time when style -- and maybe even life -- felt more straightforward, and however arbitrary, there were definitive answers." -- Sadie Stein, Paris Review As a glance down any street in America quickly reveals, American women have forgotten how to dress. We lack the fashion know-how we need to dress professionally and beautifully. In The Lost Art of Dress, hi "A tribute to a time when style -- and maybe even life -- felt more straightforward, and however arbitrary, there were definitive answers." -- Sadie Stein, Paris Review As a glance down any street in America quickly reveals, American women have forgotten how to dress. We lack the fashion know-how we need to dress professionally and beautifully. In The Lost Art of Dress, historian and dressmaker Linda Przybyszewski reveals that this wasn't always true. In the first half of the twentieth century, a remarkable group of women -- the so-called Dress Doctors -- taught American women that knowledge, not money, was key to a beautiful wardrobe. They empowered women to design, make, and choose clothing for both the workplace and the home. Armed with the Dress Doctors' simple design principles -- harmony, proportion, balance, rhythm, emphasis -- modern American women from all classes learned to dress for all occasions in ways that made them confident, engaged members of society. A captivating and beautifully illustrated look at the world of the Dress Doctors, The Lost Art of Dress introduces a new audience to their timeless rules of fashion and beauty -- rules which, with a little help, we can certainly learn again.

30 review for The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    The Lost Art of Dress is a difficult book for me to review. I requested it from the publisher because I have an interest in sewing. What I got was something much more in depth than I was expecting. Linda Przybyszewski sets out to create a history of dress in the 20th century. More than that, she sets out to discuss what she calls "The Dress Doctors," the women who wrote books and pamphlets to set the standards of American dress in the early 20th century. She goes into great detail about Home Econ The Lost Art of Dress is a difficult book for me to review. I requested it from the publisher because I have an interest in sewing. What I got was something much more in depth than I was expecting. Linda Przybyszewski sets out to create a history of dress in the 20th century. More than that, she sets out to discuss what she calls "The Dress Doctors," the women who wrote books and pamphlets to set the standards of American dress in the early 20th century. She goes into great detail about Home Economics programs in colleges, and how they enabled women to attend and graduate universities at a time when it was not always accepted. The author shows her academic credentials with a well researched account of their influence on the average woman. I was very interested to see the advice of such women as Mary Brooks Picken (I have several of her sewing manuals) and her peers. Where I varied from the author was in her dislike for the way that women dress today. I certainly understand the desire for beautiful clothes when you are over 30 (as I am) but I cannot agree that women today are being particularly immodest. The feminist part of me dislikes the implied judgement. Nostalgia is well and good, and I do love a vintage dress, but I'm not sure that we should be quite so nostalgic for a time when women were seen to be largely ornamental. I'm pretty sure that I would rather be allowed to wear what I like, rather than be subject to a strict set of dictates on what length my skirt should be. It was a mixed bag for me overall, but I decided to give a positive review. The fashion illustrations and the discussions on the economy of sewing were fascinating. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the fashions of the average woman.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katarina

