The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyszewski

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Linda Przybyszewski was in Denver at the Tattered Cover bookstore doing a reading and book signing of her book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.

Linda is a wonderful speaker, has a doctoral degree from Nortre Dame with an emphasis on law, history, culture and dress. She teaches a class called We Are A Nation of Slobs: The Art, Ethics and Economics of Dress in Modern America, and has met Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ( funny story she told us). It should also be noted that Linda Przybyszewski is an avid and proficient seamstress and sews most of her own clothes.

In her reading she tells us how girls were taught the art of dress starting early, by age five and continuing on through the high school years. She mentions  in her book the Goldstein sisters who taught that the design ideals in art could and should be applied to how women dress. The body is the canvas and clothes are the paints. They would use the principles of art and apply them to fashion and dress.  Dressing well was something celebrated and encouraged.

Fast forward to the present where skimpy clad or slovenly women and girls are everywhere you look and where showing yourself naked is now considered “empowering” (add  Scout Willis to this recent parade of naked women who claim that being objectified is a-okay).

 “Has luring men become our only standard for beauty in dress? Living in an age when the only standard of female attractiveness is hotness, and when every detail of life is offered up on Facebook, young women find it normal that the whole world, not just their sweetheart, their gynecologist and their mother, should know the exact shape of their bodies.”

Linda Przybyszewski from an interview with the New York Times

Add to the normalcy of life now that an entire wardrobe can be bought for 200.00 and it can be changed every 3 months or so. Przybyszewski mentions the problem of fast fashion and how an entire generation if not two have now accepted this crazy fashion cycle as the norm. Manufacturers ramp up the fashion cycles faster than ever and clothing has become more and more disposable which brings up a whole host of problems.

I have not finished the book, but what I’ve read I’ve enjoyed immensely. If you love fashion, history, and geek out about sewing you’ll love this book. It really is a fascinating read about some amazing women and should serve as inspiration to bring back beauty, thrift and style in to every day fashion.

Have you read the book? What are your thoughts? Do you believe in dressing well? Do you cringe when you see a grown woman in pajamas out in public? Let’s discuss!

Further Reading

Forbes The Real Cost of Fast Fashion

Here’s a short video of Linda on the CBS Sunday Morning Show.

New York Times Book Reivew of The Lost Art of Dress

Department of History Notre Dame 

Linda Przybyszewski

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9 comments

  1. I wanted to go to this event so badly! I will check out the book. I grew up in a town that dressed sloppy and even dirty before grunge before selfishness overtook every decision (Boulder, I am talking about YOU), and when I was little, I fell in love with the postman because he was the only person clean-cut and ironed in town. lol

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  2. The Lost Art of Dress sounds very interesting. The US has definitely become the home of casual wear for all occasions, grooming optional. In Seattle, many people don’t even dress up to go to the opera, ballet, or symphony. Most people wear jeans everywhere, with little attention to aesthetic niceties. The new mail carrier in my neighborhood is an apparent teenager who wears shorts and a sloppy t-shirt. He doesn’t look like an employee of the USPS. At my local Joann’s, one of the clerks is a young woman with numerous piercings and large tattoos; one side of her head is shaved, and the other has long, stringy green hair. She wears super-sloppy casual clothing. If I were running a business, that is not the image I would want my employees to project.

    When I was teaching, I was one of the very few teachers at the community college who wore suits. Most teachers dressed much more casually. I enjoyed tailoring and felt good wearing what I made. Now that I’m retired, I wear jeans and t-shirts virtually all the time. Formal clothing just isn’t practical for everyday wear around the house and yard. I miss dressing more formally. I would like to wear dresses; I’ve even thought about getting some sort of part-time job just so I would have a reason to make and wear dresses some of the time. I have never followed fashion, and I wear any piece of clothing that I like until it disintegrates. Clothing that I like is too hard to come by to dispose of it lightly, and my preferences don’t change much over time; I like what I like. I prefer classic styles that are never especially in or out of fashion (or maybe they’re totally out of fashion and I just don’t know it).

    The current practice of baring almost all astonishes and mystifies me. I grew up in a fairly modest household, and I am amazed that many women seem quite comfortable with vast amounts of skin exposed. Images in the media have normalized a level of near-nudity that is remarkably different from what I grew up with. The extent to which social norms have changed since the mid-20th century is mind-boggling.

    What I noticed most in Japan, besides how often people, especially women, wear kimono, was the contrast between extremely well-dressed adults and children (school uniforms often consist of suits and ties), and the casual wear of many young girls, who wore super-short skirts and other revealing styles. In most stores, the clerks were nicely and conservatively dressed. Even the taxi drivers wore uniforms with hats and white gloves, and the taxis had fresh white crocheted slipcovers on the head rests. The clothing of people on their way to work or school was very tasteful and showed careful attention to every detail that one almost never sees in the U.S. today. Too bad! In Japan, only young people out to enjoy themselves have adopted a more American style of clothing.

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    • I am taking a page out of the 40′s and making what was called back then a house dress. It was slightly boxy in nature, button down front like a shirt waist dress. Very comfortable but you could garden in it, go to the store go out to lunch in it and today you would be seen as dressed up. Made in easy care fabric it’s going to be my go to weekend hang around the house look. But I think it will look great. Anyway, that’s my solution.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

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  3. I just got this book at the library. Paging through it I wasn’t sure if would be “entertaining” enough to hold my interest. But now that I’m reading it in context, I’m finding “The Lost Art of Dress” entertaining as well as educational. Ms. Przybyszewski adds a little humor to her writing, making the book a great read. I’ve only finished the first chapter but I can’t wait to read more. I highly recommend it!

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  4. If you want to see women, younger and older, dressed tastefully, go to Japan. I’ve never felt so slovenly before as I did in Japan. And I don’t even go to Walmart in my PJs. Just the loud prints that I commonly wear were completely out of place. It made me re-think how I dress and what “tasteful” could look like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am taking a page out of the 40’s and making what was called back then a house dress. It was slightly boxy in nature, button down front like a shirt waist dress. Very comfortable but you could garden in it, go to the store go out to lunch in it and today you would be seen as dressed up. Made in easy care fabric it’s going to be my go to weekend hang around the house look. But I think it will look great. Anyway, that’s my solution.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

      Like

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