From Betty Beguiles, friend and fellow Blogger.
Based on what I’ve seen of her old photographs, my maternal grandmother’s friends were exceptionally blessed in the looks department. Come to think of it, my paternal grandmother’s friends were, as well.
This is always my first impression when I peruse their old photo albums anyway. In reality, though, none of the women memorialized between the pages of these books had Marilyn Monroe’s figure or Audrey Hepburn’s profile. In fact, some of them were homely, some of them were plump, and none of them were flawless.
So why am I repeatedly struck by the beauty of these ordinary women? Were they somehow more attractive than today’s ordinary woman?
Of course not. Every woman is unique and possesses her own set of physical attributes that set her apart and make her shine. This is just as true today as it was then. The difference, I believe, is that the women of my grandmother’s generation knew how to play to their strengths and do so without sacrificing their self-respect.
It’s easy to recognize that you’re well-endowed and then degrade yourself by wearing low-cut blouses to attract attention. It doesn’t take a lot of wisdom to appreciate that you’ve been blessed with superior gams and then choose to wear hot pants to draw the eye of the unscrupulous.
But it takes a special kind of insight, intuition, and knowledge to know how to play up your individual physical gifts with subtlety, dignity and a touch of mystery.
My grandmother and her friends seem to have mastered that art form and I fear that with each passing generation some of their secrets are being lost. While I imagine it might take a lifetime to learn all the tricks they had up their sleeves, there are three simple skills—Selection, Quality and Care— that are easy to learn and will take us far in our pursuit of dignified dressing.
According to my grandmother, women were coached from a young age by their mothers on how to dress. They were taught to recognize what lines and fabrics would best flatter their unique figure. Did they have a boyish figure that would best be played up by wearing straight lines or did they have an hourglass figure that could best be served by wearing cinched waists and full skirts? Did they have a voluptuous figure that required slightly heavier fabrics to ensure modesty or could they get away with slightly lighter fabrics without sacrificing their dignity?
One thing was certain, they understood that exposing lots of skin was not a prerequisite to attractiveness. They understood what many women today do not: Suggestion is a very powerful tool, indeed. With nary a neckline too low or a hem too high, women of the past were utterly feminine and alluring.
The average woman from the 1940‘s and 1950‘s, and before, generally owned only a handful of outfits. She might have patiently saved up her money to buy one high-quality, beautiful dress or pantsuit rather than using that money for two, three or four mediocre pieces that didn‘t do her justice. Once she had found the outfit of her dreams she wasted no time in high-tailing it to the tailor’s shop to assure proper fit and maximize appeal.
Women of previous generations also knew how to care for their clothes. Their garments were never thrown into a hamper to be crumpled and left to sit for days. Instead they would hang up their dresses immediately upon disrobing to air them out, often wearing them more than once. When their outfits were in need of a good wash they would most often hand wash or dry clean them. On rare occasions they might wash their most sturdy pieces in the washing machine on the gentle cycle.
As a regular victim of “The Impulse Buy” I can only imagine how satisfying it would be to have an open, airy closet stocked with just a handful of outfits that I truly adore, that fit well and have been properly cared for. Getting dressed in the morning would be so perfectly simple with such a closet.
In fact, I bet it would have a positive effect on my entire day. After all, what girl doesn’t get a little bounce in her step from slipping into an outfit that makes her feel pretty? Perhaps it would even help me start those painfully early mornings that we all know so well with a smile on my face and a silly girlish song in my heart.
Come to think of it, that’s just how I remember the grandmother of my youth. It wonder if it had anything to do with that Christian Dior dress she was always wearing?