Clothes with Character

clothes with character
I am addicted to old home economics textbooks. I love the calm, matter-of-fact voice in which the authors tell you that "Very glossy satins, and harsh tweeds are unbecoming to the mature figure and to the person whose complexion has lost the vitality of youth" or ask you to fill out a quiz to determine if you are an "all-around girl: sincere, wholesome, charming" or a "coquette: flattering, petite, scatterbrained."

Recently I checked a copy of Clothes with Character out of the library (published by DC Heath in 1946, written by Hazel Thompson Craig and Ola Day Rush — home ec textbooks are always written by women with three names, for some reason, maybe to indicate that they are married and thus not just academic home-ec experts, but practical ones as well?)

Here is an excerpt I found wonderful:

What to Look For When You Buy a Dress

Before you buy a new dress

  • Study the current fashion magazines, newspaper sketches, and make several tours of the better shops and shop windows to see what is being shown.
  • Take an inventory of your wardrobe on hand to find out your most essential purchase.
  • Decide upon color, general lines, kind of material and size. Do not accept a substitute.
  • If you choose a printed material, moisten your finger and rub it over the hem to see if the color is permanent. Many prints fade and become ugly under the arm and across the shoulder.
  • If you choose a wash dress look for a color-fast and shrinkage label.
  • See that all pieces are cut the right way of goods to avoid constant twisting.
  • Move your arms and make sure the back is full enough.
  • Sit down and make sure the skirt is full enough.
  • For additional points in buying a dress study illustration 59.

from Clothes with Character, p. 222.

What I like best about this list is the professionalism of it. "Study" the fashion illustrations! Follow this checklist! Being a well-dressed woman is work, not play, and don't you forget it!

0 thoughts on “Clothes with Character

  1. Erin ~ I too love old sewing books and the wisdom they dispense on how to be a well dressed woman while still maintaining a clean home and having a happy & healthy family! Thanks for sharing the excerpt.


  2. “Sufficient fullness in sitting position” should be the mantra of all designers! I do mostly bridal and evening wear alterations, and all of my clients want to look like the celebrities on the red carpet. I have to keep reminding them that they have to be able to SIT and BREATHE in a dress, too!


  3. You are right about the three name thing! I’m a proud holder of a Home Ec. degree and a Masters of Library Science and believe me, today, women today me, in the 70’s it was nothing but scorn. “The Secrets fo Distinctive Dress” by Mary Brooks Pickens, published in 1918 is a hoot, explaining how to select your dress according to your station in life. Love the chapters: “The Charm of Lithesomeness and Poise” followed by “The Proper Corset”.No wonder lithesomeness is so rarly observed, we just don’t lace into proper corsets anymore!


  4. Gosh, this is charming! Good advice, too, if perhaps hard to follow.Makes me want to browse the used bookstores this weekend searching for old home ec texts.Makes me wish I could sew.


  5. D’OH! I just threw out something you’d have liked (I did too, but there’s only so much I’m willing to shlep across the ocean with me). Now I know where to turn next time something doesn’t make it into a box.


  6. “Decide upon color, general lines, kind of material and size. Do not accept a substitute.”Now *there* is a woman who has never walked into a department store and tried to find a plain white blouse.”Sorry, dear, this year it’s all lime green or puce. You might check some of the designer lines.”


  7. Such words of wisdom! Does anybody else ever long for the days when women actually made the effort to really dress to go out and about town? Dress, heels, gloves…the whole nine yards. I get tired of seeing everybody schlepping around in baggy sweatpants and a faded tshirt. I try to avoid the sweats when out in public, but I have to admit that I could do better.


  8. I love books like that too! I have an wonderful cook book that belonged to my mother, back when she had home ec in 1950s Ireland. It’s magnificent (no clothes, but all vegetables can be tossed with butter and seasoned lightly).


  9. What ever happened to pretty? I’m talking about clothing choices not your gene pool. Does anyone besides me think we seem to be in a race to the bottom – stylewise? We may not be formal anymore but must we look angry and disheveled to be in style? It’s not for me!LOVE this Dress a Day blog. So inspiring!And for you ladies who don’t sew – luck has nothing to do with it. Just start. Take a class and open your world. It’s FUN!Kate Q:-)


  10. I have a wonderful book called Sewing Made Easy that my mother got in about 1952. It’s very useful for instructions on how to make a bound buttonhole or how to refresh worn sheets (rip them down the middle and sew the selvedges together), but that fashion advice, I think, was imaginary even then. It reminds me of the dating behavior books we could order from the Arrow Book club in junior high that had no reference to the real world. And I always thought it was my fault.


  11. One of my favorite books isn’t a home ec book, but the readers might still like to take a look at it. It’s called “Elegance: A Complete Guide For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions,” by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux (there’s the 3 names thing again!) The early 1960s editions are the best.


  12. Well I just typed in my 2 cents and it has disapeared. WTH???I retyping all of it. I went and saw the Devil wore Prada and it was a great movie. I saw a polka dot sweater and thought of you Erin. I will have look for some of the home ec books. I could use a good laugh. They say laughing keeps you young.


  13. The idea of looking “proper” being work – very true. And having to “work” to find a well-made dress. And, I think in these modern times, most people don’t know that secret – that there’s work involved – or they don’t want to DO the work. And so we have people running around in sweatpants with “JUICY” printed on the bottom.and AMEN to the commenter who said “but the author of that book never went out looking for a plain white blouse in a year when lime green or puce was THE color.” So many times – so many times – I have said something like “a nice, navy blue straight skirt is just the thing I need to round out my wardrobe” just to find that it’s the Year of Slacks or that navy is somehow taboo. (Which is why I sew.)I suspect that back when the author of that book was hunting her dresses and blouses, though, there was better fashion available. And always white blouses and navy skirts available. I get the feeling that the “three colors for this year, take ’em or leave ’em” attitude of clothing manufacturers is more recent.


  14. Indeed, I too wish there was enough to choose from so I could put Hazel and Ola’s advice to use.I also remember when my mother wouldn’t go to town unless she had done her hair, was fully made-up, and wearing hose, gloves and a hat She had a great selection of those headband hats with veils, which I hope she kept in some corner of her closet. Meanwhile I’m about to disgrace the family by heading out to brunch with damp hair, wearing shorts. How times have changed.


  15. I love it. She’s right on the mark. When I take the time to do thoughtful shopping instead of impulse buying I’m lots happier. As for the rules of cut and fit–my mother taught us this when we shopped for school clothes as kids. Its all great advice.


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