Before Trinny and Suzanna, before Gok, before Carson Kresley, before those two awful girls who took over from Trinny and Suzanna, there was Ann Fogarty, a style icon of the 50s who wrote an etiquette book called The Art of Being a Well Dressed Wife.
I’ve always wanted to be a well-dressed anything. Not too concerned about the wife bit. Husband is stuck with me and bizarrely got cranky with me the other day when I tried to throw out a feral short low cut dress that I wear to the beach. “I love that dress,” he protested. Seriously it would have frightened the dirt had I used it as a duster. So I’m not bothering being a well dressed wife for him. He wouldn’t appreciate it.
But for those of you looking for the secret of looking like an extra from Mad Men, here’s what Ann had to say.
If I had to boil down my thinking about wife-dressing into one word, that word would be discipline — of the mind, the body, and the emotions.
A bachelor girl can be a chameleon, changing her look to suit a new whim, a new job or a new beau. But settling down means it’s time to crystallise your position, your taste and your style.
Discipline is the secret of good grooming, well-cared for clothes, and an organised household. It helps you decide which style is right for you — and what does not suit.
Discipline stops you from buying an unbecoming coat because it’s a bargain. And it prevents you from deluding yourself that your shoes are fine when you’re too lazy to get them re-heeled.
But please don’t confuse discipline with hardness or calculation. Look around you and you’ll see the most delightfully casual women are those who know exactly what they’re doing and why. It can take more time and care to be the windblown child of nature than a picture of neat perfection.
Whatever image you wish to convey, self-discipline will help you devote the time and trouble to it. Here are some of my pet theories — as wife and mother — on the subject or dressing well and good grooming.
- Compress Your Wardrobe
Be relentless. If it’s out of style, makes you itch or squirm with discomfort, or doesn’t suit your colouring — get rid of it, fast!
Unless you have a cedar-lined attic or more cupboard space than I’ve ever seen in the biggest household, be ruthless. Don’t hang on to things that may some day come back into style, have sentimental value, or that ‘will do’ for rainy days or household chores.
Collect your discards and give them to friends, family or charity. Quality items can be sold to a second-hand designer shop.
Fashion is for today. Don’t look back — and don’t look further ahead than the current season. Don’t buy end-of-season bargains to wear the following year — they’ll look
Only once you’ve cleared the dross and fool’s gold away, can the real nuggets in your wardrobe shine.
An uncluttered wardrobe gives you a working knowledge of what you have, and makes selection easy. It’s better to have fewer clothes, all wearable and each accessorised in your mind so that when you put something on you know at once which shoes you’re going to wear.
Complete costume-planning is possible only with an intimate awareness of all your clothes.
Scent is subtlety, not a sledge-hammer. Women who say their perfume leaves a man panting are quite right: they’re choking him to death. The minute he can find some fresh air he’ll escape.
A delicate manner of using perfume is to put some on a dab of cotton inside your brassiere, a small amount sprayed along your shoulder and up each side of your neck, and a quick squeeze for your hair.
- Old shoes must go
Old shoes are good only for hanging on the back of a bridal car or giving to the children for dress-up play.
Nothing spoils an outfit more than time-worn shoes or those obviously out of style.
I always have more shoes than dresses, with different colour pairs giving new life to various ensembles. I am hard on my shoes and by the end of their fashion usefulness they’re about ready for the dustbin. Those that are wearable but no longer suitable are sent off with discarded clothes.
As for expense, my feeling about shoes is the same I have about other clothes. If you feel guilty about spending lots on shoes, spend less on each pair but replenish more frequently.
Fashion is a living, changing part of life.
- Excess accessories
Another case of the Confusion of Profusion is too many scarves, belts, gloves and handbags, and by ‘too many’ I mean relics of former years that keep getting in the way of the accessories currently in use.
Admittedly, most accessories can be worn indefinitely because classic styles change very little.
If an accessory hasn’t been worn for a year, if it’s shabby, if the colour is faded or doesn’t go with anything you have or if you simply can’t stand to wear it — that’s right, out it goes.
- The skeletal jewel box
Real or fake — the best jewel box is the one that is sparsely filled.
Not being able to see the wood for the trees is the chief woe of the overstuffed jewel cask. You’ll never be able to find what you want. The chain of a bracelet will be snarled in some earrings. In your haste, you may break something valuable.
- Boudoir wear
Whether you prefer pyjamas or a nightie, a well-dressed wife should pay as much attention to the style and fit of her nightwear as she does to her other clothes.
The master bedroom is not a college dormitory — it’s a private retreat set apart from the outside world and you should dress accordingly.
Think pretty when making your nightwear selections, and please, no safety pins or missing buttons. Fastidiousness is essential when it comes to sleepwear.
For morning you need a warm, tailored dressing gown, slim in cut and ankle-length. This length is best because short dressing gowns can expose the unattractive sight of a rumpled nightie or pyjama bottoms — or bare white legs — protruding underneath.
Perhaps I’m a little oversensitive to the need for glamour in every phase of a wardrobe, but at the speed with which we all live, it’s nice sometimes to drag your foot in a furry mule and slow things down a bit.
- A scarf is a girl’s best friend
Scarves are my pet accessory, because they can be worn with such singularity — and don’t have to be expensive to look bewitching.
I rarely go out — or stay home for that matter — without one of some size, shape, or fabric around my neck or tucked in my jacket.
Your scarf wardrobe can be built steadily because scarves are timeless. Chiffons, satin, stripes, checks, prints, long, short, or enormous swathes for evening — wonderful effects can be had for next to nothing.
- Girls that wear glasses
I wear glasses for reading, and I think of them as being part of my personality rather than my fashion wardrobe.
I do not believe glasses should match what you’re wearing, as it only draws attention to them. The shape and colour should blend with your facial tones and hair colouring. Warm tortoiseshell and gold are flattering to most people.
Normally I wear simple black frames which work well with my brown eyes and dark brows. Flashy, jewel-bedecked frames are a fashion evil.
Take care with sunglasses, too. Unless under doctor’s orders, a woman wearing sunglasses indoors or at night looks like nothing more than a satire of a Hollywood glamour queen — grade B.
- When you can’t find a thing to wear
If your clothes and accessories are pared down and organised, finding something suitable to wear for any occasion should be less of a problem.
From my own experience, a low ebb of energy can also lead to a sudden feeling of despair when I open the wardrobe door. When this happens, I try to forget about what I’m going to wear for a few minutes and lie down with my feet elevated.
Five minutes ‘on the flat’ is the best restorative I know of, along with a square of chocolate or a sweet drink for a quick pick-me-up to start the vital juices flowing and make decisions that much easier.
I am guilty of breaking every one of these rules so I give up. I’m off to get my crappy beach dress out of the rubbish bin. Image