    If you have any interest in fashion, then you have to read this. If you have any interest in the art of dress making or sewing, then you have to read this. If you have any interest in historical development, great illustrations, funny and at the same time informative writing, then you have to read this. This book is like a biography of dress.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    The Lost Art of Dress is about the women "The Dress Doctors" who helped set the standards of fashion in the early 1900's and through the decades that followed. It is called a "lost art" because the baby boomer generation of the 1960's threw out the ideals and principles of fashion (harmony, rhythm, balance, proportion, and emphasis) and we haven't regained the art of dressing ourselves. I really enjoyed the early chapters which explained some of the art behind fashion. The colors, lines, texture The Lost Art of Dress is about the women "The Dress Doctors" who helped set the standards of fashion in the early 1900's and through the decades that followed. It is called a "lost art" because the baby boomer generation of the 1960's threw out the ideals and principles of fashion (harmony, rhythm, balance, proportion, and emphasis) and we haven't regained the art of dressing ourselves. I really enjoyed the early chapters which explained some of the art behind fashion. The colors, lines, textures and such that went into making a well made dress. But it didn't only apply to dress but also to other homemaking skills as well. These Dress Doctors were instrumental in getting home economics classes going in schools and taught young girls how to run home and "keep her family safe from germs, poor nutrition, and shoddy good, and to offer her the insights of business efficiency to make the most of her time and energy". It wasn't only about dressing nicely but about a whole perspecive on life. I found myself highlighting many great lines or quotes as I read this book. Here are a few: "I have seen women who spend very small amounts on their clothes but who plan them carefully, frequently look better-dressed than women who waste a great deal of money and buy foolishly and without good taste" Eleanor Roosevelt during the great depression. "It is just as stupid to dress your body in ugly clothes as it is to fill your mind with cheap and ugly literature". A millianar at the University of Chicago 1925 I loved the concervative views of the author and felt like she was right about how lost we are now in our dress. I look at what the kids wear to high school or what you see in fashion magazines now and agree that societies "rejection of the art principles" has done us in. I totally agreed with the author when she says: "Mothers need to draw the line for daughters who do not appreciate that girlhood is a wonderful and beautiful stage in their lives, a stage that should not be shortened prematurely". Shopping for clothes for my daughters is difficult because what is available, especially for my pre-teen daughter, is either far too adult or covered in ugly text or images that neither of us appreciate. I really enjoyed reading this book and learned a bit more about the history of fashion and home economics. I appreciated the illustrations scattered throughout the book. While those fashions looked very dated I can see the principles of art and design and how much more sophistocated the clothes were. I feel like I need to reevaluate what I have in my closet and see where I can add a few more well chosen pieces and throw out some of the junk that I have hanging there. I recieved this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Lavishly illustrated, this is a social and cultural history of the experts who educated American women about dress from the turn of the century into the 1960s--through home economics (often a safe space for women in science), USDA outreach programs like 4-H and the commercial pattern books and magazines. These experts wanted women to look good, be smart consumers, be confident working sewing machines and doing repairs, work with their bodies and age gracefully. Of course, the 1960s ruined everyt Lavishly illustrated, this is a social and cultural history of the experts who educated American women about dress from the turn of the century into the 1960s--through home economics (often a safe space for women in science), USDA outreach programs like 4-H and the commercial pattern books and magazines. These experts wanted women to look good, be smart consumers, be confident working sewing machines and doing repairs, work with their bodies and age gracefully. Of course, the 1960s ruined everything.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    I received a copy of this book free from the publisher on Netgalley. This book had a lot of potential to be a wonderful history book, but unfortunately it fell quite short. The topic is a "middle-down" look at fashion history by studying the elements of dress not through the conventional records like fashion plates in magazines, but instead a study of American dress as taught by various Home Economists in junior high through college textbooks, as well as in pamphlets and lectures from Land Grant I received a copy of this book free from the publisher on Netgalley. This book had a lot of potential to be a wonderful history book, but unfortunately it fell quite short. The topic is a "middle-down" look at fashion history by studying the elements of dress not through the conventional records like fashion plates in magazines, but instead a study of American dress as taught by various Home Economists in junior high through college textbooks, as well as in pamphlets and lectures from Land Grant college extension services targeted at non-student women. I am an enthusiast of further academic study of the history of the rise and fall of Home Economics in America, it's a vastly under-explored area of women's history, and oddly enough through my work I've had the chance to study some of original documents she referenced in the book (the records of the Home Economics department of UIUC, and the personal papers of Isabel Bevier), so I was very excited to see a new entry to this field. Unfortunately the author insists on a shrill, sanctimonious tone when comparing every element of these past fashions with the (ghastly! slovenly! shameful!) dress of today, which makes the book hard to take seriously. While I wouldn't mind this sort of thing on a blog, or a Vogue magazine article, or in a popular book on How to Dress, I'm frankly ashamed to see this sort of nonsense in a book written by an actual academic historian. This retro-worshipping midcentury nostalgia mixed with moaning about the evils of the present day really has no business in a history book, and will sadly keep this book from being taken seriously by other historians. I have no doubt some student doing a historiography paper in 30 years will find this book a great study in generational anxiety and the framing of history. However, this book does present some very high quality research on how a small group of women, who were not designers, or socialites, or even salespeople, still had a large (and arguably positive) influence on the way American women dressed from the turn of the century until the 1960s. If you can get past the foibles of the author's opinions, this is a decent (and well illustrated) book on an unexpected area of fashion history.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Portia

    Being a woman of a certain age (82) probably helped me enjoy this book at a level a younger reader may not. I remember Home Ec and the apron we all made. I remember so many of the fashions pictured. However it might do the younger reader good to learn that looking young isn't all there is to selecting what to wear. A return to some of the principles of the Dress Doctors might not be a bad idea. I recommend this book!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin Cohn

    As a historical text, this book is a disaster. I am almost done with a PhD in dress history, so you could say this is a topic I have some knowledge about. If Przybyszewski had stuck to the history, this would have been a strong book. She is a sufficiently good writer of history, and I found the history of the "Dress Doctors," to be well done. yet, it is full of gems like the quote below: "Strapless wedding gowns first appeared in the 1950s, giving them some historical standing, but a strapless we As a historical text, this book is a disaster. I am almost done with a PhD in dress history, so you could say this is a topic I have some knowledge about. If Przybyszewski had stuck to the history, this would have been a strong book. She is a sufficiently good writer of history, and I found the history of the "Dress Doctors," to be well done. yet, it is full of gems like the quote below: "Strapless wedding gowns first appeared in the 1950s, giving them some historical standing, but a strapless wedding dress remains an oxymoron. The point of a strapless dress is to make every man in the room hope to see it fall off. . . . The point of a wedding however, is for two people to plight their troth, and their bodies, to each other alone. Even if a woman would like to say 'nyah, nyah!' to certain men in the room, this is an urge to be stifled." Oh boy. Where to begin with this one. The heteronormativity! The slut-shaming! First of all, strapless wedding dresses are most likely common because they are simpler to design and cheaper to produce. Second, does it really matter if all (straight) men were imagining the dress falling off? Studies have found that some men will imagine women naked even if they are wearing a burka, so I hardly thing that is a convincing argument. However, Przybyszewski utterly fails as a good historian in this book because she effectively writes hagiographies regarding how wonderful these women were, and how good their taste was compared to what followed starting in the 1960s when society fell apart. Every writer has a perspective, and I am all for transparency, but she failed to interrogate her opinions. "Good taste" is a construct, and however much I might personally be averse to, say, strapless wedding gowns or micro-minis, that is my opinion. She fails to make a convincing argument for the universality of good taste. Even worse, she makes the fatal error of conflating dressing in a sexy manner with being promiscuous.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kris - My Novelesque Life

