|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
( Originally Published 1963 )
THE MAGIC WORLD OF FASHION
Fashion must be magic. How else can one explain the miracles that can be wrought by clothing?
While clothes may not make the woman, they certainly do help. Clothes can be used to enhance a woman-or destroy her. Every woman can travel up-or down-the beauty scale, depending on whether or not she really wants to.
QUESTION: DO YOU WANT TO BE BEAUTIFUL?
No, I don't think every woman can be a raving beauty, but I do firmly believe that every woman can become truly beautiful in her own way. But, since making yourself your most beautiful may take effort (though it should never look like it took effort), you must first answer my question: Do you really want to be beautiful?Now what woman, I can almost hear you asking, doesn't want to be beautiful? Well, strangely enough, there are women who seem to fight the natural desire to be their loveliest. Some say they just don't care. I think most of these women say this because they're afraid they really can't be and they believe they'll feel worse if they try and fail. These are women who say to themselves-"I'll just stay as I am." I want to say to these women that I think they are wrong. I believe extreme attractiveness is possible for every woman. And I am also convinced that a woman's happiness increases as she becomes more beautiful.
Other women are afraid to change in any way, even for the better, because they feel people like them the way they are, and they're not sure about the reaction if they become different. Or they won't change their clothes, or their hair, or the way they make-up because someone might think they look foolish or cheap or affected. There are so many little limiting fears that can haunt a woman and keep her in a groove she may not want to be in. To this day I don't carry a cigarette holder (even though I really need to use a filter), because I feel everyone is looking at me and saying to themselves-"Get her!"
Let's stop caging ourselves in. Let's develop the attitude, the right one if we want to be beautiful, that says-"I'm going to do what I want to do. I'm going to look the way I want to look." This is the attitude that makes for an exciting, "individual" woman.
Now that we've dropped our fears and excuses lets all swear our female oath that we do want to be as beautiful as we possibly can be. That we do care, and that we care not just for big occasions-a date, a party-but all the time. I try to look as attractive at home as I do on the street. I comb my hair as carefully to go to the beauty parlor as I do to go to a party. And frankly I dress as much to please myself, as to please anyone else.
QUESTION: FOR WHOM SHOULD YOU DRESS?
When I say "dress for yourself" I don't mean to ignore your husband's or boyfriend's tastes. I'm very unhappy if my husband doesn't like something I buy, and I may very well return it. But I must like what I put on my back, and nine times out of ten, if I really like it, and if it's right for me, sooner or later my husband will really like it too. (Then the question is-will he admit it?)
And to my teen-age friends let me say that "dressing for yourself" does not mean you wear blue jeans to the Waldorf or shorts down State Street. Again, there's that subtle difference between license and liberty, between insulting or shocking the viewer or intriguing him with your attractive originality, between defending "the right to be sloppy" (and thus unfeminine) and growing up out of your long childhood rebellion. You see, when I say "dress for yourself" I'm assuming that you want to be a woman, and a beautiful one, or else you wouldn't be reading this book.
Then there are some women, not too many I'm glad to say, who seem to dress as much (if not more) to impress other women as to delight or please the men around them. Most of them work in fields which are strongly competitive (in movies, TV, the fashion field), and it does seem at times as if there was some sort of Olympics going on between the ladies to see who can be most phenomenally and "chic-ly" dressed. It seems to me that this sort of game usually defeats the competitors and that no one can win. You may emerge looking like you just stepped out of the cover of Vogue magazine or Har¢er's Bazaar, and you may wow the other women with your elegance, but you just might overwhelm the man you care about. He may be so impressed with the clothes that he can't find you in all that grandeur.
So here we are back at my grandstand position. It's the same one I started out with and I haven't wavered an inch since I first sat down to write the first page of this book. That unless you set out to discover yourself and your own style-until you know how to be you, how to buy what is for you, how to create a look that is your own-you will never be able to reach your fullest beauty. And that conformity-even conformity to the dictates of high fashion and "good taste"-can be your enemy if it is not your brand of fashion and your brand of taste.The first place to begin fighting conformity is in your own mind. Change your ways of thinking. Let the fresh air in. City women are, in general, much more receptive to new ideas and to trying changes in their fashions. As a small town girl I'm particularly aware of the problems and pressures of small-town living. The pressure to conform in most small towns is enormous. If the majority of women in your town still wear shapeless print dresses four inches below their knees and you appear on the streets in a shocking pink sheath that shows the bottom of your kneecaps you'll need courage-lots of it.
There's a silent conspiracy among some groups of women who are settled, who feel settled, and who think everyone else around them should feel and act settled and should not try to change or be different in any way. The women who might like to try their fashion wings a bit are naturally wary of offending this sorority of settled women. But these very women who feel that having achieved marriage and children they need no longer fuss or worry about their appearance sometimes run up against unexpected difficulties. Often their husbands are hungry for glamour and if they don't find it at home they seek it elsewhere. I know a true story that illustrates the point. Several husbands in a small southern town used to buy their wives fancy lounging pajamas about once a year or so. Their wives, each time, exchanged the pajamas for something "more practical." The saleswoman who told me this story swears that a few months later these same husbands returned to the store to buy more glamorous lounging pajamasbut this time they bought them for their new girlfriends.
GOOD TASTE SOMETHING YOU CAN LEARN AND DEVELOP
Many women do not change the way they dress because they have little confidence in their own taste, and so automatically gravitate to what is safe. But most people have got taste-much more than they imagine they do. It just atrophies the way anything does if it isn't used. What is taste? Taste is that funny little click that happens simultaneously in your eye and mind when you see two colors together, or flowers in a vase, or clouds arranged in your window, and you know you like what you are seeing. The more you increase your sensitivity to color, to line, to style in what you see, the more you develop a keen sense of fashion.
