Growing up I looked at my mother’s Lane Bryant catalog and think, “What a bunch of old lady clothes.” (I do not believe I had hit double numbers yet.) As I got older, I learned to appreciate the fact that it was hard for plus sized women to find clothing. Any kind of clothing, let alone nice and professional. And Lane Bryant helped my mom be as fabulous on the outside as she was inside. I would go on and buy things from there myself (having learned the value of professionalism) but it was not until a few days ago that I learned I could have been wearing Lena Bryant and not Lane Bryant.
The company Lane Bryant came about from an honest mistake. A Lena Bryant, nervous about being in a large bank, and as an immigrant with probably little to no formal education, accidently signed Lane Bryant on her application. And thus, fashion history was born. A Perfect Fit: How Lena “Lane” Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion was born from that story.
Mara Rockliff not only teaches us the history of Lane Bryant coming to be, but the history of fashion, the history of women, and the history of the country. We see how an immigrant girl from a small Jewish family followed a sister to America, worked in sweatshops, started to create her own clothing (never using a pattern), and started a trend when a client needed a dress that would expand with her during her pregnancy. She would later start her own business, with premade clothing, learning that one size does not fit all. Bryant would raise several children, marry twice and always stay current. By her death in the early 1950s people knew who she was.
And all of this is delightfully and wonderfully illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. And I mean wonderfully. The pages are just explosions of details and colors and textures. One page is lace-filled and seriously you almost could touch it! The seemly simplistic nature is complex and detailed and just, WOW (And I had a couple thousands of dollars’ worth of education to come up with that technical term!) I would frame the images and honestly, I cannot do them justice with words. They are images that need to be experienced.
I would have liked to have seen this book come out in March for Women’s History Month, but it is amazing at any time!