    THE LOST ART OF DRESS: THE WOMEN WHI ONCE MADE AMERICA STYLISH Written by Linda Przybyszewski 2014, 347 Pages Genre: fashion, art, history, nonfiction (I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY in exchange for an honest review.) ★★★★ I have been reading this book on and off from the past several months. It's a book I have been reading when I have just a few minutes to read (like grocery line-up, waiting at the doctors, etc). It is a book you can put down but also want to pick back up. I like how the author THE LOST ART OF DRESS: THE WOMEN WHI ONCE MADE AMERICA STYLISH Written by Linda Przybyszewski 2014, 347 Pages Genre: fashion, art, history, nonfiction (I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY in exchange for an honest review.) ★★★★ I have been reading this book on and off from the past several months. It's a book I have been reading when I have just a few minutes to read (like grocery line-up, waiting at the doctors, etc). It is a book you can put down but also want to pick back up. I like how the author takes us on a historical journey of women through fashion. What clothing meant for women - more than just a statement of fashion but of the times.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    **I received a review copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways.** Reading the publisher's description of this book, I expected it to be more a collective biography of the women who helped shape America's fashion sense in the twentieth century. While not at all what I expected in that regard, The Lost Art of Dress was a very interesting read. Przybyszewski has created a book very like the lost field of Home Economics: something at once scholarly and down-to-earth. She provides a very thorough cu **I received a review copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways.** Reading the publisher's description of this book, I expected it to be more a collective biography of the women who helped shape America's fashion sense in the twentieth century. While not at all what I expected in that regard, The Lost Art of Dress was a very interesting read. Przybyszewski has created a book very like the lost field of Home Economics: something at once scholarly and down-to-earth. She provides a very thorough cultural history of middle-class dress in America, and shows how the lessons taught by the Dress Doctors can (and should!) still be put to use today. I was especially impressed by and thankful that she had the courage to question the "all sexy, all the time" aesthetic so popular today. Female empowerment does not equal nakedness! The book is copiously illustrated, though there are a few cases where a picture is missing where it would be most helpful (particularly some of the "Before and After" photo spreads she discusses). Her descriptions are very thorough, though, and I imagine the lack of illustration is probably due to trouble getting the rights to reprint. Once the actual book is published, I'm considering trading in my proof copy, so that I can see the inserts in color!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    DNF So it seems that most people liked this book so I'll keep my negativity short. I was interested in this book because I thought it would have been a social history of dress; and it was a bit, but the author also butted in a lot, clearly expecting you to agree with some points rather than others. I just really didn't want her opinion in here, especially because I disagreed with is to frequently. She seemed so anti-self expression. I also think she could have used some illustrative pictures. The DNF So it seems that most people liked this book so I'll keep my negativity short. I was interested in this book because I thought it would have been a social history of dress; and it was a bit, but the author also butted in a lot, clearly expecting you to agree with some points rather than others. I just really didn't want her opinion in here, especially because I disagreed with is to frequently. She seemed so anti-self expression. I also think she could have used some illustrative pictures. There are two colour photo supplements and a few bw pics in the text, but they all seem to be a random selection of fashion of days past. There were times when she was talking about a particular garment (ie the hobble skirt) and there was no image. PS here is an annoying quote "The teenagers with the lowest self-esteem today are the same ones who usually shine as the academic stars of the school: Asian Americans".

  11. 5 out of 5

    Miki

    This is a very interesting look at how American women have lost their sense of elegance and femininity in the art of dressing. By "femininity" I don't mean ruffles and lace and swooning heroines. I mean the sense of ourselves as women, different from men, and at ease- but never "easy"! - with it. The author also takes issue with the conspicuous consumption of a society that is encouraged to spend a quarter of its disposable income on clothing that is faddish and unbecoming, not to mention shoddi This is a very interesting look at how American women have lost their sense of elegance and femininity in the art of dressing. By "femininity" I don't mean ruffles and lace and swooning heroines. I mean the sense of ourselves as women, different from men, and at ease- but never "easy"! - with it. The author also takes issue with the conspicuous consumption of a society that is encouraged to spend a quarter of its disposable income on clothing that is faddish and unbecoming, not to mention shoddily made. Anyway, I liked it - it made me want to go out and acquire an new wardrobe that made me look elegant, with hats and gloves to match. And pearls.

