Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Lost Art of Dress and Aunt Laura

Yesterday my lovely 98 year old Aunt Laura died.  She was the last of the "American Mitfords" as I called my grandmother and her five sisters.  All were elegant and knew how to live.  Their modest homes were filled with well-chosen furnishings, inexpensive greenery and flowering plants, and had hard-working kitchens and sewing machines.  Somehow, it doesn't seem like an accident that I've been reading The Lost Art of Dress, a marvelous book by author/historian Linda Przybyszewski.

No one mastered the art of dress like my grandmother and her sisters.  Aunt Laura, in particular, had a beautiful lithe figure that was a seamstress' dream. She made almost all her own clothes including evening wear, coats and wraps.  Przybyszewski tells us that there was much help for the home sewer from what she refers to as The Dress Doctors. 

The "doctors" were the professors based in Home Economics departments across the country who empowered women to create the very garments of their dreams using practical design principles and theories of proportion.  Their messages were dispatched via books, booklets, pamphlets, and radio.  I've since discovered that some of the written material has become very collectible, and indeed, the premier Dress Doctor, Mary Brooks Picken, taught a nation of women to care about their appearance and wrote 96 books to help them.  Przybyszewski puts it all together in The Lost Art of Dress and she inspires us with Picken's very hand on her shoulder.  My running thought as I read, is "Why can't women dress like this today?"

I wonder too, if Aunt Laura may have had access to some of the Dress Doctors' publications, her skills were so precise and her clothes so beautifully made.  Ever a lady, she was soft-spoken and serene and  had an aura of finespun femininity about her (I'll always think of her when I sniff Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue, her favorite perfume).  Not long ago when I asked her if she remembered how to make my grandmother's famous Italian Pitta pastry, she held out her daintily cupped hand and said, "You take this much flour...."

I leave you with a sweet picture of Aunt Laura holding my younger brother in her arms, her godson (she adored babies and children).  She sits close to her true love and husband, Uncle Rennie. You will notice her graceful balletic frame and her pretty dress which no doubt came straight from the kitchen table.  It's where she kept the sewing machine. 


  1. I knew it would be Lynn! Thank you Priscilla!

  2. I am so sorry about your loss. Yes, that generation was the best dressed. I love it! I am also buying this book. Thanks for the recommendation. Again, I am so sorry

  3. Aunt Laura was lovely! Thanks for the review. I realize that I must now get this book.