What to wear? The Dress Doctors had the answer.

This post was written by Linda Przybyszewski, our speaker for the upcoming Reawakening the Art of Dress seminar. Get your tickets for the April 9th event.

American women always worked, but the places they worked changed over time. Early on, they worked in the home or on the farm, in family shops. The arrival of large businesses and office work in the late 19th Century raised anew that perennial problem: What to wear? The Dress Doctors had the answer. These were the dress writers who taught millions of modern American girls and woman how to dress for the 20the Century through 4-H clubs, home economics courses, magazine articles, and radio programs.

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Different occasions require different kinds of clothing. Unlike a farm, the early office was a relatively clean place to work, so the worst that your clothing had to put up with was a possible encounter with carbon paper, the stuff we used to use create copies in a typewriter.  The Dress Doctors taught that office clothing should reflect business at its best: efficient, formal, impersonal. So, more fabrics like wool, rayon, and silks can be worn, but they should be in sober colors. The lines of a garment should be restrained—no poufy skirts—with little decoration—no clanging bangles. In short, office work was serious business, and women were supposed to dress to fit in. The Dress Doctors always said that no matter what changes fashion brings, the rules of good design in dress are timeless, so let’s see if they were right. This sketch is from the book Art in Home and Clothing written in 1928 by two women who then worked at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Styles have changed since then, but ask yourself, which woman is wearing the right design for work? If you said, the one on the right, you are correct.

Office work was only one of the occasions that the Dress Doctors advised. Most young women gave up wage work marriage back then, but the Dress Doctors had solutions for the woman at home too. You can learn more at the Reawakening the Art of Dress event on April 9th.

The Lost Art of Dress

We’re getting ready for our big Spring event and are so excited to announce that our speaker is none other than Linda Przybyszewski, best selling author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.

Yves Saint-Laurent once so eloquently remarked that while “fashions fade, style is eternal.” Yet, after taking a look at a crowded street in New York City or peeking in at a mall in suburban America, it seems that eternity has actually found its end. Today, one sees Ugg boots worn at all times of the year, yoga pants masquerading as trousers, and exposed flesh parading down the red carpet. Grace Kelly and Betty Draper are out, while Miley Cyrus and the Real Housewives are in. When did this transformation take place? And how can we regain our once proud sense of style?

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Linda Przybyszewski has the answers in the book, The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. Przybyszewski reveals 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. 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.

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. In an interview she can discuss topics such as:

  • What we can learn from the Dress Doctors: The Dress Doctors prized practicality and empowered women to design and make clothing for both the workplace and the home. For example, they championed skirts that would allow women to move about freely and campaigned against impractical and painful shoes.
  • Why women found it easier to grow older in the era of the Dress Doctors: Before the Youth Quake designers of the 1960s, girls looked forward to the day they could wear the sophisticated clothing of grown women. Complicated cuts and draped styles were reserved for the woman over thirty. Old age was seen as a time when a woman deserved a stately and magnificent wardrobe.
  • Why the Dress Doctors were forgotten:  The women’s movement, the Cold War, and the fact that suburban life blurred the traditional distinction between formal city clothes and casual country wear all led to the eclipse of the Dress Doctors.
  • Why we need the wisdom of the Dress Doctors today: The Dress Doctors explained how to choose a wardrobe to suit the occasion, whether work or play, without racking up credit card debt. And they knew which cuts and colors fit a woman at every stage of her life, from school girl to grande dame. Their advice is timeless and as useful today as it was years ago.

Stay tuned for more information about Przybyszewski and our upcoming event: Reawakening the Art of Dress.

Dressing Downton in Chicago at the Driehaus Museum

Not to be missed this spring… Dressing Downton in Chicago is the exhibit of Downton Abbey costumes on display at Driehaus Museum through May 8, 2016.

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Dressing Downton: changing fashion for changing times highlights fashion from one of the most widely watched television dramas in the world: Downton Abbey. You can follow your favorite characters, both upstairs and down; walk through a costume chronicle of the period in this now traveling exhibition that showcases nearly 40 period costumes and jewelry from the hit series!

What is particularly intriguing about the exhibit in Chicago is its setting in the Driehaus Museum, a palatial Gold Coast mansion, that could easily be envisioned as the Crawley family’s in town residence.  Because of the exquisite décor of the Driehaus, the Crawley women, Ladies Mary, Edith, Sybil, and Cora, look right at home as do their male counterparts and the array of impeccably dressed butlers and maids.

For fans of the show and those fascinated by fashion detail, you can get up close to these carefully researched and authentically produced costumes to see all of the intricate detail not noticeable on TV.  For example, the butlers and footmen’s uniforms all have the family crest on their waistcoat buttons, and the vintage silk materials worn by the aristocratic women are adorned with embroidery and glass or bugle beading.

