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

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  766 ratings  ·  190 reviews
"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, historia
Hardcover, 347 pages
Published April 29th 2014 by Basic Books (first published April 1st 2014)
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3.82  · 
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 ·  766 ratings  ·  190 reviews

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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
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
Margaret Sankey
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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!
Caitlin Cohn
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
Kris - My Novelesque Life
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
**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
Jun 28, 2015 rated it liked it
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
May 06, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
Eustacia Tan
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Holly McIntyre
May 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, fashion
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!
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
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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 ...more
Jackie Zorko-dautovic
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Julie M
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sara
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.
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Not what I expected, but I really enjoyed it. I thought I'd be reading about Slim Keith, the Duchess of Windsor, Babe Paley... Instead I got schooled about the Dress Doctors, women from about the 1900s to the mid-1960s, who wrote textbooks for Home Economics classes. They also began sewing clubs in rural areas around the U.S., and pretty much laid down the 'art of dressing' law. I hadn't realized that there was ever such a concerted effort to teach young women and girls the finer points of cloth ...more
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“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 from afar.” 3 likes
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