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.
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.