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Books on the Principles of Elegant Dress?


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#1 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 18 August 2015 - 10:46 AM

Folks:  I'm looking for a book on the principles of elegant women's dress; the womenswear equivalent of Alan Flusser's Clothes and the Man: The Principles of Fine Men's Dress or his Dressing the Man; Bernhard Roetzel, Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion; or Nicholas Antongiavanni, The Suit: A Machiavellian Guide to Men's Style. Ideally, it would contain separate discussions of fit, silhouettes, body type, color, pattern combining, dresses, jackets, skirts, slacks, blouses, jumpers/sweaters, vests, overcoats, shorts, hose, footwear, accessories, maintenance, levels of dressiness, and what to wear to different events. (Flusser's two books more or less cover all of that for menswear.)

 

Any suggestions? I've been searching the online booksellers, and the pickings are pretty slim. The closest to a Flusser-style book looks to be Eliza Chamber, Glamour: How to be a Chic and Elegant Woman. It's good on body types, color, and different events. There's some on silhouette. It doesn't seem to have any discussion of fit or combining patterns, though. And it's only available in e-book format.

 

The other contenders I've found are pretty sad. A lot of them suggest they'll do what Flusser or Antongiavanni do, and then signally fail to do it. None of them, so far as I can tell, discuss fit and criteria for it (even Edith Head's and Christian Dior's books seem to be offenders here; and Tim Gunn seems to think fit is taken care of by discussing RTW sizing). A lot of the books are just random collections of the author's opinions, judgments, and dislikes, without any system other than being alphabetically ordered. In short, there are no principles, and there's too little system. These womenswear style guides offer a lot of insipid counsels like "Choose clothes that serve you," just left at that, or followed by an amusing anecdote. Everyone knows you should choose clothes that serve you--what people want are criteria for deciding which clothes will serve them, when, and how. That's what Flusser and Antongiavanni gave men, which is why their books are worth the money.

 

Any suggestions? Or if there isn't such a book out there, is anyone up for writing one? It would be a lot of work, but I'll bet it would sell. There are a lot of women out there in positions of authority or influence who know that what the fashion advertisers peddle won't make them look elegant, or that Molloy's New Women's Dress for Success doesn't go into nearly enough detail. But they're not getting much help.

 

(Given that Flusser and co. more or less exclusively focus on the man's lounge suit and accompaniments, a nearer equivalent for women would be a book strictly limited to women's dress in business environments--including evening business parties.)


Edited by Testudo_Aubreii, 18 August 2015 - 11:19 AM.

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#2 tailleuse

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Posted 18 August 2015 - 05:41 PM

It's dated in parts, but I understand that Mary Brooks Picken's 1918  "The Secrets of Distinctive Dress: Harmonious, Becoming, and Beautiful Dress" is worth reading.  I downloaded the text, but haven't read it yet. A much more recent book is "The Lost Art of Dressing: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish" by Linda Przybyszewski. I'll read it some day, but I don't think I'd find her style suggestions uninspiring -- I don't like 1940s and 1950s women's clothing. It is a not so small book, but there are those who love it.

 

I'm on the lookout too.  I hate all the style books that presume to tell American women how to look like French women. I'm happy to be American and don't think that les Françaises have all the style secrets of the universe.

 

The Inside Out Style blog is worth checking out.  


Edited by tailleuse, 18 August 2015 - 05:49 PM.

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#3 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 12:47 AM

Many thanks, Tailleuse. Picken's book is a good find. Far more thoughtful and deep than most of the in-print books, with their "Frenchwomen never wear alligator pumps in the evening" shtick. Useful discussions of combining colors, line in a silhouette, pattern combining, and combining fabric textures. Those topics are rarely discussed in the contemporary books. There's plenty of stuff about body type and what to wear for the occasion, of course.

 

Przybyszewski's book looks like an interesting history of women who did useful (and now unjustly forgotten) work.

 

Thanks too for the Inside Out blog. It looks like the most useful contemporary resource I've yet found. They actually discuss fit! I wish they had a separate section on silhouettes, and how to combine them with one's body shape. I realize, though, that that's an enormously complex topic. 


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#4 posaune

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 03:08 AM

I like this page.

