Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: "What Shall I Wear" by Claire McCardell

Claire McCardell's classic book What Shall I Wear? originally written in 1956, was republished by Overlook Press in November 2012.  I was offered a free copy of the book to review for you and have completely enjoyed reading it during my travels this month.

Claire McCardell

As you probably know, Claire McCardell was one of America's most famous designers of easy, wearable dresses and sportswear in the 1940s and 50s.  Her clothing is still relevant today and is not only highly collectible, but completely wearable as part of a modern wardrobe.

What Shall I Wear? gives the modern reader a delightful view of fashion and dressing from the perspective of 1956.  Just as McCardell's designs are wearable today, her advice is, for the most part, pertinent for the modern woman.  When reading the book, you will need to dismiss (with a smile) certain references that were the norm in 1956, such as gloves being a necessity or the maximum 60 pounds of luggage allowed for airplane travel.  At the same time, I urge you to take note of the attitude towards purchasing pieces for your wardrobe that is as far from today's "fast fashion" approach as can be.  McCardell's advice, "Plan to keep what you buy.", is something I truly believe we should aspire to as responsible world citizens today.

Here are a few more gems of wisdom from the book:

"Don't try to live up to Fashion.  First of all, stay firmly you.  And if Fashion seems to be saying something that isn't right for you, ignore it."

"Ask yourself about color....I suspect you can wear more variety than you think....Texture affects color.  Turquoise in satin and turquoise in jersey are two entirely different stories.  In a shiny fabric, color may be too bright, too hard to live up to.  In a dull fabric it is softer, may seem an entirely different color even though it has been put into the same dye pot."

"I believe firmly that any woman who loves clothes is going to be a collector....Certain clothes will stay in her wardrobe for years......You will bless the ageless clothes in your collection.  They are the backbone of any closet, things you can depend on when you need them."

To me, this is the essence of why we love vintage clothing.  It was designed and made to be worn for years and years.  Those vintage garments we search out and add to our wardrobes are purchased to become part of our closet collections, and are still working half a century or more later.  You will find the same to be true of almost all of the advice dispensed in "What Shall I Wear" by Claire McCardell.  This is truly a charming and delightful read that will cause you to think about your wardrobe from a classic perspective, one we need to rediscover and recapture today.

You can order your own copy of "What Shall I Wear" by clicking the link.  It will take you directly to the book on Amazon.  Enjoy!