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Kimiko Sews

A Gentlewoman's Creative Blog

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The Dress Doctors and the Lost Art of Dress
tudor ensemble 1
(Cross posted from A Gentlewoman's Blog: http://kimiko1.com/blog/2015/12/the-dress-doctors-and-the-lost-art-of-dress/)

Building on my excitement post of last time, a few things have occurred.

One, the book The Moulage by Kenneth D King has arrived on Friday, and I’ve started reading it. I will be working on the moulage for myself shortly, and will have more info to give after I’ve done the work. I’ve also bought needed supplies for my moulage, and for my updated dressform.

Two, I got a book from the library called The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Prof. Linda Przybyszewski, PhD. It is quite a fascinating look at the history of dress from the late 19th into the 20th century, by highly educated women the author calls The Dress Doctors. Ladies who had PhDs in the sciences, like chemistry, but because of their times, when men ruled the universities, were unable to teach in their chosen sciences. So they spent their years educating other women in Home Economics, a field we don’t hear much about today (it was a near dead field when I was in high school). This book was quite eye opening to me, in a variety of ways, and it’s info is encouraging me to look up those old books that once taught the actual ART of dressing well.

The series of educational books and pamphlets covered a wide variety of topics for the working and poor women who would be educated by these Dress Doctors. It covered sewing, cooking, make clothing for their family, decorating items, making things for the home, etc. Even how to set up their own sewing business. And when I talk about learning how to sew, it was more that that, not only just sewing or shopping, but how to choose your wardrobe artistically, and usually with thrift in mind. When I say artistically, I’m talking of the principles of line, contrast, balance, color, and proportion like the Greeks had started, and as seen in art from the renaissance and other historical styles of art.

While she does discuss some of the rules of dress that the well to do would follow, the focus was more on what the everyday woman; be she a student, a woman working in the office, or a woman working in the home, should wear for their real life occasions. There are occasions for dress, from the business suit to work in, to the outfit to wear on the street shopping, to the day dress to clean the home in, to evening wear that all women should indulge in (when fiscally possible, that is), to clothing for sports viewing, or sports playing, to going out in the evening for whatever special event.

There is also discussion on the planning and selection, the budgeting for our family’s yearly wardrobe, “shopping” your own closet first before buying or making an item to complement what you have. Have you ever heard such a thing? I hadn’t, although it is what I try to do in my fabric stash. But I was never informed of doing such a thing when I was taking home ec courses in Jr. High. I think some modern fashions books cover some of these areas, although I don’t recall budgets being a big part of them. She even discusses historical clothing budgets (around 10-12% of yearly income, compared to modern 25% or more, to many of us not even having a budget, wildly blowing lots of money on disposable clothing we may not even wear.)

And then the book goes into what happened in the 1960s and 70s, when the rules these Dress Doctors spent decades instructing women on, got tossed out the window in youthful rebellion, and in the name of Women’s Liberation movement. I think the saddest and frustrating part, is that in our continuing emphasis on youth, we mature ladies are now wearing clothing developed for our daughters and granddaughters. We no longer wear sophisticated clothing that only a mature, sexual woman can really pull off. We see mature clothing as something dowdy and frumpy, because that is what modern designers are making for mature women. I’m sorry, I’m not ready to dress for retirement. But I can’t wear what my daughter loves, either. I need my own style for my own mature age.

We have seriously lost our understanding of how to dress well, for various reasons. I know that I have never really understood these basics as applied to dress, and yet I knew there had to be a missing key to being as well dressed as my Mom (when she went out of the house), or my wealthy Aunt Margie (who loved to dress to show off her husband’s wealth). It was something neither of them bothered to tell me, as it was something they just “knew” from their own years of sewing (my mom), or being dressed in well to do high end department stores (my aunt).

If you can get a copy of this book from your library, or want your own copy, I do recommend getting a copy to read. If you know me at all, you know that I had very little interest in modern fashions, or even in vintage fashion. Mainly because I hated how it looks – sack dresses, sack shirts, skin tight pants with words across your bottoms, zip up jackets with logos across your chest. But this book has really opened my eyes to why I hated modern stuff, and gave me new appreciation for those fascinating fashions of the past century. I’ve got a new set of eyes now, and some creative ideas blooming in mind for how I live. We shall see where this leads.

Thankfully, there are various old books mentioned in the book, and some of those old books are available online, in whole or in part. Some are available for purchase as a reprint (but at a price), or available as a used book (for even higher prices). I hope to share a few of those pdfs of interest in this blog in the future as I find and read them. Look for my tags below, specifically WIDAS for Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences.

Remember, the images seen in the books will be showing clothing fashions of the 20th century, but the general art concepts will be of interest to the modern reader and designer, or even to those who love vintage or historical clothing. It will help to understand the principles behind your choices. It even helps to know what rules you are breaking, should you prefer the modern youthful rebellious and cheap garments of printed sacks/tubes.

Designing and decorating clothes. Designing and planning clothes. Dress decoration and ornament.

from the Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences.

You have to be a member of certain libraries to be able to download the full pdf, but you can read this one in full online. This one seems to cover the actual art principles involved. It links from this page:


Other Clothing, Research, 20th century, book_review, moulage, research, WIDAS
(Cross posted from A Gentlewoman's Blog: http://kimiko1.com/blog/2015/12/the-dress-doctors-and-the-lost-art-of-dress/. Comments can be posted here or there.)