Fashion Is Spinach

by Elizabeth Hawes
[Random House, $2.75]
‘“WHY should I read Walt Whitman? the Macy buyer asked. “I’m a dress buyer.’”
Elizabeth Hawes knows dress buyers — and for that matter she knows Macy’s, Lord and Taylor’s, and a number of other department stores. Her witty, humorous, and sometimes almost stingingly acute observations of the dress business as seen from the inside will tell the world of the passing of the great French tradition in clothes for American women. After all, as Elizabeth Hawes remarks, ‘Is God French?’
Quite a lot of people are going to be irritated by Miss Hawes’s book. It will be strong medicine for the fashion trades. But a lot more people of every age, type, condition, and temperament are going to love it with emotions ranging from chuckling pleasure to a vast unholy glee. The author is a first-class debunker in a perfectly nice, subtle way. As she says, ‘I, Elizabeth Hawes, have sold, stolen and designed clothes in Paris. I have reported on Paris fashions for newspapers and magazines and department stores. I have worked with American [store] buyers in Europe . . . and designed, sold and publicized my own clothes for nine years.’
Her charmingly impudent conclusion is that 95 per cent of the business of fashion is a useless waste of time and energy as far as the public is concerned. And then, in a still nice way, she proceeds to blow the roof off the fashion business. There’s a good deal of good clean ‘dirt’ in Fashion Is Spinach, and a great deal of drama and human interest.
Elizabeth Hawes is now a famous name. She is one of the few truly American designers, a member of our pioneering haute couture. She is as expensive as a Paris couturière, and her customers think she’s worth it. But she has learned her business the hard way, by slaving through every step of it herself. She lias sewn, cut, and sold clothes in Paris for $20 a month. To-day the least expensive dress from Hawes, Inc. costs $135. Between those two points lies a fascinating behind-the-scenes story, for Elizabeth Hawes knows every trick of the fashion racket and tells all.
The trade papers call her book ‘destructive.’ It will undoubtedly destroy a number of things, among them the ‘French tradition’ that beautiful clothes come only from Paris, and all women passionately desire them. She does not write beautiful prose, and often her sentences are giddily irrelevant. She sometimes labors a point. But who cares? She is never dull, never malicious. She has honesty, wit, and authority.
MARGARET DANA