The Lost Art of Dress Public Lecture

Linda Pryzbyszewski

The Lost Art of Dress Public Lecture

04 Mar 2015    

On Monday April 20, 2015 the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design (TMFD) will host a free public lecture and book signing by Linda Przybyszewski, author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, at 5:00 p.m. in the auditorium in Nebraska Union on UNL’s city campus. Dr. Przybyszewski’s talk is being presented in conjunction with the exhibition Modernism and Romanticism: an American Design Approach featuring the work of fashion designers Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Oscar de la Renta, opening on April 20 in the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery on east campus.

Dr. Przybyszewski is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses on legal and cultural history, including crime, the gap between popular and academic history, the era of the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction, and the history of fashion and dress. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Northwestern University, and Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Stanford University. Dr. Przybyszewski has been awarded research fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Program in Law and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, the Virginia Center for the Humanities, the Institute for Legal Studies at the Law School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Mellon Foundation, among others. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.      

The Lost Art of Dress explains how Americans learned—and forgot—how to dress in the modern age. It draws on Professor Przybyszewski 's own collection of over 700 dress and sewing manuals dating from the early 1900s, as well as extensive research work she conducted in numerous archives and libraries. Listen to an interview with Dr. Przybyszewski by Diane Rehm here:

A skilled dressmaker from a long line of sewing women, Przybyszewski recreated garments from every decade of the 20th Century as part of the research for her book. These included the One-Hour dress that swept the nation in the 1920s, and the Dishtowel dress, which she describes as a “bad idea from the 1970s.” She tested the Dress Doctors’ prescription for thrift with variety by creating a many-way dress with several changes of collars and cuffs. Would anyone realize she had been wearing it for a month? The answer may surprise you.

Who were the Dress Doctors? They were a group of women, for the most part academics, who over the course of the first half of the twentieth century taught Americans what to wear. Via clothing clubs, pamphlets and home economics courses, they instructed young women on how to put together a wardrobe that emphasized thrift and beauty. The dress doctors felt women were embarking on a new era of civic and social engagement and needed to learn how to look the part. Now, in a time of fast fashion where price and novelty rule, the lessons of the Dress Doctors have largely been forgotten. Linda Przybyszewski has set out to resurrect their teachings in The Lost Art of Dress.

The roster of Dress Doctors includes two names with Nebraska ties. Ruth O’Brien held a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Nebraska and became chief of the Division of Textiles and Clothing at the USDA’s Bureau of Home Economics in 1923. Grace Margaret Morton served on the faculty at UNL and was the author of The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance. Originally published in 1943, it became at midcentury the standard textbook in departments of clothing and apparel throughout the U.S. Morton served as an associate professor of home economics and head of the textiles and clothing division at the University of Nebraska. Morton’s widespread influence was keenly felt here in Nebraska, where she was an influential member of such organizations as Omicron Nu, the Nebraska Home Economics Association, the Lincoln Artists Guild and the Nebraska Art Association. The Grace Margaret Morton scholarships, named in her honor, continue to assist students in the College of Education and Human Sciences through the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Kate Tuttle called The Lost Art of Dress “vividly entertaining” and described it as “a history of women’s attire in the first half of the 20th century and the social and aesthetic forces that shaped it.”  She added, “ ‘The Lost Art of Dress’ … serves as a call to American women to reconsider the importance of personal fashion.”

In the New York Times Book Review of Sunday May 30, 2014, Alexandra Jacobs quotes Przybyszewski on the demise of personal style and good taste (“Living in an age when the only standard of female attractiveness is hotness, and when every detail of life is offered up on Facebook, young women find it normal that the whole world, not just their sweetheart, their gynecologist and their mother, should know the exact shape of their bodies.”) then writes that “…Przybyszewski’s new book is a noble though probably doomed effort to redress, pun intended, this sorry situation. Doomed, I fear, because the forces of cheap, fast fashion that she decries — H&M, Uniqlo, Zara, et al. — have become so powerful and ubiquitous, flaming red flags about the industry’s production methods…notwithstanding.”

In addition to her public lecture at Nebraska Union, Linda Przybyszewski will meet with students and faculty in several courses and small group conversations in the Department of Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design and the Department of History. TMFD gratefully acknowledges the funding support and co-sponsorship of the Dean’s Office of the College of Education and Human Sciences, the UNL Faculty Senate Convocations Committee, the Department of History, the Women and Gender Studies Program, and the Friends of the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery.

For further information, contact the department office at 402-472-2911.

Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design
College of Education and Human Sciences