  12. 5 out of 5

    raffaela

    Update 11/29/19: Upping my rating from four to five stars because this book changed how I see dress and got me interested in sewing and vintage clothing (and now I am obsessed). I'm so glad I found this. 4/14/19: Part history book, part style guide, The Lost Art of Dress details how the "Dress Doctors," or women who worked in the Home Economics branches of universities and wrote textbooks for students, set a standard for style for women in the first fifty or so years of the twentieth century. Ess Update 11/29/19: Upping my rating from four to five stars because this book changed how I see dress and got me interested in sewing and vintage clothing (and now I am obsessed). I'm so glad I found this. 4/14/19: Part history book, part style guide, The Lost Art of Dress details how the "Dress Doctors," or women who worked in the Home Economics branches of universities and wrote textbooks for students, set a standard for style for women in the first fifty or so years of the twentieth century. Essentially, they took the basic principles of good art (harmony, rhythm, balance, proportion, and emphasis) and applied it to dress as criteria for what made clothing good or bad. Through their textbooks and sewing patterns, they taught millions of girls and women how to dress themselves and their families well on a budget. Much of what we'd call "vintage" fashion comes directly from their good taste. Of course, this is The *Lost* Art of Dress, and the latter part of the book details how the rise of feminism and art movements that rebelled against the art principles (think Jackson Pollock, for example) caused a widespread abandonment of the good taste of the Dress Doctors, and we are still suffering some of the consequences. I'd recommend this book to any woman who wants to learn how to dress better, is interested in the history of style, or even someone who wants to understand how rebellions like feminism and modern art have affected how we dress.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    While the subject matter was interesting, I found the author's narrative voice highly annoying ...I'm not sure if her intent was to copy the tone of her "Dress Doctor" subjects, but I found the tone somewhat condescending and overly didactic. I also found the narrative repetitive; this could have been about half the length and still just as effective.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Eustacia Tan

    I admit, I never used to pay attention to clothes. Sure, there are people who dress nicely, but in Singapore, it's perfectly normal to walk out in fbts and a t-shirt. Since I've come to Japan though, I've become a bit more presentable. Everyone here dresses really well, with a distinction between home clothes and clothes you wear outside. Come to think of it, ever since I came to Fukuoka and spent my time mostly with Japanese friends, I've actually developed an interest in fashion. But I've got n I admit, I never used to pay attention to clothes. Sure, there are people who dress nicely, but in Singapore, it's perfectly normal to walk out in fbts and a t-shirt. Since I've come to Japan though, I've become a bit more presentable. Everyone here dresses really well, with a distinction between home clothes and clothes you wear outside. Come to think of it, ever since I came to Fukuoka and spent my time mostly with Japanese friends, I've actually developed an interest in fashion. But I've got nothing compared to the American women before the 1960s. In The Lost Art of Dress, the author posits that American women of the past were better dressed than American women now. Since I'm not American, I have no idea if this is true or not. But, it's an interesting idea and resulted in a really interestingreddit discussion This book talks about who the Dress Doctors were, what their principles for fashion were, what clothes and dressing was like in the past, and how people economised in the past. Of course, since the Dress Doctors are a concept that we've never heard off before, it makes sense that there was some kind of revolt, and yes, the book does talk about the revolt against the Dress Doctors. Although this is a history book, the focus is on how dressing used to be. Yes, there's a little bit of discussion about how there was racism in this dress-industry (there is mention of segregation, and of how all the non-white people were lumped into a group), but that is not the emphasis of the book. I suppose since this book explores the history of the dress doctors, and not a social critique, it makes sense that it didn't really address what the dress doctors themselves ignored. Personally, I think the principles that the dress doctors taught were quite interesting. The idea of wearing what suits your age, of economising, of making sure your clothes fit the activity, those are things that I agree with. Even though I'm not that big a fan of vintage. But since the book has a lot of pictures (although they are clumped together into a few core groups), I got a slight interest in vintage fashion. But since there's no clear pictorial timeline, I went and found a slide-show of (American) fashion through the ages, just so that I could have a clearer idea of what vintage fashion is like. I think that I like the 1950s the best, but that's because I really love full skirts. I don't wear them enough though. I'm not sure why, but I like this housecoat.  This looks timeless. Although it's a too old for me right now.  This is a really interesting and informative book. I'm definitely buying a copy for myself once I've saved up some money. If you want more about this book, I found a video and article over at Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. This review was first posted at Inside the mind of a Bibliophile

