I am finally back in my sewing room, working on my emerald green silk suit. The event to which I had hoped to wear this suit has come and gone (I wore something else that evening and the world somehow kept on spinning – amazing!), but this sewing project was and is on my Spring agenda and I am bound and determined to finish it. Until I have made a bit more progress, with something to show for it, I thought I would indulge you with a book review of the 1956 Claire McCardell (1905-1958) book, What Shall I Wear, re-published in 2012 by The Rookery Press, in association with The Overlook Press, New York, New York.
This book came to my attention by way of The Vintage Traveler blog (thanks, Lizzie!). I purchased it on Amazon last Fall, and then, to my surprise, it was one of five books chosen by Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal for her annual list of “Best Style Books”.
Here from Binkley’s review of the book: “This book is a gem. …It manages to be modern more than 60 years later… The designer created chic casual items that we take for granted today, such as trim ankle pants and full skirts that permit comfort and movement. … She demonstrates an understanding of women’s lives. ‘Everyone should have a “pop-over” dress – a sheath that they can just pop over their head and go.’”
Here are some of Claire McCardell’s fashion tips and thoughts which struck a chord with me, especially in relation to sewing and dressmaking:
1) The simple act of changing buttons (or in sewing, choosing the right ones) can make a dress fit your style.
2) When putting together your clothing (or pattern and fabric) budget, consider carefully where you want to put your money. Make one major purchase a year, something classic and timeless is always a smart move.
3) Use color extensively and don’t be afraid to stretch from your normal palette.
4) Coats should be a large part of your wardrobe. Indeed, she recommends compiling a “Coat Collection”. That’s advice sweet to my ears!
5) Learn how to tie a scarf! In her words: “You miss all the fun if you can’t tie things.” “If you really care about Fashion, sit down right now and learn to tie. An ascot, a bandanna, a neckband, a bowknot. This means knowing how to fold first, knowing how to loop next, knowing how to get the knot straight, knowing how to make the ends even – or uneven – on purpose.”
6) Like all the great fashion designers and couturiers, she emphasizes the overwhelming importance of fit. All those muslins/toiles we make are worth the time they take!
7) Accessorize your outfits with the appropriate jewelry, shoes, and bags. Restraint is better than opulence.
8) She was a big fan (and proponent) of the “American Look”: meaning comfortable clothing with clean lines, displaying elegant simplicity.
The final chapter of the book is appropriately entitled: Fashion has no last chapter.
You can read here for yourself her Essential Eleven. Pay particular attention to #2!
Earlier in the book on page 103, she relates her first experience with dressmaking: “Miss Annie … came to the house to make clothes for mother and me. The process fascinated me from the start – selecting the pictures of dresses in the Vogue Pattern Book, the fabrics to be bought at the dry-goods store, the cutting and basting and fitting, the pockets and buttons and buttonholes…”
Surely sewing and dressmaking have no last chapter either: What will you wear? What will you sew?