According To The Dress Doctors…….A Book Review With Fashion


In 1913, the secretary of agriculture, worried about declining farm population, sent a survey to American farm-women asking what the US Dept of Agriculture might do for them to make rural life more “comfortable, healthful, and attractive.”

The department was pretty surprised by the responses.

From Tennessee, a lady wrote that a girl would not be be so eager to leave the farm if she could “really see that there is an art in the farm life, and that she can dress as prettily and have her home as neatly furnished as the city girl can.”

A woman from Idaho thought that information on “the art and appropriateness of dress” would be much appreciated.

Beyond questions on practical matters, efficient kitchens and pest control, women across the county hungered for education on style and beauty.


From their responses to that survey, The Women’s’ Institute and the Dress Doctors were born. During the first half of the 20th century these women with degrees in the arts and sciences helped women dress through fads, wars and The Great Depression. 
Names such as Mary Brooks Pickens, Mary Schenck Woolman, Harriet and Vetta Goldstein wrote books and pamphlets, created radio broadcasts, and headed college departments to help and guide women to dress stylishly. The dress doctors sincerely believed if all women were armed with knowledge, they could dress well. Their theories put everyone of a level playing field, weather they were rich, poor, middle class or upper class. 
If  a woman understood the Principle of Dress, she could be elegant, even on a budget. This illustration is sourced from the book.

The pioneers have been forgotten. That is until  Linda Przybyszewski, PHD. wrote the New York Times bestseller, The Lost Art of Dress; The Women Who Once MadeAmerica Stylish. 

This book is a social history about the efforts of these remarkable women to reach out to American girls and women. Dr. Przybyszewski follows progress from freedom from corsets to the sixties when the Baby Boomers (yep, my generation) told “The Dress Doctors” to get lost with all their rules, which led to the Doctors eventual demise. 



Author, Linda Przybyszewski, PHD.


The Dress Doctors’ teachings were formed around their own developed Principles of Art, which were crafted from the leading art educators of the time. After being a 32+ year public school art educator, I can pretty much guarantee three things that are going to be hanging in an art room: the color wheel, The Elements of Art and The Principles of Art. These are the big three. The fine art elements are: line, shape, form, value, texture, and space. The Principles of Art are: Pattern, Rhythm, Movement, Proportion (scale), balance, unity and emphasis. I always told my students to think of the elements as the ingredients for a cake and the principles were how they mixed the ingredients together to make their own unique cake. Food analogies always worked for me! A great chart for reference can be found at Project ARTiculate.

So what was the Dress Doctors’ list?  First and foremost was Harmony. Harmony had four sub-headings under it, which were: Shape, Texture, Idea and Color. The list concluded with Rhythm, Balance and Proportion.  They took words from both the elements and principles of art and even made up one new one (idea). Although, I think Idea is just another word for Emphasis.

My challenge was to find items from my closet and put together something I thought the Dress Doctors would approve. I will discuss it more at the end.
The Dress Doctors were the the originators of the capsule wardrobe and they would teach you how to make it yourself. Above are Vogue patterns from 1937 showing women that with just three patterns, they could have a wardrobe for all seasons. Hats were paramount in this wardrobe. This illustration is sourced from the book.
The Dress Doctors believed in helping women help themselves. One of their main goals was to teach anyone willing how to sew. Sewing one’s own garments freed women from the fads that come and go and could help a family get through hard economic times. These sewing courses also created many home-based businesses of seamstressing. This gave some women independence because they could support themselves with their new found skills


They also believed that women only needed a few great garments (three dresses at most) and add variety with different cuffs and collars. This sounds very similar to what a lot of us do with scarfs today. Hats were seen as a necessity for bringing out individualism. There are some great quotes in the book about hats.

One dress could have many different looks-just change the collars!
This illustration is sourced from the book.
The Dress Doctors celebrated the older woman. Only she could look truly sophisticated. I’m not too crazy about the fur complete with the animal’s head, but the rest of this look, I love. The color is called “Raisin.
This illustration is sourced from the book.

