- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 2 Reprint edition (May 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805054871
- ISBN-13: 978-0805054873
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,297,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America Paperback – May 1, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
From the 1890s to the 1930s, social historian Joselit (The Wonders of America) argues in this enticingly illustrated volume, fashion was "the most literal expression of who we were as a nation." In an increasingly diverse society, fashion was billed as a unifying force, she argues; its arbiters promised that anyone, from Jewish ghetto girls to ex-slaves, could blend in by wearing the right clothes. To make her case, Joselit quotes from the Ladies' Home Journal, Vogue and other magazines, on everything from women's hemlines to men's suits, shoes to hats, furs to jewelry. Though she also quotes rabbis, popes and advice columnists, as well as merchants like Henri Bendel, she doesn't include many working girls or sales figures from Sears or Woolworth's. More research is needed to prove that ordinary Americans believed fashion's promises. Still, Joselit's book is enjoyable a fluffy history lite, with a liberal smattering of turn-of-the-century advertisements for corsets and collars. Joselit is stronger as a museum curator than a historian, yielding a book that's far more stimulating visually than intellectually. Indeed, there's nothing new here the "democratization of style" has been well documented by other fashion historians for years. Readers interested in this particular subject would be better served by Claudia Kidwell's works, or even Kennedy Frazier's. Illus.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Broad changes in social attitudes have a corresponding impact in the way we dress the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, for example, showed itself in tie-dyed shirts, bell-bottoms, platform shoes, and long hair for both sexes. Joselit (American studies, Princeton Univ.) looks back at an earlier, particularly important period in American history, considering significant changes in both dress and social attitudes from about 1890 to 1925. Broadly speaking, conformity in dress declined, reflecting greater wealth, personal freedom, and social mobility. Women abandoned heavy corsetry and voluminous dresses, for instance, just as they were gaining suffrage. Attentive to the experiences of immigrants and African Americans, the author studies the attitudes of the people, their media, and those in authority toward changes in dress. While Joselit happily does not neglect men's dress, which changed greatly during the period, shifts in children's dress, which reflected transformations in child-rearing attitudes, are omitted from discussion. Well written and researched, this study will reward casual and scholarly readers equally. Recommended for both public and academic libraries. James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Things that work well in the book:
- There is a plethora of primary sources, both textual (from newspapers, letters, sermons, etc.) and visual (advertisements, fashion plates). These not only serve to buttress the author’s argument, but also make this book a lively read.
- If you are interested in the history of Jews in the US, this is a must-read, for there is a heavy focus on this area. I was fascinated (and somehow discomfited) by the enormous social anxiety that Jews felt and their relentless efforts to “fit in” and “become American.” There is real self-hate here, and it startled me. To a lesser extent, the book covers African American and Roman Catholics attitudes, but this is, to no small degree, a book about Jews.
- This book also throws a clear and uncomfortable light on sexism in the US before “Women’s Liberation.” How far attitudes toward women and their role were reflected in the clothes they chose (and were expected) to wear is startling.
- The book covers jewelry and menswear – areas that are sometimes ignored when fashion is discussed.
Some food for thought:
- If one focuses so much on Jewish history, I think a conversation about the role of Jews in making clothes in the US (and their importance to the history of employment and unions in this context) is required. It felt like a glaring hole.
- Although shoes are discussed, handbags are not. I think they are just as much a part of fashion as Jewelry and shoes.
- As stated above, African Americans are mentioned, but the discussion lacks depth and is uneven.
- At times, this book reads like a thesis. Some points are over-argued and over-proved.
- The final chapter, which attempts to bring us up to date with what happened to clothes from the fifties on, is too brief and ends up being clichéd as a result.
A worthwhile read and I enjoyed it.
The good news was that clothes can be changed, and millions of people did just that . . . changed their appearance to look like the native-born Americans. People wanted to fit in, as part of their desire to live the free life. Is it so different now? Even the most extreme teenage styles conform to a sense of fashion that indicates that you fit in.
A Perfect Fit focuses on the period of peak immigration, from around 1890 through the 1920s. Women's and men's wear get equal emphasis, although the women's wear is vastly more interesting. You will follow hemlines up (for style and hygiene reasons), the subtleties of the right hat (not too showy), shoes into sizes (but women insisted on appearance anyway), furs (in as a sign of arriving and out as a sign of cruelty to animals), and jewelry (moderation in all things is a virtue, but a diamond does last longer than flowers). Along the way you will enjoy many fine illustrations that display the styles, advertisements, and the way these were worn by people.
A strength of the book is that it covers how people from different backgrounds responded to fashion. There is extensive coverage of what immigrant Jews favored, and a focus on African American preferences. There's even a section on the advent of the Zoot suit. The author also does a nice job of considering the tension between restrained good taste and flamboyance.
It was fascinating to think about the shock that the flapper style with bobbed hair must have been. The miniskirt and the no-bra look of the 1960s was a minor shift by comparison from what went before.
Over time, clothes have gone from formal and being a badge of status, to informal, healthy, and comfortable. Let's hope that trend continues. I like my sneakers!
A Perfect Fit also has some interesting facts in it that I did not know before. For example, the Audubon Society was formed to help stop the slaughter of herons whose feathers were prized for very showy hats. Ostrich feathers can be harvested without killing the bird, which is why you will see so many more ostrich feathers in display uses today.
As far as the book goes, it is very fine. I was disappointed that the investigation of social character did not include selections from important social thinkers of the times. It would also have been interesting to know about more types of social groups. What did Hispanic people do during this time? How were Irish-American styles different from Italian-American ones? I was also curious about what the most famous people of the time wore. And Edward Bernays is famous for his work in creating fashion during this time through color. Little is said on that subject. So think of this book as an appetizer on the subject, rather than as the whole meal. I graded the book down accordingly.
After you read this book, think about how healthful your choice of clothes is. How could you improve your selections and still feel good about yourself? How about a new hat for the holidays?
Always improve the person wearing the clothes at least as much as you improve the clothes that are worn!