Monday, April 28, 2014

Linda Przybyszewski's "The Lost Art of Dress"

Linda Przybyszewski is an associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. The author of The Republic According to John Marshall Harlan, the editor of Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854-1911, as well as a prize-winning dressmaker, she lives in South Bend, Indiana.

Przybyszewski applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, and reported the following:
“Who gets the job? Hint: It is not the woman who looks ready to dance the can-can.” These are the first words of p. 99 of The Lost Art of Dress. They accompany an illustration set in an office from a 1928 book on dress. On the left is a young woman fluffing her hair and wearing a dress trimmed all over with flowered flounces, while long ribbons trail from her wrists. On the right stands a woman, memo in hand, wearing a dark dress trimmed only with lighter collar and cuffs. She will get the job. Page 99 captures one of the central lessons of the Dress Doctors, as I call them. The Dress Doctors taught Americans how to dress for the 20th century which they saw as a time of unprecedented opportunity for women. Freed from tight corsets and the long skirts of the Victorian Era, modern woman could wear clothing that allowed her to move freely. She got more education as high schools spread across the country. She could take part in sports from tennis to skiing. She was a full citizen since the 19th Amendment guaranteed her the vote. As a housewife, she could bring the insights of science into running her household. And she could work in a range of new fields, including office work. For each of these occasions, the modern woman needed the right clothes. The Dress Doctors advised the business woman to opt for clothing that mirrored business itself: precise, focused, practical, and impersonal. Women would not “lose the distinction and charm of their femininity” if they did because they could apply another of the Dress Doctors’ lessons: how to use the principles of art to create beauty in dress. And this can be done without spending a fortune because a small wardrobe of beautiful clothing, perfectly suited to the occasions of our lives, is all that we need. A lesson as valuable today as when the Dress Doctors first wrote it.
Visit Linda Przybyszewski's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue