Fashion on bookshelves

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“Life has been some combination of fairy-tale coincidence and joie de vivre and shocks of beauty together with some hurtful self-questioning.” 
from “The unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath”

“Life has been some combination of fairy-tale coincidence and joie de vivre and shocks of beauty together with some hurtful self-questioning.” 

from “The unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath”

Seven sisters style by Rebecca Tuite

American college fashion has always influenced designers but the subject is having a big moment with the launch of two books at the same time. One is Seven sisters style by Rebecca Tuite published by Rizzoli. The other is “Dress casual: How college students redefined American style” by Deidre Clemente.

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The book takes its name from seven American colleges opened between 1861 and 1889, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley. As written in the book, the Seven sisters colleges were "to be to women what Harvard and Yale are to young men". These were prestigious schools for daughters of a certain elite, definitely intelligent and free-spirited girls who not only strived to obtain academic and athletic success like young men, but also created a very unique way of dressing which has built foundations for the American casual elegance. 

"Seven sisters style" takes a deep look into the so called "Preppy style", invented in American colleges’ class rooms. Seven sisters style is not only a fashion statement but is also the way girls challenged the “Ivy league” with their own feminine interpretation of masculine clothing, like jeans, oversize coats, shorts, loafers and of course letterman sweaters. As always fashion was a way of giving a message, this time that of “breaking the rules”. For women of today wearing jeans and shorts is a normal routine, but Seven sisters college girls had to fight for them, in order to be more active in the school and social life. Wearing dirty and worn out jeans was in fact like a revolution. It is particularly interesting to discover that girls didn’t give up the feminine touch by personalizing their jeans with their names or with different fabric patchworks. Remember they were all capable of sewing, unlike us!

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Names like Katherine Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy, Sylvia Plath, Meryl Streep all graduated from Seven sisters colleges. What else would you need next to this coolness?

So put your two tone saddle shoes, little white socks, button down blouses and striped scarves on and yes don’t forget the blazer…and read about Seven sisters style.

I would like to read the second book in order to compare them and suggest, but overall I believe Rebecca Tuite’s book is a well written introduction to the world of preppy style and its influence on fashion in general. It definitely makes you want to know more, because you want to know about the creators of this style, more real-life stories… Therefore I checked the references on the book and seems like "The group" by Mary McCarthy is a must read to dive into the lives of Seven sisters girls. You can also read Simone de Beauvoir’s "America day by day" written during her trip to America and to Vassar. 

Happy reading

We do not sympathize with stringy hair and baggy shirts, but we will fight to the death for our right to wear dungarees on the proper occasions

Wellesley school girls in a letter to the editor of Life magazine, November 1944. From the book Seven Sisters Style by Rebecca Tuite published by Rizzoli

A dash of daring by Penelope Rowlands

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Carmel Snow by Richard Avedon

Fashion’s good novels are not many. We mainly read big coffee table books. "A dash of daring" by Penelope Rowlands is a really good one and a long one, but it’s definitely worth reading. This book is not only the biography of one of the most important names in fashion history (remember who said ” Oh this is such a new look Christian”?), but it is also the mirror to the life and battle of a modern working woman. Passion, hard work and perseverance bring success to Carmel Snow but sadly towards the end of the book you witness how someone so dedicated to work faces the reality of fading. 

If you read two books consequently you can have a valuable fashion history knowledge. First one is "A dash of daring" second one is "Empress of fashion" about Diana Vreeland, which is also reviewed in the blog. I’m sure you can see the connection, two of the most important ladies in fashion publishing, both having similar stories but in different epoques. Editors-in-chief are surrounded by all the big names of fashion and they are powerful, this is what makes their lives interesting for readers. Read the books consequently and you will discover 70 years of fashion (approximately from 1900 to 1970s).

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Carmel Snow and Diana Vreeland

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