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This exhibit also coincides with the sixth and final series of Downton Abbey.  The costumes featured are those worn by the lords and ladies, the staff and common folk, of the first four seasons of the show along with an array of still photos from the series and a self-guided audio tour.

For fans of the beloved British period drama, affectionately called Downton, this exhibit will delight and perhaps satisfy in some small way dreams of experiencing those 1900s turn of the century times.  Even those who have yet to discover the joys and sorrows of the Crawley family will certainly recognize the societal order and moirés of this era as reflected by the incredible costumes on display.

Will you be checking out Dressing Downtown in Chicago? Which character’s costume pieces are you looking forward to seeing?

(images from DriehausMuseum)

My Favorite Outfit: providing clothing and self-esteem

This is a guest post by Jacqueline Perlman, founder and CEO of My Favorite Outfit.

I was standing across from a third grader at a school on Chicago’s Southside and noticed that her clothes looked worn out. I whispered to her, “Would it be fun for you to go shopping at school?” After she replied yes, I considered the market research portion for My Favorite Outfit complete.

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A month prior to that exchange I had the idea to launch a nonprofit organization to address two needs for Chicago’s disadvantaged youth: clothing and self-esteem. My research had shown me that girls’ self-esteem plummets beginning in middle school, and this young girl’s response was all I needed to take the leap of faith and launch the organization. Today, My Favorite Outfit (MFO) has exceeded my wildest dreams.

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MFO’s goal is to empower girls in grades 3-12 through self-esteem building and clothing donations in our signature pop-up boutiques. Every week we build a new pop-up in a low-income school across Chicago. Thirty girls are selected to attend based on good grades, a positive attitude, high attendance, and goal completion. During our time together, the girls learn to identify their key strengths and what they’re proud of, forge new bonds with each other, and shop for six free articles of clothing that bring out their inner-beauty.

For me, the most magical moments happen when a few girls decide to stick around and chat once the event is over. Maybe it’s because these moments are less structured or perhaps it’s
because not as many people can hear them, but it’s a time when students really open up. 12th grader Noemi decided it was the perfect time to spread hugs to the MFO volunteers and me and tell us how happy and appreciated she felt. It was a tearjerker in the best possible way!

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In 2015, MFO worked with 11 schools, 206 students, and donated more than 1,000 pieces of clothing. You can see all that we’ve accomplished in our 2015 Impact Report. My Favorite Outfit wouldn’t be a success without all of the amazing people who have volunteered and partnered with us along the way – including Fashion Matters Chicago!

Mark your calendar because we’re hosting a Fashion Show Fundraiser on March 31 at CUSP from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm. Snag your tickets before they’re gone. (Cost between $16.82 and $22.09)

Jacqueline Perlman is the founder and CEO of My Favorite Outfit, a charitable organization with a mission to provide two basic needs to disadvantaged girls: clothing and self-esteem. My Favorite Outfit was born out of Jacqueline’s three passions: women empowerment, fashion, and social justice. Her love for life doesn’t end there. Jacqueline is an avid traveler, dedicated sister to three, and a student at Kellogg School of Management. More than anything, she thrives off of bringing people together for a greater good.

Stay Warm and Chic in the Winter Months

While the whole country has been experiencing warmer than usual weather so far this winter, we know the cold weather will inevitably set in. Looking chic but staying warm is always a challenge when the bitter cold, biting wind and falling snow finally sets in. Here are four tips for staying warm and looking good, so we can all be fashionable this winter.

4 Tips to Stay Warm + Cozy this Winter

1. Invest in a quality coat. Thankfully, long gone are the days in which the only coat option that gives warmth is a shapeless blob filled with feathers. There are so many adorable options combining wool, down, fur, etc… Spend the money to invest in a coat that looks good but is also well-made. Money well spent will give you a coat that lasts years and still looks good.

2. Remember the layers. An easy way to be chic and warm this season is to rock the layered look. The addition of a cardigan, scarf, jacket, can all help add warmth, but also create a chic winter wear look. This year we’re seeing a lot of shirts layered under sweaters with a blanket scarf draped dramatically.

3. Cover your head. It’s said that most of your heat escapes from your head. Cover your head when out in the elements. There are so many options available right now. You could go with a  cute slouchy stocking cap or a stylish felt floppy hat. Both will keep you warm and looking good.

4. Own the wrap trend. Right now over-sized wraps, blanket scarves and poncho-style capes are all the rage. While they are trendy this winter, they are also super warm. What’s better than looking chic while feeling like you are wrapped in a blanket warm on the couch.