When it comes to American dress, Grace Kelly and Betty Draper are out, while Miley Cyrus and the “Real Housewives” are in. When and how did this transformation take place? Historian and award-winning dressmaker Dr. Linda Przybyszewski will have the answers in an intimate lecture and book signing at the American Textile History Museum on September 27.
This is the first ever appearance in New England of Przybyszewski, author of the acclaimed The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (Basic Books; May 1, 2014). The lecture and book signing event is Sunday, September 27, at 2 p.m. at ATHM. The program is free with museum admission.
Przybyszewski will reveal the untold story of a remarkable group of women in the first half of the twentieth century—the so-called Dress Doctors—who taught American women how to dress and spearheaded a nationwide movement toward beautiful, economical, and egalitarian fashion.
As Przybyszewski explains, “Today, Americans are known for their sloppy dressing, but it was not always so. An Englishwoman who came to the States after World War II marveled at ‘the inherent good taste’ of the American woman. But American women weren’t born with good taste. They learned it from the Dress Doctors. And we can learn it again.”
Based in Home Economics and Retailing departments across the country, the Dress Doctors offered advice on radio shows, at women’s clubs, and in magazines; armed with their simple design principles, modern American women from all social and economic classes learned to dress in a way that made them confident, engaged members of society.
By the 1960s, however, the times were changing, and the Dress Doctors—and the advice they were bestowing—began to encounter backlash. Universities no longer felt the need to allot funds to Home Economics departments, and at the same time the anti-authoritarianism of the 1960s led to a rejection of the previous generation’s formal attire. During the 1970s and 1980s, the rejection of the Dress Doctors went even further, as feminist groups targeted Home Economics classes in schools as examples of society’s pervasive sexism.
A historian and expert dressmaker, Przybyszewski comes from a long line of sewing women; she’s won blue ribbons, made cocktail dresses, and even fashioned a coat for her dog. To write this book, she drew on historical archives as well as her personal collection of over 700 dress and sewing manuals dating from the 1910s.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER:
Linda Przybyszewski is an associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. The author or editor of two previous books, as well as a prize-winning dressmaker, she earned a Ph.D. in history from Stanford University and is also a skilled dressmaker from a long line of sewing women. Trained in legal history, she may be the only historian to lecture at the U.S. Supreme Court in a suit that won a ribbon at a county fair. Professor Przybyszewski recently turned to exploring how Americans learned to dress for the 20th Century. The result is The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (Basic Books, 2014) which was featured in the Wall Street Journal, on WSJ Live, and on NPR’s the Diane Rehm Show, and Here and Now. Professor Przybyszewski has also talked about the history of fashion on CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, and the CBC’s The Current.