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The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish Hardcover – April 29, 2014

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The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish + The Tidy Closet: Tips From A French Woman: Easy Steps And Motivation To Declutter Your Closet And Organise Your Wardrobe + How To Be Chic And Elegant: Tips From A French Woman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465036716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465036714
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


New York Times Book Review
“Like another forgotten artifact, the hope chest, her…book is most delightfully and fragrantly packed.”

Boston Globe
"A fascinating and valuable book.”

Columbus Dispatch
“A witty look at well-dressed women and a defense of the classic home-economics course.”

Books and Culture
“The writing is sharp; the research thorough; and the book's illustrations alone are worth the price of entry.”

Threads Magazine
“If you’re interested in the history of fashion in America, or have just always wondered why Americans don’t dress well anymore—and what that means—read The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish….The Lost Art of Dress is an engaging and fascinating history of the evolution of fashion and America’s approach to clothing itself…If you love history as much as sewing, or are fascinated by the sewing and style manuals of the past, pick up a copy of The Lost Art of Dress.”

A Dress A Day
“A fascinating read.... If you love the styles of the first half of the last century and wonder why they were so lovely (and why so many modern clothes are not), you should read this book. If you are interested in the history of popular fashion as worn by ordinary people, you should read this book. And if you’re interested in some practical dress advice from the good Doctors, you’ll find that here, too. Highly recommended!”

“An important, even revolutionary book.”

Shop the Garment District blog
“[Przybyszewski’s] wit and intelligence make this book as entertaining as it is informative… The information it contains is timeless, so it won't matter how long it takes you to read it, so I suggest you buy it.”

American Age Fashion blog
“This book is a rare bird—a scholarly book aimed at a broad audience that is a ripping good read… whether or not you alter your wardrobe, you’ll be fascinated by these admirable women who tried to make America more beautiful, one dress pattern at a time.”

Denver Sewing Collective
“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.”

Library Journal
“This entertaining read is funny, opinionated, and full of useful wisdom—much like the dress doctors themselves.”

“[An] illuminating commentary.... Przybyszewski’s fashion history shines a much-needed spotlight on a contingent of forgotten professionals and the role they played in dressing American women with style.”

Sadie Stein, The Paris Review
“A tribute to a time when style—and maybe even life—felt more straightforward, and however arbitrary, there were definitive answers.”

Karen Karbo, author of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel
“Linda Przybyszewski’s remarkable, enchanting, well-researched history of America at its most stylish reminds us that once upon a time we were classy and fabulous. After reading The Lost Art of Dress, you’ll think twice before running to the store in sweat pants.”

Jennifer L. Scott, author of Lessons from Madame Chic
"An invaluable resource of inspiration. The Lost Art of Dress calls us to resurrect our stylish roots and bring tasteful beauty back to our everyday routine."

Claire Shaeffer, author of Couture Sewing Techniques
"The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyszewski is a fascinating history about the “Dress Doctors”—teachers, writers, retailers, and designers—who advised women how to dress appropriately. Her extensive research in more than 700 books and magazines provides a wide range of information about changing trends throughout the twentieth century. Entertaining and informative, this book is essential reading for all fashion history students as well as everyone interested in fashion."

Lois Banner, Professor Emerita, Dept. of History and Gender Studies Program, University of Southern California, author of Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox
“Linda Przybyszewski takes her readers on an imaginative journey through a largely forgotten universe of women writers in the twentieth century who wrote about the art of dressing well. The book is sprightly and well-written, and it suggests new directions for research in the history of fashion and of women. Przybyszewski offers useful critiques of the restrictive clothing of the nineteenth century, the sloppy clothing of the 1960s, the periodic infantilizing of women through dress design, and the increasing commoditization of products and pleasures. She mourns the loss of the elegance of the 1930s, when women looked both liberated and chic.”

Patricia Cunningham, Associate Professor Emerita of Fashion and Retail Studies, Ohio State University
“This is an important work. In The Lost Art of Dress, dressmaker and historian Linda Przybyszewski skillfully delineates the rise of the Dress Doctors in the early twentieth century to their demise in the turbulent sixties. Przybyszewski excavated the lost texts of home economists and others who taught the art and science of dress through the application of five principles of art. Although Przybyszewski laments the decline of the teachings of the Dress Doctors during the 1960s, she sees their legacy in the recent rise of the craft of dressmaking and is encouraged by a renewed of interest of Americans in the art of dressing well and with good taste.”

About the Author

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.

