A PERFECT FIT: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America

Jenna Weissman Joselit, Author . Holt/ Metropolitan $26 (257p) ISBN 978-0-8050-5488-0

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. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-8050-5487-3
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4668-6984-4
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!