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Real Clothes, Real Lives

An unprecedented look at women’s everyday clothes—from Sylvia Plath’s Girl Scout uniform to psychedelic microminis, modern suits, and fast-food workers’ uniforms—this fascinating volume shows how American women from every background have lived, worked, and dressed for 200 years.

Groundbreaking in its focus on the everyday clothing of ordinary American women—a subject neglected in most fashion histories—Real Clothes, Real Lives highlights over 300 garments and accessories from the Smith College Historic Clothing Collection. This unique survey honors countless lives, tracing through the lens of dress how women’s roles have changed over the decades. Each piece holds colorful stories about the woman who wore it, the one who made or bought it, and her context in place and time. Whether homemade or ready-made, many of the garments are modest and inexpensive. Some are one-of-a-kind pieces; others are examples of clever making-do, which seems particularly relevant today; and most reflect the popular styles of their era. Among the many extraordinary examples are a rare World War I uniform worn by an American woman working behind enemy lines and a 1970s go-go dancer’s costume. Exceptional photography and rich archival visuals accompany the highly readable texts, which offer a wealth of historical and social analysis of a side of fashion and feminism rarely considered. Hardcover, 256 pages.

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