More About the Author

Linda Przybyszewski grew up outside of Chicago, attended Northwestern University, and earned her Ph.D. in U.S. History at Stanford University. She was trained as a legal historian, but she also comes from a long line of sewing women, and these two sets of skills -- research and dressmaking-- come together in her latest book. She may be the only person to have lectured at the U.S. Supreme Court in a suit she made herself. Professor Pski teaches at the University of Notre Dame.

Customer Reviews

There are so many books to read, I rarely read one twice.
Alice the Goon
This is an outstanding book that explores the reality of many US women during the 20th century.
HRH David
This book makes me wish I grew up in the era when women dressed better and not so shlumpy.
Kimberly D. Loisel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Chris on April 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not having grown up during the era of the 'Dress Doctors,' as Przybyszewski calls them, I didn't have any preconceived notions of them or negative biases towards how their home economic programs may or may not have been carried out in schools. That being said I found this history of their work fascinating and well worth my time.

It's no secret that American women today lack a certain level of, shall we say--classiness--in their clothing choices and this book sheds light on the rise of the women whose work it was (among many other things) to keep our ladies looking classy as well as their eventual downfall. I personally found the chapter entitled 'Aftermath: Tyrannies of Age and Size' to be the most interesting. If you've ever looked around and wondered how we got to a place where grown women routinely run errands in pajamas or saunter around town in actual rompers really meant only to be worn by children under five, then this book has the answers you've been seeking. One of my favorite bits of wisdom given was to "celebrate girlhood and womanhood, and the difference between them." Amen!

This is not a how-to book, but the advice of the Dress Doctors is just as applicable today as it was when it was originally given and you will walk away from this book wiser (and hopefully more tastefully dressed) for having read it.
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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By theagowdy on April 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed The Lost Art of Dress. It answered lots of questions I had about clothes from the turn of the century until the 1980's. ( turn of the century meaning the last one, not the most recent one. I'm of the age where when I say " 10 years ago " I mean the 1990's ) A reviewer apparently had a very distasteful home ec experience in the 50's and I believe this may have colored her opinion of this book. The discussions on skirt lengths, working women, economic issues, poverty and dress and social upheaval and dress were fascinating to me. My mother always sewed and had beautiful clothes so I was excited to.learn more about this subject. There is much discussion in the world of appropriateness of clothing and much wailing and gnashing of teeth in regards to the young people and their sartorial choices. This book talks about the worries that people in the past had about clothing and about the inherent sexism in the clothing regulations of the past. I believe the author may sit on the more conservative side. She had a bit of a tsk tsk tone when writing about our beloved younger generation but I think she tried to restrain herself the best she could :-) Seriously, this book does make you think ( or rethink) what you might have put on today. A quick note: this is not a picture book. There are some pictures and some illustrations but there aren't many. This didn't bother me personally because 1) I am easily distracted by pictures of clothes and 2) it provided a lot of information and written description. There are plenty of picture books available and of course the internet but I enjoyed actually reading about our clothing history. Another note: The Lost Art of Dress is about clothing and its history in the United States and is about clothing for women and girls.Read more ›
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Tess on May 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. For about the past year, I have been trying to really step up how I present myself to the world. I have always cared about dress, but lost my way a little as people around me started showing up to work in jeans and t-shirts. If I would wear a dress to work, I'd get asked "why are you so dressed up?" As I hit 45, I realized that the art of dressing was becoming more and more important to not only deal with my changing body, but also to accentuate my experience, maturity, and absolute comfort in my own skin. I've been reading a lot of books on style lately (Lessons from Madame Chic is great, as is Style Statement) to really understand how to put my best self forward and be an example for what style looks like and why it's important.

This book provides wonderful insight into how America was once one of the best-dressed places on earth (hard to believe!), and how it all started with the "dress doctors," women who had science degrees but couldn't teach in the field. They established the Home Economics programs we used to have and taught the art and science behind dressing, among other topics. As that generation aged and passed away, and social and political changes influenced fashion, the dress doctors' influence faded and then disappeared. The history lesson was invaluable to understanding how we went from best-dressed nation to the butt of jokes.

As an oil painter, the section of the book on the art principles that guided the dress doctors was fascinating and spot-on! It made me understand why I cringe when I see certain colors on certain people or the JCrew madness of mixing multiple prints. Where does the eye go?
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By George on May 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I don't see how the reviewer can complain about color images as my volume has 32 beautiful color pages. This isn't a book for someone who wants to have a how to dress guide but a chronicle of the demise of knowing how to dress. Don't expect something to be what it isn't. Fascinating story of the evolution of clothing and the cultural impact a small number of women could have.
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