The Dressmaker’s Library: My very own style council via these books

I’m following a year long practice of daily reflections from a book called “Simple Abundance” by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  A few weeks back one of the entries mentioned an exercise from a book published during the Great Depression.  It was one of the very first self-help books that showed readers how to think positively and through discipline and effort work one’s way to a more abundant, prospering and successful life.  The book was called “Think & Grow Rich” by Naploeon Hill.  Sarah provided her version of an exercise from Hill’s book which led me to a wonderful discovery that has been waiting for me to get around to admitting it into my life.

The exercise is to think in a quiet place each night or morning about 4 influential people you are inspired by and who you seek advice from.  This is not a replacement for prayer or putting these people above God.  They are to be looked upon as role models you resonate with.  Once you have four people you spend some time with them by envisioning a conversation with them after you put a question to them.  If the answer doesn’t come during your quiet time, await the results by going about the rest of the day or evening.  An answer will come forth.

So what I did was sit down and ask myself which designers really, really move me?  Why do I feel hopeless whenever I admire the French Haute Couture creations too often?  Who do I really think were true revolutionaries of fashion for women?  The first few times I did this all I got was Christian Dior, Yves St. Laurent, Calvin Klein and Vionnet.  I didn’t like the results because I felt like I had this enormous weight upon my chest.  It felt hopeless to converse with these legends.  I put off the exercise for a week.

And then one after another I was led to consider designers I’d learned about in passing from conversations with my Mom or maternal Grandmother.  I began googling and found used books by each designer.  Without hesitation or a preoccupation with couture I realized I had found designers who made clothes that woman wore.  These clothes worked with the woman and did not restrain her or turn her into a clothes hanger.

And to futher amaze me each of my favorite decades was represented.  So–drumroll–here is the result of my soul searching and book shopping:

“Young Originals” by Rebecca Jumper Matheson
A bio of 1940s ready to wear American designer Emily Ann Wilkens.

“What Shall I Wear?”
A book about cultivating one’s unique sense of style by American designer Clair McCardell.  The illustrations and photos focus on 1950s fashions.

“Mary Quant Autobiography”
I was so very, very excited when Mary came to mind.  Mary Quant is for me the real revolutionary not Dior.  In the mid 1950s Mary created a New Look that brought freedom of movement to a woman’s body.  Dior was harking back to the old look of the pre-WWII era when women wore corsets and crinolines, big hats and fancy accessories.  The world outside of the U.K. received Mary’s influence and styles as the 1960s began.

“The Biba Years 1963-1975”
The story of Barbara Hulanicki and the Biba boutique.  I learned about Biba during the early 1970s.  Barbara was the first ready to wear designer that I saw mix retro glam influences into modern styles.  This will be the first time I study her life and designs in any depth.  Barbara lived and worked in the U.K.

I’m about 1/3 of the way through the Emily Ann Wilkens bio.  There are many insights I’m gaining into the development of junior clothing.  Emily Ann also had a very healthy muse for her inspiration.  Her girl was of average height and healthy body proportions.  After I finish each book I will share a review, details and what influences I find each designer has upon me.

If anyone is interested in the complete scope of “Think & Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, a free downloadable PDF is available at

When reading Hill’s book please keep in mind it was written in 1930s and the successful people featured are all men.  I read it with a mind to extract the principles and exercises.  I think there is room to be creative and update the techniques to suit one’s own needs.

I have worked on the photos of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma dress and should be posting about it next week.  The bias binding finish worked out very well.  I have enough photos to provide ideas to others who want to try such a finish out.




5 thoughts on “The Dressmaker’s Library: My very own style council via these books

    • I’m starting to love Emily Ann Wilken’s designs. They are so simple yet classy. The book comes with many reproductions of her original sketches. Wilken’s son and daughter maintain an extensive collection of their mother’s work which makes this book such a gem. You can’t see some of these things in a museum. I’m now half way through the book.

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