The Dressmaker’s Library: “The Little Dictionary of Fashion” by Christian Dior

Cover of “The Little Dictionary of Fashion” by Christian Dior, Published by V&A Publications, London, 2007.

The subtitle of “The Little Dictionary of Fashion” by Christian Dior is “A guide to dress sense for every woman.” I think this perfectly sums up Dior’s goal was when this book was published in 1954.

The book is organized alphabetically with topics ranging from what types of collars, cuffs, jewelry, hairstyles, bodices and skirts–to just name a few–are best for different times of the year and different occasions. Dior also shares some tidbits that dressmakers can benefit from in regards to buttons, fabrics and trims. The purpose of the dictionary is to distill into a simple and accessible format the essential elements of good grooming and style. There are no hard and fast guidelines from Dior. Rather, he sought to give every woman who reads the dictionary an awareness of colors, styles and accessories that will work best for different occasions and different figure types.

By modern standards this book is rather staid and the suggestions Dior proposes seem very old fashioned. Flamboyance and extravagance, colorful individual expression and all the fashion freedom prevalent today was not in existence when this book was written. The takaway for the reader in 1954 would have been a very simple but clear awareness of what was considered good taste, elegance and a degree of flair that would be independent of passing trends.

If, however, you have an interest in vintage fashions, are a collector of high quality designer originals, or are seeking to incorporate a little Retro Glam into your modern day wardrobe and life, this book will provide some good points.

First, there are photos and illustrations on every page that vividly bring to life haute couture fashion and accessories of the early 1950s. The ultra feminine look of Dior’s 1947 New Look had evolved by this time into a sleeker silhouette defined by mid-calf sheath dresses and pencil skirts. There were still full skirted dresses as well. The big difference for me was that the cinch waist jackets of the 1947 collection were replaced by jackets and overcoats of a looser, more boxier fit in 1954. The hats, too, were smaller and the hairstyles shorter and closer to the head.

I do not hesitate to recommend this book to any dressmaker or home sewist who enjoys an easy read that distills some elements of 1950s fashion sensibility into an accessible format. Repeated reading of the entries will, over a short period of time, impress the style elements Dior chose into your imagination and provide ideas for your own projects or wardrobe enhancements.

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Please note: This book was purchased by me for my personal use. I did not receive a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a review at my blog.

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