Fun facts and timeless wisdom from Linda Przybyszewski and the “Dress Doctors”


Don’t miss an intimate lecture and book signing with Linda Przybyszewski, author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (Basic Books; May 1, 2014), at the American Textile History Museum at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 27.

“Beautiful clothes should be part of contemporary art.  Not beautiful clothes for the few, but beautiful clothes for everybody, and at a cost that all can afford.”

—A Dress Doctor, 1925

The 4 Best Colors for Older Women, and the 1 Color They Should NEVER Wear:

Two things usually happen to our complexions as we age. As women move beyond the first bloom of youth, their natural coloring starts to lose its brilliancy. Wearing pure, bright colors will only make us look more faded in comparison. The 4 best colors allow our remaining color to continue to glow:

  • Dark blue
  • Dark blue-greens
  • Dark reds, like burgundy
  • Warm browns, like chestnut

And the 1 color to NEVER wear:


In the same way that we lose color, the small marks of years of laughter and thought (and worry) begin to appear around the eyes and mouth. Black near the face emphasizes the appearance of these shadows. If you own too much black to dump it all, take heart. Black kept far from the face does much less harm. Décolleté allows the skin of your neck and shoulders to frame your face instead. Glowing jewels and soft scarves at the neck of a black dress will bring richer and more flattering colors closer to your face.


The 6 Best Fabrics as You Age:

As our figures and our skin tends to soften as we age, the crispness of tightly woven fabrics make us look raggedy by comparison. The most flattering fabrics to wear for daytime offer their own soft textures: crepes in silk or wool, jerseys with texture, soft velours. Instead of a crisp gabardine suit, opt for a soft tweed. For night, choose the slightly textured surface found in silk shantung over the hard brilliance of satin. For the beach, choose the textured nylon spandex over the hard and shiny version.


The 1 Thing Your Must Remember about Must-Have Lists

Every season fashion magazines come up with lists of clothing that we MUST-HAVE. Sometimes their choices are obviously insane. My favorite was the parka in army green trimmed in fake fur when really very few women outside of the Army would need it. Or the ridiculous 5-inch heels needed only by the woman who intends to stand without moving.


More plausible are the MUST-HAVE classics, but even those should come with some words of warning:

  • The white shirt: Unless you are blessed with a perfect complexion, one that can hold its own against the purity of pure white, you are much better off with one of the warm off-whites or pastels, like cream, eggshell, palest pink, pale coral, ivory, or tan.
  • The Little Black Dress: The LBD has succeeded so well, that it had become the Little Boring Dress by the 1930s. True, almost everyone needs a chic dress for an evening out, but why black? Far more interesting and flattering are colors like a caramel one shade paler than your skin, a midnight navy that brings out the color of your gray-blue eyes, or a burgundy that throws color into your face.
  • The perfectly fitting blue jeans: If the yearly articles on the hunt for flattering jeans are any indication, their whereabouts remain a mystery for many of us. When jeans first showed up out west as riding clothes for women, the Dress Doctors warned that only those with slender hips could possible wear them well. So, most of us should probably opt for what women chose during most of the 20th century: full-legged trousers in a soft fabric. Of course, if you regularly ride cow ponies or dig in your garden, you should opt for jeans and relegate worries over their perfect fit to the back of your mind.

In short, the only things that you MUST-HAVE will fit your life and flatter you, and only you. 

The 3 Steps to Wardrobe Planning

  • Inventory your closet: You may have to stop there if you realize that you have so many clothes that you can’t remember them all and may never need to buy anything again. For the rest of us, sort through what you’ve got and make three piles: what you will keep, what you should give away, and what you should throw out because poor people should not be forced to wear anything that ugly.
  • Consider the coming year: What will you be doing? Think about how you spend most of your time. Remember, this is your actual time, not your fantasy time which you spend choosing evening gowns should you ever be asked to walk the red carpet. Will you be chasing after toddlers? Then you need something easy to move that washes well. Sitting behind a desk? Then it’s something dark and can be dry cleanable. Have you any special events planned? Weddings? Luncheons? Junior Prom? Don’t be the desperate woman hunting through the stores at the 11th hour and buying something in a panic.
  • Divvy up the cash that you have to spend. You should spend a larger proportion of your budget on what you will wear every day or every week than on something you will wear to two dinner banquets. And put a little money aside so that you can give in to that irresistible urge for that unnecessary item that gives you a thrill. Because we all need some self-indulgence now and then.


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