A developed sense of taste automatically drives a woman on to find the right dress, to discover the right color combination, or the right gloves or shoes for a suit. She won't stop till she finds exactly what she wants because she knows that only then will she feel happy in her clothes.
How does one learn taste? I still prefer to say you develop the taste you've always had, for like most talents, taste must be worked at to grow. But you do work at your sense of taste. You work at it a great deal more than you realize you do. Every time you pick up a fashion magazine, glance through the ads in a newspaper, go shopping in a department store, you are practicing your sense of taste, because you are visually and mentally selecting some things, rejecting others. Some appeal to you, others don't. But it helps a great deal if you begin to pin down the reasons you like certain clothes more than others. And it's important, because only that way will you be able to liberate yourself from your own little quirks, fears, and prejudices. Remember, when you go to buy a dress you take those psychological quirks with you. Nine times out of ten the withdrawn woman who wears drab clothing will buy another dull dress, not realizing that she is increasing her own personality problem by wearing the clothes she wears. The right kind of a dress, one that is not drab or dull, might actually help bring forth a little more courage with which to face life. Most women are highly affected mentally and emotionally by what they wear. Until you do understand yourself and free yourself from your blind spots, your taste will be limited.
The fashion magazines and advertisements are two very important sources for developing taste. They educate and inspire. By seeing what editors consider fashionable you are kept up to date on what the world's designers and manufacturers are doing-of what is new and of what is available in clothes. The imaginative composition, the colors and coordinates invented by the editors and photographers should provoke any number of new ideas for you to try. For instance-perhaps you never thought of wearing a sheath without a belt, but the model in the fashion magazine wearing one has a build something like your own and it looks fine on her. Shocking pink and lilac? Sounds as if they would clash terribly. But, for example, on a dark-skinned brunette the effect can be quite wonderful. You won't try the sheath without a belt, of course, if you're overweight. Pale skin would be most probably washed out by the shocking pink and lilac combination.
The point is not to be a passive observer but a creative one. Enter into what you see. Think about it in relation to yourself. Don't run out and buy the same dress you saw on Elizabeth Taylor. But you might want to build on the idea of an all-white silk drapey thing-one that would be fine for your own figure. Or maybe it's only the color that attracted you. Or only a sidedrape effect. Let the fashion spokesmen inspire your thinking about what to buy-but choose the dresses which are for you.
IS HIGH FASHION FOR YOU?
Do you have a swan-like neck? I don't. Are you about five foot nine inches tall and do you weigh about 105 pounds. (Heaven forbid.) Are you bosomless, hipless, thighless, and cheekless? (If so, you probably terrify your friends and family.) Don't misunderstand. I'm not knocking the gorgeous fashion models. They are certainly exciting to look at. But don't forget the extra ten pounds the camera adds to them, or the special sort of life they lead-which, by the way, a number of them give up for the more normal pleasures of living and looking less ghost-like.So, please, don't buy a dress because some unnaturally thin woman whose gown fits perfectly (because there are clothespins holding it together in back) looked smashing in it. I'm happy to say that more and more women are asking why magazines never show a model who does not have a swan-like neck. Why not one, they wonder (and so do I) with slightly heavy legs, or a waist that is perhaps a bit larger than a pencil.
These high-high fashion styles that originate in Paris are trendsetting ideas. They point the finger to new ideas in clothing. Many of them are deliberate exaggerations meant primarily to inspire the imaginations of manufacturers and designers throughout the Western hemisphere. But many women take these styles too seriously. As far as I am concerned, some designers are just too extreme for ordinary day to day existence.
This is why I think that what I call a modified High Fashion look is probably best for almost everyone: clothes that are beautiful and that are exciting, but that are never too exaggerated. What we busy, energetic women want and need are clothes that are as feminine and as flattering as possible in which we can always feel comfortable but never out of place, and in which we get plenty of attention, but for the right reasons.
ATTENTION GETTERS: DESIRABLE AND UN
Every woman wants to be looked at. It's a totally normal female desire. But some women dress only for attention and don't care how or why they get it. There are women who buy a dress knowing the dress will be the center of attention. I don't really understand this. I think a woman should want to be looked at because she looks wonderful-not because she looks strange, grotesque, or ludicrous. A woman must learn to recognize the difference between getting attention for the right reasons and getting attention for the wrong ones.
Naturally a woman in a low-cut dress with a bottom that cups under her fanny will create a stir at a party. Of course the men are going to flock around her. But this is rarely good or lasting attention. She'd be much better off to have created her own brand of attractiveness even if it were less obviously seductive. In that way she would have drawn the interest of people who sensed what she really was-and not just the anonymous quality of sexiness. Besides, I'm convinced that a dress, any dress, is only as sexy as the woman wearing it. And by "sexy" I don't mean the size of her bosom.
When I'm in Hollywood or at New York after-theater parties,if I want to compete with the beauty-sex-queens of the country I do not try to beat them at their own game. It would be easy enough to get lots of momentary attention. Just don't wear anything at all, and see what happens!
I try to create my own atmosphere. I wear what I think expresses me. Then if I get attention I'm fairly sure it's for myself, and that it's something solid and lasting.
The clothes you want are clothes that will get you attention on your own merits, shift the game to your own ground. That's the first rule of any good sportsman, and attention-getting is the oldest female sport in the world. Don't be dragged off-base (off your base and on to somebody else's) clothes-wise. Be wiser. Be yourself. Be brave. Be individual. And don't be dull! I'd rather see you clanking down the street in a suit of armor, or wearing nothing more than hair as long as Godiva's-plus one pink hairribbon.