The New Look by Dior just show that animal prints never go out of style!
This illustration is sourced from the book.
The Dress Doctors helped American women in transforming their original wardrobes during 1947, after Christian Dior dropped the “New Look Bomb”. Financially, this could have been and probably was devastating for many women, my Mom included. During the 60’s she told me that she had just bought a new winter coat before all the news came out of Paris. Immediately, it was outdated. She and Dad had just been married and, of course, she didn’t have money to buy a new coat, so she just wore her new shorter one. I think that is one thing we are free of today. There’s not one person that call the shots like that anymore. 
Rules were so old school. We just wanted to have fun!
The 60’s generation viewed the Dress Doctors and Home Economics as too much a part of the Establishment. Unfortunately, it seem that in the end, the Dress Doctors lived one way (working independent women), but told young women that their greatest achievement was in the home. Remember, Feminism was just around the corner


Another downfall of the Dress Doctors is that they ignored anyone who was not Anglo-Saxon. That attitude just could not keep going. Towards the end, I think they tried to address this problem, but it was really too late. 


Now it is time for a brief intermission from your hostess. I mentioned earlier that I would discuss what I had put together in the spirit of the “Dress Doctors”. They would have been proud of my dress. This 100% Linen International Concepts (Macy’s, I think) dress was thrifted about three years ago and was a size too large and reached the floor. I trimmed the hem and took in the side seams


The belt has been on here before. It is by Liz Claiborne and I have had it for 30 years because it is an incredible classic piece.


The brown cloth Fedora is from (again) my favorite KC hat store Exclusively For You. I added one of my vintage Poodle pins to the matching flower on the side. The poor little guy has lost a rhinestone eye over the years. 
There are a few quotes from the “Dress Doctors” about hats in the book. One of my favorites is: “A smart and becoming hat will buoy up a woman’s spirits, give her confidence, increase her powers of repartee, and make her wit scintillate.” 
My silk scarf was hand printed by me using thicken natural dyes and yes I am very proud of it.


The gloves and bag are both vintage. My bag is a straw and leather vintage Rodo and comes with a chain if I don’t want to wear it as a clutch. The gloves are cotton


Tamaris came out with these tri-colored suede sandals this spring and it was love at first sight. I ordered them from Simon Shoes in Boston. I thought the suede and cork were such a great combination. 
Shoe closeup

I recommend this book, especially if you are American. This is part of our “style” history. These pioneering women gave some valuable information that is still relevant today. It’s funny, but for about a week after finishing this book, I would get dressed, look in the mirror, and think,” I wonder what the dress doctors would think?”



If you listen to podcasts, Thread Cult had an interview with Dr. Linda Przybyszewki a couple of years ago and it can be found HERE. This is where I first found out about her book

I will warn you, I am not through with the “Dress Doctors”. This article is long enough already so I am stopping here. There is a color chart in this book that interests me. Some of the color names were not familiar to me and I have started researching them. This research has led to me putting together color example charts. They will eventually be finished and I will be putting them in a post someday. I think my goal is to take these charts and style outfits according to their suggestions. Will this actually be done? I’m not sure, but am thinking seriously about it.
 This is enough for today, I think, so I will bid adieu until next week. In the meantime, Happy Styling!-Terri

This week, I am linking up with The Style Crone’s Hat Attack HERE, Patti’s Not Dead Yet Style’s Visible Monday HERE Cherie’s  Style Nudge’s Shoe and Tell HERE, Catherine’s Not Dressed As Lamb’s I will Wear What I like HERE, Elegantly Dressed and Stylish Turning Heads Tuesday HERE, Living On Cloud Nine’s Style Perspectives HERE, High Altitude Style’s Link-Up HEREElegance and Mommyhood’s Moda Linkup HERE, Fashion Should Be Fun’s Fun Friday Fashion Link Up HERE, Shelbee’s Edge of the Week Link Up HERE and Nancy’s Fancy Friday HERE.

The photography credit and head editor this week goes to my hubby, Michael.



2 thoughts on “According To The Dress Doctors…….A Book Review With Fashion

  1. Pingback: Red Fit and Flair

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