  15. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I don't usually write reviews here, preferring to read or knit with these precious minutes. But I must say a few things about this book. I loved the first half of the book, and gave it 5 stars at that point. But when Ms. Przybyszewski reached the decade of the 1960s, she really lost it, in my opinion. Over and over, she states that quality and style in clothing completely fell apart in the '60s. I was a teenager in the late '60s and remember LOVING bright colors and mini-skirts (which needed to I don't usually write reviews here, preferring to read or knit with these precious minutes. But I must say a few things about this book. I loved the first half of the book, and gave it 5 stars at that point. But when Ms. Przybyszewski reached the decade of the 1960s, she really lost it, in my opinion. Over and over, she states that quality and style in clothing completely fell apart in the '60s. I was a teenager in the late '60s and remember LOVING bright colors and mini-skirts (which needed to be shortened frequently to keep up with the changing styles). And NO - my mother, school teachers, and other adult women I knew did NOT wear these new styles, which were obviously for young people. Who besides a 92 lb. high school student could successfully wear plaid hip-hugger bell bottoms with a wide, curved white patent leather belt? I made many of my own clothes after taking an excellent Singer sewing class at the age of 12, and continued to use Vogue Designer patterns all through the '60s and '70s. I made a bright red, wide-wale corduroy suit, fully lined with apple green, for school; it had a short straight skirt and a longer jacket with lapels, working pockets, buttonholes, and a topstitched belt. I wore it with a striped cotton turtleneck incorporating all the colors (red, apple green, chocolate brown, dull gold) and opaque chocolate brown tights and matching shoes, to balance the shortness of the skirt. Also in high school, I made a gorgeous sleeveless dress from fine Italian cotton ottoman (also red!), which had squared-off armholes, an asymmetrical front closure, a wide, curved matching belt that sat just above the waist, working pockets, pleats, and many bound buttonholes and double-covered buttons (with matching rims). The Vogue Designer pattern included 18 pattern pieces for a sleeveless dress! This book completely insults those of us who came of age in the '60s and loved the freedom to create our own looks, while continuing to sew beautifully. Years later, in the early 1990s, I used my sewing and knitting skills to land a job as a Threads Magazine editor, where I stayed for 10 years, eventually writing a book of my own, Sewing Lingerie That Fits. Everyone on the Threads staff sewed amazing garments, including David Page Coffin, who wrote the book on shirtmaking and designed and sewed his own beautiful pants, with unique custom pocket flaps. Unless you were just trying to reinforce your narrow argument that all fine sewing disappeared after the horrid '60s arrived, many of the home economics departments closed, and the Dress Doctors ceased their stuffy decrees, why did your book not even mention Threads Magazine, with its 100,000-plus readership of passionate sewing afficionados? After the book fell off the '60s cliff, it because very repetitive. A good editor could've cut giant chunks from the text. Yet even with all my objections, I appreciate the book for showing me the connections between the wonderful early Dress Doctors, Threads, and my own love of fashion and sewing. And I still give the book 4 stars. I too miss the fact that most every small town in America once had a fabric store filled with beautiful Italian wools, French silk chiffon, and fine cottons, and offered wonderful classes. And that unique designer sewing patterns with beautiful details once served as individual sewing classes, if you took your time and followed the detailed and illustrated instructions.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Holly McIntyre

    If you've ever looked at a photo of your mother or grandmother and wondered how she managed to look so chic in her neat suit and jaunty hat, this book will help you understand how she did it. Prezybyszewski presents a history of American fashion in the first six decades of the twentieth century. She introduces us to the "dress doctors," mostly female academics in university departments of Home Economics, who preached a gospel of thrift, fashion, and self-help that set the course of girls' educat If you've ever looked at a photo of your mother or grandmother and wondered how she managed to look so chic in her neat suit and jaunty hat, this book will help you understand how she did it. Prezybyszewski presents a history of American fashion in the first six decades of the twentieth century. She introduces us to the "dress doctors," mostly female academics in university departments of Home Economics, who preached a gospel of thrift, fashion, and self-help that set the course of girls' education across the U.S. Their ideas and the copious illustrations will fascinate students of both fashion and women's social history. The book is not without flaws. At times it veers into both flippancy and pedantry. A more even authorial tone would have been less annoying. The author's antipathy to all fashion past 1960 runs as a loud motif throughout the book. Nevertheless, the information provided is useful and fascinating, well-worth reading.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    4.5 stars. A fascinating, entertaining and enlightening book, showing how the stylists and clothing designers of decades ago achieved their classic results: by applying the basic principles of art to the humbler but equally creative art of clothing design. Longer review to come later!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Intriguing look at 20th century American fashion, with a special focus on the Dress Doctors, government-funded home economists who dispensed home and clothing advice during the first half of the century. Looking back at that era, I think the fashion world greatly benefited from these ladies and I wish we could bring some of their fashion principles back into style! (The author definitely agrees!)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura (Kyahgirl)

