Elizabeth Hawes’s Blue Mazurka

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

For anyone interested in the history of American fashion, Elizabeth Hawes’s witty book Fashion is Spinach should be required reading. Published in 1938, it was just republished in a paperback version by Dover.  It is also is available for free here.

Hawes was a couture designer, fashion critic, and labor activist, certainly an unusual combination. Follow her tumultuous career in Bettina Berch’s wonderful biography Radical by Design. She published many books and magazine articles, but Fashion is Spinach is her magnum opus. In it, she criticizes the cult of French design, chronicles the establishment of her couture dress business in New York, and gives a bitter sweet account of her efforts to create a line of ready-to-wear clothes.

Fashion is Spinach includes a funny letter from a client about a Hawes dress called Blue Mazurka. (Hawes liked to give her creations names, sometimes humorous.) “The first two years were fine. I loved the dress. I used to think up places to go where I wasn’t invited just so I could wear it,” wrote the owner. By the fourth year, when she tried to cycle it out of her wardrobe, her husband would request it for special occasions. “Then it got so that I couldn’t buy anything else. I would go into simple, defenseless shops and try on dress after dress and Blue Mazurka would materialize in the mirror and I would say thank you very much but I have a dress and walk out.”

Although I was unable to find a photo of Blue Mazurka, another creation called The Styx, made in 1936, can serve as a substitute. I never go to events that require formal dress, but someone with a different kind of life could easily wear this today. Wouldn’t it be perfect for an older woman who was reluctant to show her upper arms? See more of Hawes’s timeless designs on the Metropolitan Museum of Art site.

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6 Responses to Elizabeth Hawes’s Blue Mazurka

  1. Great story! I happen to be reading Fashion is Spinach now (I managed to snag a copy through my statewide library system), and it’s delightful.

    You might have seen this 1938 Life magazine article about Hawes (link below). It has a (very poor, black and white) photo of Blue Mazurka, and some other fun stuff: https://books.google.com/books?id=00oEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA3&ots=8j3FUq55zu&dq=hawes%20blue%20mazurka&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q=hawes%20blue%20mazurka&f=false

  2. elke says:

    Thanks for reminding me about Elizabeth Hawes. I read her book when I was in high school, and will now read it again.

  3. eimear says:

    I am looking forward to reading this book later…… i think pauline trigere used lament that a man could have one tux for all occasions… whereas a woman was obliged to have lots of different evening gowns, owning too many inferior ones rather than a few fantastic ones……(I am paraphrasing here….)

  4. Lizzie says:

    Hawes is everywhere this week! With all the talk about her I’ve spent the day rereading Fashion is Spinach.

  5. Laurie Myer says:

    Will certainly look up the book–copied the link 🙂 I just said good-bye to a decade in Asia–where I wore formals quite a bit. I would wear Blue Mazurka in a heartbeat! Thanks for the post

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