The Lost Art of Dress
Every now and then, I play a game I call "The Beautiful Game" with my daughter. When she isn't with me, I sometimes play it on my own. The rules are simple. Look at something ordinary, or possibly even unappealing, and find something beautiful in it. For example, a messy-looking skateboarder may have organized a really creative rainbow of shoelaces to tie his beaten-up sneakers. Did you notice/appreciate that? Do it silently, of course. If playing with another person, agree on a mutual target. When you have found the beauty, give a simple nod to your partner. There is no winning or losing in this game. You can discuss (if not within earshot or if not a person), you can silently appreciate, or you can even sketch, if so moved.
Sometimes it makes us laugh, like the scene from the "Breathtaking" moment on Seinfeld, when one of us can't believe what the other person found beautiful.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had begun reading a book, written by a professional colleague of mine, Linda Pryzybyszewski. (No, I can't pronounce it either.)
Fast forward to today. I have loved every single syllable of this work, and it has sincerely taken me this long to finish it. I've been committed to giving the book the time and thought it deserves, and, while reading it, was often inspired to explore related tangents of my own, deepening my educational experience. The author is an associate professor of art history, after all, and covers the subject matter thoroughly, both as an educator and as an appreciator. Her wit and intelligence make this book as entertaining as it is informative.
As for my own attraction to this book, I collect dressmaking books from the 1800's to 1950's or so, and am particularly interested in the scholarly analysis of dress, for practical, artistic, historical and social/cultural reasons. This book hits all of those notes, and twists the study in new ways I had not thought of.
Let's consider this: the Home Economics class. Once a serious course of study, but now, in my opinion, (at least here in NYC) reduced to family sitcom jokes. Have we stopped trying to keep our homes and selves clean, live on a budget, raise children, consider our own longevity and health? Of course not! If you watch enough network TV advertising during the day, you will think that keeping our floors clean is as complex a pursuit as rocket science, considering all of the equipment being offered to help us complete this monumental task. If you question its importance, visit the online archive of early home economics writings offered via Cornell University's HEARTH program, and I know you will marvel at its expansive exploration of practical instructions for leading a richer, more practical (and beautiful) everyday life.
Whether you consider your clothing to be simply superficial, meaningless ornamentation or not, consider these points:
"Balance concealment with revealment. Flesh exposed all the time has far less effect than flesh revealed on special occasions and for a privileged few. People who receive privileges should be appropriately grateful."- Linda P.
"In all casual and momentary meetings, we have the same status as packaged goods," and no one will pick out a package "mussily and carelessly wrapped" if there are others "done up carefully and neatly".-Jane Loewen, millenery instructor
"Our clothes, like our faces, tell what we are. They tell our taste, our appreciation of the beautiful, our self-restraint, excessive modesty, naturalness or boldness - our characters, in fact."-Mary Brooks Picken, "Dress Doctor"
I struggled to find pithy quotes in this book. There are too many great ones directly from the author herself. No single quote will summarize its message. No words are wasted, and practically every phrase uttered within it could inspire its own conversations. If you find a hard copy of this book in an actual bookstore, and want to glance through just to determine your own interest level, I suggest starting by reading the acknowledgements at the end of the book. Gaining some idea of just how much work and assistance was required to make this book happen is reason enough to invest in its purchase. The information it contains is timeless, so it won't matter how long it takes you to read it, so I suggest you buy it.
Oh, and if you haven't seen previous posts about this book, you can watch the video on the author, the subject matter, and the book as featured on CBS Sunday Morning here.
And here's a great review of the same title by another blogger, discovered today!