This past summer, in a magical bookstore on the island of
Martha’s Vineyard, I stumbled upon The
Little Dictionary of Fashion by none other than Christian Dior.
Dior is the father of haute couture. In 1947, the Frenchman’s New Look collection raised the fashion world out
of the gloom of World War II and created a renewed interest in high fashion.
Dior was a master of silhouettes, and his clothes were the epitome of femme and
In this pocket-sized, champagne-pink fashion guide, I
uncovered all of the master’s musings and explanations on the importance of
elegance. I found his suggestions for dressing appropriately fascinating, in part
because it seems that my generation, and Americans in general, have lost the art
Don’t believe me? Check out the current spring trends. “Coachella wear” and the street style emphasized by Alexander Wang and
Karmaloop do not correlate well with traditional ideas of elegance. Still unconvinced? Try finding an elegant crop top. You can’t; it’s practically an oxymoron.
Sometimes on the red
carpet, though, an actress or model will sport a crop top and manage to look
good. Elegant, I’m not so sure, but if the Fashion Police don’t attack it, I guess the red carpet crop top is in the clear. Emma Stone, Rihanna and Kerry
Washington (remember that epic baby-bump crop top?) have all managed to look chic while donning a popular trend that Mr.
Dior would have deemed très ridiculous.
Regardless of your views on the crop top, Dior’s little book serves as a great refresher on the art of elegance in a time when it has become all but obsolete. Although he penned the book in the 1950s, Dior’s nuggets of fashion
wisdom still apply today. A couple of his suggestions stood out to me as particularly important.
First, good planning is
integral to good dressing. I can attest to how important planning is when
it comes to an impressive outfit; there have been many occasions where I’ve spent
hours trying on and taking off clothes in a rush before an event, praying that an amazing
outfit will materialize in the crazy whirl of clothes coming in and out of
I’m almost never satisfied with an outfit that has been created in haste. I’ve found, and I think Christian would agree with me, that it is always
better to have a general framework for the kind of outfit that will work
best for the day’s events. Confidence goes a long way, and wearing an outfit
that you are constantly tugging and pulling at does not lend well.
When it comes to putting outfits together, fast fashion is arguably our generation’s bread and butter. We
can switch up our style at the drop of a hat thanks to behemoth bargain retailers
like H&M, Forever 21 and Target. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoy the instant gratification of buying a few pieces for under fifty dollars at one of these stores. However, there is a serious dark side to fast fashion, including environmental stress and the terrible working conditions faced by laborers.
Although fast fashion was not a concept during Mr. Dior’s lifetime,
his book also provides excellent insight on why cheap materials are not actually economical: “Cheap woolen material is not really cheap
because it quickly becomes shabby and will be worn out before you have had it
more than a few months.”
Bravo, Mr. Dior! I often find myself in the ensnaring
hands of fast fashion, staring at my wardrobe and yearning for more clothes and more options, and it is all too easy to grab my
computer and start cruising the online isles. As a student with
limited funds, it seems that the smart choice
would be to buy items from H&M because they’re cute, fashionable and
within my budget.
But, Dior couldn’t have been more right when he claimed that cost-effective materials do not last; the very nature of the clothes force you to buy more. I have many a cardigan and cotton top from H&M and
Forever21 that have pulled, shrunk or pilled within two weeks of wear. I can
try DIY ways of remedying such issues, but after a while I want to chuck that old sweater and go out and buy another.
I’m not completely against these fast fashion retailers, though. They do offer cute and affordable clothes and, sometimes, price can seem more important than quality. With that being said, though, I think it’s important to take the wisdom of Christian Dior into account and purchase higher quality wardrobe staples that will last longer and save money in the long
run. As a collector of vintage clothing, I can testify to how long a well-made
item can actually last.
The next time you run across an outfit snafu, remember these two
tips from your fashion fairy godfather: Always plan ahead and invest in good
materials. No matter what style you prefer, remember that a little touch of
elegance can go a long way in perfecting the art of dressing.
Chabrina Bruno PO ’15 is a religious studies major with a minor in studio art. She loves to collect vintage clothing and jewelry.