Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Leave Your False Eyelashes in Town

Have you read the book A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux? It was a 1964 guide "for every woman who wants to be well and properly dressed on all occasions" that was recently republished. A lovely reader recommended the section on hems to me, and I just recently bought it. It's a funny little book, half enlightening and half maddening. For every useful bit of advice, there's another that drives me batty: i.e., elderly women should wear mostly pastels, or anyone with hips bigger than 38" should not wear shorts. (Whatevs, Genevieve!) But as I've been wardrobe planning for my mini-break, I read with much interest the section on "Weekends," which is a guide for city dwellers who weekend in the country. (Hey, just like me and Bridget Jones!)

Genevieve says the ideal outfit for an elegant woman who is leaving to spend the weekend in the country is this:

  • a suit, worn with flat-heeled shoes (or boots in the winter), and a handsome handbag of the traveling type.
A suit! How novel! For summer holidays, Genevieve says the suit should be a "brightly colored linen or cotton, and it would be accompanied by a shirtwaist, sandals, and a straw handbag." Now, a suit for a vacation seemed kind of crazy to me at first, but as a couple readers pointed out, upstate New York can get quite chilly in June. How about a full skirt and nipped-in jacket in bright red linen? Very New Look, like so:

Kind of brilliant, eh? Just think how it could coordinate with your other vacation wear, like your red gingham blouse!

But moving on. According to Ms. Dariaux, I will also need the following:

  • a simple dressing gown that is neither sheer not voluminous, but pretty and fresh-looking for breakfast, which everybody will probably take together in the dining room. [Interjection: we are going to a bed & breakfast, so dining with others is likely, but I will be doing so fully clothed, thank you. Though a very good idea to remember cute sleepwear on a romantic mini-break!]
  • a pair of trousers, a sweater or blouse, and, in the summer:
  • a bathing suit and a sundress.
  • for the evening: a trouser suit if the evening is to be spent informally at home with her friends; or
  • a long dinner dress, slightly decollete, if her weekend hostess leads a more formal kind of life . . . but if the weekend program includes a more informal cocktail buffet type of evening, a more appropriate outfit would be:
  • in the winter: a very simple white jersey dress with a bateau neckline, or a sleeveless wool sheath in a pale color; and in the summer: a dress of the same type in printed cotton or linen.
Exhausted yet? And we haven't even gotten to shoes, bags, gloves, and jewelry! The chapter concludes with this very sage advice:

Even if you are not at all an outdoor type of woman at heart, you should at least dress the part when you spend the weekend in the country, and by all means leave your false eyelashes in town.
Truer words were never spoken.


  1. Have you gotten to the part about packing yet? You'll need another day off to arrange your suitcase to Ms. Dariaux's exacting standards. You'll need lots of tissue paper, and she won't think much of you if you pack your shoes without their own little shoe bags, like any old slattern.

  2. Hahaha... yes, definitely leave the false eyelashes at home, along with the tiara and the fur stole with the little fox heads and feet. I love the suit idea and the pattern - that jacket would look fab with white trousers!

  3. I absolutely love that funny little book! Some of it is maddening, I agree, but there are some interesting tips that can still be relevant today.

    Mostly, though, it's such a fascinating glimpse into the lives of women of a certain class at a certain time. Anne Fogarty's 1959 book, Wife Dressing, is similar -- have you read that one? I just started it the other day. Lots of tips on what to pack, how to dress for different occasions, etc., in order to be a properly dressed wife. I bet Betty Draper had that one on her bookshelf. ;)


  4. That is alot to pack, how on earth does she expect us to fit that all in, lol!

  5. Thanks for sharing this! I'd forgotten that this was a book I wanted to own. I love things like this, even if I rail against some of it as a dyed in the wool feminist ;) False eyelashes are always expendable in the face of a good time eh! Xxxc

  6. Well, it's good to know there have been experts at making women feel inadequate working away at their craft for several decades at least.

    There is something to be said about a set of rules though, isn't there? I've always been a bit anti-authoritarian, but I do love rules that work for you and make your life (and decision making!) easier.

    I think you should consider the dressing gown, by the way. Wouldn't you love to go for cereal and juice looking like one of these ladies?

  7. When I was a child my Aunt came to visit us from Canada. We were country and she was city, she was also stuck in the '50s, made her own clothes and always looked beautifull. I remember sitting with her when she unpacked - I was in awe of her and her cothes. I remember she had a royal blue suit (with a straight skirt, she also had a seersucker two piece shirt dress ( in a red white and blue madras check), full skirted with buttons down the front so it could be worn as a dress or seperately, apparently it also had a little shirred strappy top to match. I also remember a gorgeous see-through white blouse - not sure what the fabric was but had a fancy weave, Oh and the prettiest glass buttons. A few other things I can't quite remember right now. She had a fabulous nightdress case in embroidered satin and cotton bags with monograms for her gloves, shoes and underwear. She was SUCH a lady!

  8. I picked up that book and loved it, even the antiquarian ideas. Even if many things are no longer applicable, it does give some decent advice.

  9. I recently borrowed this book from the library and loved it too! I laughed at some suggestions and found others inspiring. One thing that was not covered was what to wear to a sporting event, wonder what Genevieve would say one should wear to a baseball game?

  10. I actually own that book, and you're right, it's a combination of sage advice, and hilariously restrictive rules. I always wonder if women actually followed such rules back in the day, or if this book was still on the strict side back then. She gives great advice about shopping with friends, though - namely, don't do it!