It is about styles for every"body" and a fashionable and wearable modern outfit

http://blog.modefluesterin.de/
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#5 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 04:08 AM

Thanks, Posaune. That blog is useful. I like that the images show outfits whose taste is more restrained than a lot of those in the Inside Out Style blog: some of those look like exploding pizzas. The written advice in Inside Out is good, but the illustrations are not elegance and chic. They're more aimed at the American fun-flirty-and-feminine look. Modefluesterin shows more classic restraint, while still being up-to-the-minute modish.

 

Modefluesterin mentions a book by Alyson Walsh coming out this September, which is attempting to fill the Flusser gap for older women: Style Forever: The Grown-up Guide to Looking Fabulous. From what I can read in the preview, Walsh offers a decent discussion of fit and alterations--which is rare; and the usual discussion of body types and essential garments. The illustrations are a bit of a let-down for those focused on fit, shape, and silhouette, though. They're much more focused on color and texture. 



#6 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 05:28 AM

Another useful book, perhaps the closest to Flusser in intentions and results I've yet found, is Leah Feldon's unfortunately-titled Dressing Rich: A Guide to Classic Chic for Women with More Taste than Money (1982). As you can tell, its marketing is a crass consequence of the yuppie decade, but it actually has sound principles and clearly articulated concepts for those aiming at chic dress, and builds a framework out of those. Good discussion of silhouette, color combining, fabrics, pattern combining. It's very like a Picken for the 1980s. Useful and unusual discussion of quality in construction. The B&W drawn illustrations are excellent, displaying silhouette and pattern very well. I like it better than her 1990s update, Dress Like a Million, which isn't as systematically organized. The main problem with Dressing Rich is that there doesn't appear to be a discussion of fit.

 

Feldon also published a 1979 book, Womanstyle: Your Personal Guide to Timeless FashionBut I can't find out anything about the contents. 


Edited by Testudo_Aubreii, 19 August 2015 - 06:00 AM.

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#7 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 07:38 AM

I just found a guide book with the fullest and most intelligent discussion of fit and silhouette of women's clothes that I've come across outside this forum. 

 

Kendall Farr, The Pocket Stylist: Behind-the-Scenes Expertise from a Fashion Pro on Creating Your Look. Ignore the offputting title: She has a whole chapter on being an intelligent client of tailoring--both alterations and BESPOKE! Bravo. Her criteria for evaluating and distinguishing fit and silhouettes of garments are the best I've found outside this forum. Also looks like she has a good discussion of hose and undergarments, and how their proper fit makes a big difference to the look of one's ensemble. This is one stylist who knows what she's talking about. 

 

So here, based only on amazon previews, is a list of the best books I could find  for a woman who wants to be elegant while winning and then holding a position of authority:

 

-Leah Feldon, Dressing Rich (As a general guide, but paying special attention to her discussion of color combining, fabrics, pattern combining, and quality of construction. Also to the good illustrations.)

 

-Farr, The Pocket Stylist (on fit, silhouette, alterations, bespoke, and the importance of well-fitting hose and undergarments)

 

-John T. Molloy, New Women's Dress for Success (on which garments, lengths, colors, and color combinations will make people take you for an authority, and which won't. Many people dislike Molloy's advice, but he does know the American corporate unconscious.)

-----------------------------

After those, perhaps also Eliza Chamber, Glamour: How to Be a Chic and Elegant Woman, for the full discussion of different types of occasion--something like 20, and her judgments about what would be chic in each. You probably won't agree with her judgments, but it's helpful to have a suggestion to work against.

 

Also the Picken book, for those who want a great discussion of combining colors and shades.


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#8 tailleuse

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 08:47 AM

Testudo,

 

I'm glad they look helpful and thanks for your suggestions,  I learned about the Inside Out blog on a really good home sewer's blog called A Little Sewing. I believe the author, Robin Deming (sp?), was the technical editor of forum member Claire Shaeffer's recent book on couture skirts.  Some time ago, Robin had some kind of body proportions analysis by the author of the Inside Out blog, Imogen Lamport. The original web page has disappeared, but here's an image from Pinterest.  Robin lives in the U.S. and Imogen in Australia:  I believe they discussed the results by Skype. I was thinking of doing something like this, although I can't believe there isn't someone local.  In any event, you might want to email Imogen to see if she still is doing these consultations.


Edited by tailleuse, 19 August 2015 - 08:48 AM.

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