Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Anyone who’s ever been a third-grader knows that what you wear can make or break your social life. But your society itself? That’s the thesis of A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America, Jenna Weissman Joselit’s sartorial study of the first decades of the modern era. From 1890 through the start of World War II, Joselit argues, while immigrants, African-Americans, and the otherwise disadvantaged used the medium of self-presentation and the means of mass production to bolster their class status, the country was undergoing its own transformation. “Said to employ more people than the sprawling steel mills of Pittsburgh, the motorcar plants of Detroit, or the slaughterhouses of Chicago, the ready-to-wear industry…altered America’s access to and attitude toward dress….Why, even farm girls, observed the New York Times in 1926, could have pretty clothes.” With individual chapters on shoes, hats, jewelry, fur, and “The Mark of a Gentleman,” A Perfect Fit traces the debates and dictums that shaped our national identity and paved the way for the largely egalitarian society we value so highly today. “For…countless immigrant women…ready-to-wear was not only a source of personal pleasure; ready-to-wear symbolized America—its abundance and flexibility, its choices and resources.” And if now, Joselit argues, getting dressed is “increasingly a matter of standing out,” perhaps it is because our ancestors took seriously their obligation to fit in. Joselit appears at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I St. NW. Free. (202) 331-7282. (Caroline Schweiter)