February 2013: Flipping Through Dressing a Nation
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson
As I was browsing the city library's online catalogue for new style books, a children's book came up as a suggestion: The Little Black Dress and Zoot Suits: Depression and Wartime Fashions from the 1930s to the 1950s.
It's part of a series called Dressing a Nation: The History of U.S. Fashion.
I was actually impressed with this slim, glossy volume. It looks at essential early 20th century trends in men's and women's garments, hairstyles, and accessories in the United States. The "Designers, Photographers, and Models" chapter introduces a few important American designers of the time, including female ready-to-wear designers who were busy creating practical garments during the Depression and 40s wartime. Muriel King, Clare Potter, Claire McCardell... Most of us don't hear much about them today, but I look forward to getting to know them.
This would likely be a quick read for adults already familiar with 20th century history and fashion. But you'll gather a fun handful of new facts anyway, and the photo choices are striking. I learned more about Edith Head, the cultural connotations of zoot suits, the Hawaiian shirt boom, Surrealism and Elsa Schiaparelli, where Lacoste came from, and permanent waves too. I could go on.
There's a bibliography and a generous list of additional books, youth friendly websites, and a few fashion world themed films. The Lerner Publishing website offers free downloads of coordinating educational resources.
I actually think this book would be a great gift for youths interested in clothing and fashion. It's an accessible and attractive way to show how the history, culture, and technological developments of the past have shaped what we see today in magazines, TV shows, and Forever 21 windows. The recommended reading level is ages 10-18, but I'd read it to interested children as young as eight.
Now I'm off to see if the library has other parts of the series. Buckskin Dresses and Pumpkin Breeches? Oh, my.