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While fashions of the rich and famous have been endlessly chronicled, little attention has been paid to the meaning of clothes for everyone else. Yet between 1890 and 1940, as ready-to-wear came into its own, fashion for ordinary Americans played an increasingly important role in shaping the national character. Drawing on advertisements and health manuals, sermons and songs, acclaimed historian Jenna Weissman Joselit shows how the length of a woman's skirt, the shape of a man's hat, and the height of a pair of heels enabled citizens of every faith, color, and class to feel part of the modern nation.
Engaging, imaginative, and original, A Perfect Fit uncovers a time in our history when getting dressed was more about fitting in than standing out.
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Jenna Weissman Joselit is currently visiting professor of American studies at Princeton University and the author of numerous works of cultural history, including The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture 1880-1950 (winner of the Jewish Book Award in History). Joselit has also curated and consulted on more than thirty exhibitions throughout the country. She lives in New York City.
From the 1890s to the 1930s, social historian Joselit (The Wonders of America) argues in this enticingly illustrated volume, fashion was "the most literal expression of who we were as a nation." In an increasingly diverse society, fashion was billed as a unifying force, she argues; its arbiters promised that anyone, from Jewish ghetto girls to ex-slaves, could blend in by wearing the right clothes. To make her case, Joselit quotes from the Ladies' Home Journal, Vogue and other magazines, on everything from women's hemlines to men's suits, shoes to hats, furs to jewelry. Though she also quotes rabbis, popes and advice columnists, as well as merchants like Henri Bendel, she doesn't include many working girls or sales figures from Sears or Woolworth's. More research is needed to prove that ordinary Americans believed fashion's promises. Still, Joselit's book is enjoyable a fluffy history lite, with a liberal smattering of turn-of-the-century advertisements for corsets and collars. Joselit is stronger as a museum curator than a historian, yielding a book that's far more stimulating visually than intellectually. Indeed, there's nothing new here the "democratization of style" has been well documented by other fashion historians for years. Readers interested in this particular subject would be better served by Claudia Kidwell's works, or even Kennedy Frazier's. Illus.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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