    3.5/5; 4 stars; A- This book is hard for me to rate. In terms of the sheer amount of research the author did and the density of information between the covers, I'd give it a 5 but I found myself getting a bit bored with it and lost within the sheer number of names and dates and quotes and vignettes so knocked the rating down a bit. I think what happened was that the topic and the way the author handled it was too broad for the purpose of the book. I admire her for the trying to tackle a subject t 3.5/5; 4 stars; A- This book is hard for me to rate. In terms of the sheer amount of research the author did and the density of information between the covers, I'd give it a 5 but I found myself getting a bit bored with it and lost within the sheer number of names and dates and quotes and vignettes so knocked the rating down a bit. I think what happened was that the topic and the way the author handled it was too broad for the purpose of the book. I admire her for the trying to tackle a subject that encompasses not only historical aspects of style and women's fashion, but more importantly, the social and cultural issues surrounding it. There are whole libraries devoted to gender roles and evolution of society in North America and the aspect of the 'art of dress' is only one important facet that weaves throughout the story. This book is an excellent starting point for someone who wants to follow the various information trails and delve more deeply into different areas of this vast topic. I really enjoyed looking up some of the people introduced in the book, mostly women who were instrumental in developing Home Economics as an important area of study starting in the 20th century. And really, its a sad state of affairs that Home Economics has become synonymous with cooking and sewing when, in fact, its all about economics, applied to the home environment. If only the powers that be had been wise enough to teach men as well as women about money management, thriftiness, and how to take care of a family, it might have pushed social change along at a faster rate. As it it, this book touches on the explosion of change that began in the sixties and how much of the Art of Dress was a casualty of that change. It is truly fascinating to learn about and understand the correlations between the early North American agricultural society, the growing government departments devoted to developing and supporting a strong economy, and the impact of the World wars on this society. Because so many of the publications are beyond copyright restrictions you can find them in open libraries such as the the Internet archive . When I think of the US Department of Agriculture I think of things related to farming like seed development, food production, and pest control. Its funny to look in the archive and see all sorts of documents related to things like sewing. That historical tie is well explained in this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karen.s

    This is a multi-discipline look at dress, fashion, and home economics. It's a fascinating read that would be meaty material for a book club. It looks at fashion as was once dictated by home ec mavens: what kinds of clothes and undergarments were needed, how to improve your outlook and appearance with accessories. It laments the lost art of dress: that we chase fads today instead instead of good quality clothes. It looks at the sociological effects of the disappearance of home ec classes: no one This is a multi-discipline look at dress, fashion, and home economics. It's a fascinating read that would be meaty material for a book club. It looks at fashion as was once dictated by home ec mavens: what kinds of clothes and undergarments were needed, how to improve your outlook and appearance with accessories. It laments the lost art of dress: that we chase fads today instead instead of good quality clothes. It looks at the sociological effects of the disappearance of home ec classes: no one knows how to budget, to judge if a garment is well made, that vapid consumerism rose as home ec classes were being cut. Women once dressed for every occasion and wouldn't deign to go grocery shopping in pajama pants or even pants for that matter. The point is offered that if we had kept home ec classes, we might not be in such deep debt. One thing that stood out to me was the explanation as to why young women today have no sense of what is kind of clothes are appropriate in what setting. Again, according to the book, it goes back to no schooling in the art of dress. "Living in an age where the only standard of female attractiveness is hotness, and every detail of life is offered up on Facebook, young women find it normal that the whole world, and not just their boyfriends, mothers and gynecologists, should know the exact shape of their bodies." This is an interesting idea and one that could be hotly debated. Despite how it may sound here, this book is not a conservative rant about the moral decline of women. It's a history and a re-examination of the standards of dress from the past compared with the present. After reading this, I can't help but wonder if the author is right about the effects of the disappearance of home economics. I was probably of the last generation to have mandatory home ec and because of it, and a good mother, I know how to sew and cook. Even if I believe in women having full equal rights, I do think we have lost as a society when our young people can't make the most basic repairs to clothes and can't understand why provocative dress isn't appropriate everywhere, all the time. The final page concludes with a list of ideas from Dress Doctors, the arbiters of good fashion sense throughout the early 20th century. I think we could all benefit from taking much of it to heart today.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nann

    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 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 fro afar."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    I almost finished this book -- it was an interlibrary loan and I had to return it. In any case I reached the section where the author explains why American dress went to hell in a handbasket in the 1960s. As someone who came of age in those years, I can't completely disagree. Remembering when we first saw the Beatles -- people commented on their moptops, but they wore suits to perform (albeit rather fashion-forward ones.) I don't follow pop music now, but occasionally will see a group on TV and I almost finished this book -- it was an interlibrary loan and I had to return it. In any case I reached the section where the author explains why American dress went to hell in a handbasket in the 1960s. As someone who came of age in those years, I can't completely disagree. Remembering when we first saw the Beatles -- people commented on their moptops, but they wore suits to perform (albeit rather fashion-forward ones.) I don't follow pop music now, but occasionally will see a group on TV and they usually are dressed as if about to clean out the garage. Even Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, apparently thinks nothing of preaching in a tshirt and jeans. There are many good things about the more informal dress of today, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. The author is an academic and that shows -- the book is not a breezy romp through several decades of American fashion. But there's a lot of interesting history about home economics as a discipline, and the ways in which it helped women and girls of modest means dress nicely (think dresses made of flour sacks). Although this book isn't for everybody, I would recommend it to people interested in fashion and/or women's history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jackie Zorko-dautovic