  11. Oh, it's just a lovely book, but most of it I do regard applicable to another era and another class.
    My favourite part is the colour section.

    I purchased it in 2004 after reading an interview with Mrs. Dariaux. when she was 89 years old and looking very elegant. I don't know if she 's still alive.

    Kathleen Tessaro's (chicklit)novel "Elegance" is based on this book. A good summer read.

  12. Oooh, I adore the idea of a "simple white jersey dress with a bateau neckline"! But I have to say, given that this type of dressing seems very rule-oriented, I'm surprised she recommends white for winter. I do want one now though.

  13. Oh I love this book so much, it's my manual for life.

    And I don't believe any of the advice is "wacky" I think it is all about how you read it. For instance, when she says no shorts if you are larger than 38 inches in the hip (or over 20 I believe, but I don't have my copy on me), what she means is you will not look elegant in shorts. Most women out of their teens and with full hips are going to look better in a skirt. Actually, I have yet to see a curvy girl look better in shorts than she does in a skirt, same thing with pants. Skirts were made to love your hips, skim your thighs and watch men lose the ability to speak. Shorts were made for athletics.

    I side with Ms. Dariaux. Nix the shorts.

    I also agree with her strongly about the advice on knees. To be happy is to be hidden.

  14. Oh how wonderful! I once read a novel that was based on this book, but I'm yet to read the original. Adding it to my wishlist!

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha'penny

  15. I love that book plus Better than Beauty: A Guide to Charm, which I love even better than my Emily Post books. I have the book, and it's great, especially the fiction book called Elegance which is sort of Bridget Jones meets Clueless make-over. I love it in terms of old-school, but I never could take everything to face value. I love my wedges and will continue to wear them. lol.

  16. love the part about eyelashes. I for one am the kind of girl who goes camping, with 3 suitcases and a train case FULL of makeup. Haha, who says the woods dont have to be glamorous.

    When we go on vacation, I think I dress up MORE than when in town, something about vacation makes me feel full of life and ready to look my best.

  17. Oy gevalt. All those rules are making my head spin. And I LOVE style rules.

  18. Oh, I totally agree with the "flat shoe" part! Enjoy yourself and wear some comfy ballerina slippers!

  19. Have you ever read Elegance. Its a novel based on this book. The main character actually meets madame Dariaux at some point. The book is sweet.

  20. I too love the book (ordered it after reading Tessaro's novel). But it does not irritate me at all.

    I have read it several times, because it leaves me completely peaceful. If you were part of the upper middle class in those days you had all those lovely clothes and you did not know how uncomfortable they were, because Lycra/Spandex had not been invented yet.

    I was taught the shoe bag thing by my mother long before I had the book. I don't think I ever packed without some kind of shoe bag, even if it was only a plastic bag.

    I certainly did not feel uncomfortable when reading the book. Must be my age...

  21. I love the idea of this even though it's old-fashioned, travelling in a cute summer suit and following the rules of appropriate items to wear. While yes, it's restricting, it's also refreshingly simple too. One less thing to worry about while on vacation as you'd always be impeccably dressed!

  22. Ooh, thanks for reminding me about the novel based on this book! Wouldn't that be the perfect mini-break paperback?

  23. I have said book and when I have a question, I refer to it. It have never let me down.

  24. Growing up, we were the poor country cousins and as luck had it, we had quite a few city aunts who always shamed us with their clothing and shoes and jewelry.

    One aunt in particular, great-aunt actually, always wore real jewelry - not plastic - and shoes and hose even in the house and spent more money on her hair in one week than we did in an entire year for the whole family.

    I loved her dearly, but she was definitely of a 'certain time and place' and was never comfortable on the farm but she was better than another aunt who didn't have the manners or courtesy to hide the fact that she thought we were grubby little urchins.

    When I read books like this, I can always hear my great-aunt's voice. It was always a relief when she went home.

  25. I also love this book! It's so charming and always puts a smile on my face. :)
    As for advice: I rather turn to it for inspiration. I like to think about how those advices from former times could hold something true now. E.g.I like the idea of buying quality rather than to go for quantity.
    And sometimes I just love to dream of times when you were actually meant to put on hat and gloves every day.
    The book (paperback) based on this book is "Elegance" by Kathleen Tessaro. It's also quite cute and well written.

  26. I bought this book because of your post. I just had to see for myself the interesting little tidbits!

  27. I have this book and also another vintage style guide, "Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm," (which someone else mentioned). I enjoy this one, but I really prefer Better Than Beauty - even though it's older (late 1930s, I believe), it's generally far more practical. Very sensible and funny, though alas, less about clothes. There's a GREAT illustration about hairstyles though, and lots of genuinely timeless good advice on things like sale shopping (e.g. if it's a good price but not useful, then it's not actually a good buy) and what to not get stressed out about (like the precise application of eyeliner). It's also intended for a more everywoman type, rather than the fancier sorts this book is about. That said, it's still a great read, even though, as a bosomy woman, I do get rather sulky reading about how being buxom is such a great flaw! Pft.

  28. "anyone with hips bigger than 38" should not wear shorts". How silly! I read it and thought "hmm, I think ONLY women with a 38" hip should wear shorts!"
    I do almost understand her I guess? in 1960 a 38" hip (vintage size 20) was probably huge.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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