Last week, I reviewed the book I bought at an estate sale, “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head. Miss Head won 8 Oscars for costume design, and dressed most of the leading ladies in Hollywood movies in the 1930s through the 1960s.
This week I’m going to get personal, and show some fashion examples from my own life.
At the end of the book, Miss Head offers her prescriptions for dressing for everything from sports to housework. (Sorry Mrs. Cleaver, high heels are not appropriate for doing the dishes).
Pictured above is her prescription written in 1959 for dressing for amusement parks. Let’s see how our clothes stacked up some years later, in the mid 1960s at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
Pretty much spot on! My mother and I, the towheaded girl, and the hand-on- head woman are all wearing what could be described as sport dresses or simple street dresses. I’m not sure about the redheaded woman – could she be wearing shorts? The pig is dressed up a bit more but is still within the rules as hats and gloves are optional, assuming that the dress code for males is the same.
Within about five years of this date, the dividing line for which clothes are appropriate for school, work, and play had blurred and changed. The fashion prescriptions of Miss Head, which had been the norms of society, would be discarded by young and old alike as a new casual style of dress took over.
Miss Head advises to experiment with clothes, and to be objective when trying on an outfit. “If it were possible to have a Polaroid camera along, snap your own picture and develop it at once, you’d make fewer mistakes”. Just imagine lugging a big Polaroid camera into the dressing room, snapping a shot, waving the picture, and waiting for it to develop! Of course this wasn’t practical, but this advice certainly works in the age of the “selfie”.
I fit Edith’s Head category of “too short” and her advice to my figure type is to use one color, never cut the body line, omit belts or use narrow belts, avoid a too-long dress length, and keep the silhouette slim and simple.
I decided to try my own experimenting in a department store dressing room. It’s the store with the big balloons. I’m keeping in mind Miss Head’s advice to accentuate my good points, and camouflage my figure faults.
Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily post unflattering photos of myself as I have a feminine sense of vanity about my appearance.
And I know the importance of the right accessory.
You’re never too young or too old to develop your own style!
Back to my experiment: Here I try on a tent or trapeze shaped dress. The fabric is linen which is what I liked about it.
All wrong! Too long for me, and even though the dress is so big and baggy it still manages to cling in an unflattering way to my high hip or haunches. Maybe I could wear this shape if the dress was belted, and hit just above the knee. I find that waist definition is important for my figure.
Next I try on a knit top with a draped neckline, and a gathered skirt. Better!
Cons: they are both polyester, the skirt is unlined and doesn’t have pockets, gathered skirt adds bulk to waistline, top is wrong length to wear untucked.
Pros: draped neckline on top is flattering, like the deep blue color of the top, skirt will go with all solid colored knit tops.
I didn’t buy any of these pieces. I feel fortunate that I have sewing skills, and can make/alter a garment to be more to my liking. As I’ve gotten older and the letters in my closet have changed from S to L, I find that the fit is “off” on most of the clothes I try on.
One of my favorite stories from the book is about the clothes for Connie Stevens, who was playing a small town girl in the movie “Rock-a-Bye Baby”. Her co-star, Jerry Lewis, suggested that since her character didn’t need fancy clothes, she could just go the the store and buy something to wear. When Jerry was shown the result of her shopping trip he said to Miss Head, “Make ’em!” Apparently, the clothes weren’t very flattering, even to a young, slim starlet.
“Ready-made clothes are made to fit anyone and each individual has figure differences. In making your own clothes, you can adjust to those figure differences, play up your good points, see that the waist fits at the waist, the shoulders are exactly the right width, the darts in the right place.”
“Clothes are the way you present yourself to the world; they affect the way the world feels and thinks about you; subconsciously they effect the way you feel and think about yourself.”
According to Miss Head, the most essential thing that clothes should do for you is to make you feel comfortable and assured. Now that’s a prescription that never goes out of style!