“Practice the art of dress. You may be self conscious because you are far better dressed than the people around you, but maybe you can inspire them”
As someone who has always loved vintage fasions and has recently learned how to sew I really appreciated what Linda Przybyszewski has done with her book. She looks at the history of women’s fashion in America from the beginning of the 20th century specificially focusing on a group of women called the “Dress Doctors” who aimed to teach women how to dress.
Przbyszewski begins her book with a history of, and a dissection of the term “home economics.” Now, we tend to view home economics as a frivolous pursuit, but at the time it was considered to be a legitimate science and was often its own department within different universities. Przybyszewski writes that 303 of the 479 women faculty teaching science at the leading American universities at the time were working in Departments of Home Economics.
She then moves on to detailed discussion of the Dress Doctor’s philosophies, including preaching the virtues of thrift, simplicity, functionality, and finding flattering clothing. Przybyszewski also touches on historic trends that impacted the fashion industry including the evolution of hygiene practices (the innovation of the washing machine revolutionized doing laundry), and the introduction of ready made clothing, department stores, and credit cards, (which were originally offered by department stores as a way of appealing to customers).
While I loved reading the history that Przybyszewski provides, she does get a bit caught up in the romanticism of it. She laments the state of the fashion industry today without noting that fashion trends are constantly changing. Even though the Dress Doctors may have preached a simpler stylish way of dressing, their advice has not completely fallen to the way side and many women today, especially professional ones still play by their rules.