    An amazing book . for anyone who has ever worn an item of clothing , Linda explains by introducing the "dress doctors " what influenced the art of fashion in the last 100+ years. At the same time she provides timeless tips from these specialists that can be applied to every individual . A fascinating review of women's history in the universities as the area of home economics was the only area open to women scientists at the time. Gave me a better understanding of the world of my mother and Aunt an An amazing book . for anyone who has ever worn an item of clothing , Linda explains by introducing the "dress doctors " what influenced the art of fashion in the last 100+ years. At the same time she provides timeless tips from these specialists that can be applied to every individual . A fascinating review of women's history in the universities as the area of home economics was the only area open to women scientists at the time. Gave me a better understanding of the world of my mother and Aunt and why sewing was an expected skill for every girl to learn. Must read for those interested in fashion, women's history and the arts.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    3.5 stars from me, but I might come back and make it 4. It's an interesting look at the work of some Home Ec pioneers known as the Dress Doctors who sought to elevate the culture through the art of dress. It is really well written, but I struggled to get into it. I think it would be especially interesting for those who have a sewing background or particular interest in fashion design, but it is still a thought provoking history of American fashion and the way it connects with, reflects, and shap 3.5 stars from me, but I might come back and make it 4. It's an interesting look at the work of some Home Ec pioneers known as the Dress Doctors who sought to elevate the culture through the art of dress. It is really well written, but I struggled to get into it. I think it would be especially interesting for those who have a sewing background or particular interest in fashion design, but it is still a thought provoking history of American fashion and the way it connects with, reflects, and shapes cultural values.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    My mother created & taught home economics courses, frequently sewed beautiful clothing in the 70s, and valued a classic, quality piece - often inspecting seams, details and refusing to buy something high priced that didn’t stand up to get standards. This book is all about those same things - the art of dressmaking, the founding principles we see repeated & recycled so frequently in capsule wardrobes & minimalist trends, and the ongoing debates of dressing your age. The ebb & flow of hemlines and My mother created & taught home economics courses, frequently sewed beautiful clothing in the 70s, and valued a classic, quality piece - often inspecting seams, details and refusing to buy something high priced that didn’t stand up to get standards. This book is all about those same things - the art of dressmaking, the founding principles we see repeated & recycled so frequently in capsule wardrobes & minimalist trends, and the ongoing debates of dressing your age. The ebb & flow of hemlines and fits. The classic principles of bygone eras that still can be applicable. While the author is rambling & disorganized a bit in her book, overall she’s done amazing research and found a clear path of discussion in a topic that is vast. I found it highly interesting and a bit convicting of reviewing my choices in fashion. A few favorites from the book: “If an outfit looks good on Day 2, why can’t you wear it on Day 12 and Day 22? Isn’t there a difference between mere novelty and beauty?” Pg 186 “Grace Margaret Morton prescribes with relish... despite this enthusiasm, Morton put clothing in its place. She explained that some things were more important than stuff: People who love richly, who have broad interests and activities, plan their expenditures so that they will have more for books and travel, leisure and hobbies, home improvements, entertaining and giving.” In short, they get on with living, not shopping.” Pg 186 “The more nature does the less has art to do.” Florence Hull Winterburn (pg 245) “Because black is so ubiquitous today, we’ve lost it as the color for mourning wear, which is a pity.... Wearing black was a quiet way of telling people to be careful, because someone was in pain.” Pg 257 Concluding page is bullet points of “the wisdom of the dress doctors”... love the last “celebrate girlhood and womanhood and the difference between them.” Pg 288

  26. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    I loved this. She makes zero effort to modulate her binary opinions of woman's dress in the first vs. the second half of the twentieth century. I disagree with the limits of her taste, but she's also not wrong. Clothing is a great art form, but experimental art clothing isn't flattering or practical for the daily wear of the masses. As for modern wear: surely there's room for leggings and jeans in the wardrobe of a woman dedicated to following the basic principles of good design. (Read: you will I loved this. She makes zero effort to modulate her binary opinions of woman's dress in the first vs. the second half of the twentieth century. I disagree with the limits of her taste, but she's also not wrong. Clothing is a great art form, but experimental art clothing isn't flattering or practical for the daily wear of the masses. As for modern wear: surely there's room for leggings and jeans in the wardrobe of a woman dedicated to following the basic principles of good design. (Read: you will pry them from my cold, dead, stylishly-clad hips.) This book is about much more than fashions then vs. now. She incorporated social and historical contexts, explaining not just what women were wearing and why, but what it all meant, and how the various generations' approaches to clothing affected, and were affected by, their lives. Overall, this was a great read. It's thoroughly researched and clearly written, and it makes me want to sew things.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Julie M

    Quite entertaining - for anyone interested in fashion and garment construction through the decades! Not academic, but written by a trained seamstress with university credentials. Loved her tone/style and I learned a lot about how dresses have "devolved" in modern time. Seems like people cared a whole lot more about how they dressed (ladies in particular) before 1960 or so; a class thing, I guess.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    This book is yet another in a slew of recent publications that have been taking issue with different aspects of fashion today: whether it's the deterioration of luxury brand quality exposed by Dana Thomas, or the humane and environmental problems of fast fashion revealed by Lucy Siegle and Elizabeth Cline, the way we dress today has a lot of problems. Przybyszewski's take is our inability to dress presentably as women (and men) did in the past. There's some overlap with Cline's work in that Przyb This book is yet another in a slew of recent publications that have been taking issue with different aspects of fashion today: whether it's the deterioration of luxury brand quality exposed by Dana Thomas, or the humane and environmental problems of fast fashion revealed by Lucy Siegle and Elizabeth Cline, the way we dress today has a lot of problems. Przybyszewski's take is our inability to dress presentably as women (and men) did in the past. There's some overlap with Cline's work in that Przybyszewski notes how women of the past wore far fewer garments and took care of them, more often than not with sewing as a skill. But she also talks about the history of different silhouettes and color preferences, and how the Dress Doctors took care to recommend conservatism rather than slavishly following trends, and to dress in the best way to flatter one's figure, using the most flattering and age-appropriate garments and accessories. Many have complained about the author's rather condescending, and certainly opinionated tone. From what I read, she took this approach to make the reading more appealing to non-historians. I did take issue at times with her sanctimoniousness, because while I love the fashions of the past, there are a lot of modern styles that I can also appreciate, even if I'm not sure the Dress Doctors would. Moderation in all things, as they say. Some people don't like the encouragement to dress modestly and think the book sexist for that reason, but I think Przybyszewski makes a very good argument for why not having everything on display is actually very progressive: "The early Dress Doctors were so pleased at the thought that the modern woman faced such a world of possibilities. No longer did she have to dress solely to attract a husband. If the Dress Doctors looked around at womankind today, they would wonder why so many of us are determined to appear ready to seduce at all hours of the day. Don't we have anything else to do?" Dressing revealingly may be a right and should not invite harrassment, but I don't think anyone is entitled to dress like that and expect to get a job at a typical workplace. As the author rightly points out, in most contexts men aren't expected to dress like that, and we'd be aghast if they did. I also enjoyed the history on how older women used to be more respected and had many fashionable options made just for them, rather than for girls. It's too bad that has fallen by the wayside. I would criticize the fact that the author was not very inclusive of men throughout her book, however. In suggesting what we should learn from the Dress Doctors, Przybyszewski mostly confined her advice to women, but men wear clothes, too, and these days they dress even more sloppily than women. And one big reason home ec classes got swept aside in the wake of the '60s was the perception that they were sexist--well, they were sexist. If boys had been just as encouraged to take those classes as girls, perhaps we would have kept that kind of education in our schools. So today, when we ask people to rethink their wardrobes (not to mention their culinary skills and household hygiene habits), men have to be part of that conversation. I would like to see Przybyszewski write a follow-up book that addresses how to take the advice of the Dress Doctors in today's world, accounting for today's styles (I'm not sure it's realistic to expect people to get back into hats), and more importantly, America's increasing ethnic diversity, which necessitates a more diverse consideration of the color wheel in relation to different skin tones. In sum, I really enjoyed this book, and it gave me a peek into a kind of history I probably would never otherwise have heard of. The Dress Doctors deserve more attention for the work they did.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nichole

    I loved this book. The structure was vague, the tone judgemental, and tangents rambling, but it was so well researched and interesting (despite its length and density) that I'll happily overlook it's flaws.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    Part fashion history, part social history, part lecture of the "what not to wear" variety, this book was not exactly what I expected. I thought the author was going to profile 4 or 5 women who had been arbiters of taste in the 20th century, but despite the subtitle, the subject is much broader than that. In fact, according to the author, there were actually many women who helped make America stylish. She calls them the Dress Doctors, and most of them worked in the Home Economics departments of U Part fashion history, part social history, part lecture of the "what not to wear" variety, this book was not exactly what I expected. I thought the author was going to profile 4 or 5 women who had been arbiters of taste in the 20th century, but despite the subtitle, the subject is much broader than that. In fact, according to the author, there were actually many women who helped make America stylish. She calls them the Dress Doctors, and most of them worked in the Home Economics departments of Universities and high schools. They taught girls not just how to sew and how to dress, but also how to think about themselves and to challenge themselves to be the best person they could be, with the understanding that those girls would apply those lessons throughout their lives. There was once a very different take on how to dress stylishly and why one should bother, and the reasons had to do with art, economy, and character, among other things. Two things I missed in the book: a separate section with brief bios of each of the influential women Przybyszewski writes about, and more pictures. She describes many photos, but a picture is worth....well, you know. At one point she describes Twiggy. I'm old enough to remember what she looked like in her heyday, and those who don't can certainly Google her, but it's nice to have a picture to refer to as you're reading. My favorite take-away from the book is this quote from The Wisdom of the Dress Doctors: "Dress for the people you love. Yes, the people who love you will forgive those torn gym shorts, but don't ask them to if you can help it."

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