I recently picked up this phenomenal booklet which came free with Vanity Fair magazine in 1971. Entitled ‘Nice Girls Do’, it is supposedly intended to be a guide to modern life for young women confused by the new sexual revolution and women’s liberation. With a few gorgeous inspirational images thrown in for good measure. It’s also a brilliant insight into the mindset of the early Seventies woman, but also not really a million miles away from such small-minded, hypocritical women’s journalism now. Plus ça change…
Here is a small excerpt relating to fashion:
Dress and Undress
Talk about liberation! Suddenly all the old rules of dress have been suspended. Unisex, the Great Pants Revolution, ten million boots marching across the nation, and the great unleashing of bras have swept a century of fuss and fogginess onto the junk heap.
Once the strictures were clear as crystal, hats for church and town, gloves always, no bare legs on nice girls—ever, girdles an absolute must, trousers strictly for the country, and still only for the young. Now nurses and bank clerks wear trousersuits, patrician matrons dine in transparent pyjamas, and women of ‘a certain age’ boldly appear in black body-stockings and ammunition belts. Alas, it’s easy to become a laughing stock unless you have innate style. There is still one rule: propriety. That means wear what’s right for you and what’s right for what you are going to do. Everything you put on should polish your assets like sterling and blur your flaws like camouflage.
‘Look for the woman in the dress’ was a favourite theme of the late Coco Chanel. ‘If there is no woman, there is no dress.’ And . . . ‘In love, what counts is to please a man,’ Coco liked to say. ‘If it pleases him, paint yourself green.’
Dress to please the man in your life. But don’t overdo it. Dressing for a man doesn’t mean dragging him to your favourite stores to make him choose what he likes on you. It means you wear what makes you look appealing and avoid the chaff. Men can be drearily conservative. They resist change and need to be lured to a new look or a new length, slowly and gradually. Stay aware and try.
The man who falls all over the giggly brunette with the pop-up bosom or the naked tummy or the shortest shorts in the room will want to fade into the wallpaper if you —his adored— appear in the same costume. Be careful . . . even if you happen to be in better trim than Miss Pop-Up Bosom.
Go with fashion, but don’t sell yourself into fashion slavery. Twelve girls at the same film premiere in velvet knickerbockers, identical bullet belts, and fringed boots are pathetic. You, in the same panné velvet knickerbockers but with a suede belt and an old art-nouveau buckle, are infinitely more interesting. Style is individual. It’s what you do with fashion to make it yours alone! When everyone in your crowd is rigged up like a strolling gypsy or Moroccan princess, do not underestimate the power of sleek black simplicity.
Not every new style will suit you, but somewhere there is a proportion cut just for you. Impossible, you say: Aha. You’re in serious trouble and need to shed twenty pounds. Quick.
A dress you can’t move or cuddle in without worrying about moulting feathers or splitting a seam is a disaster . . . no matter how divine it looked in Vanity Fair. Give it away and avoid others with similar faults. You’re going to be a grouch all evening if that groovy buckle digs into your rib cage with every breath. Choose clothes you feel relaxed wearing.
Nothing can ruin your day more efficiently than a shoe that pinches, rubs, and digs. You can read the pain plain as yoghurt on your face. If the glass slipper doesn’t slip on easily in mid-afternoon when your feet are most vulnerable . . . forget it. You can’t break in a shoe . . . it only breaks you with pain and wasted cash.
Avoid the Grooming Gloom
1. A close lit is no fit at all. A good alteration lady is your third best friend (after Mother and the hairdresser).
2. Clean underwear every day.
3. If you hate to wash and iron, don’t buy clothes that need it. (I didn’t own an iron until a friend —considering me a poverty case— passed one along three months ago. I haven’t used it yet). But you will need a large budget for cleaning bills. If you don’t have money, learn to wash and iron and avoid buying clothes that must be cleaned!
4. It’s a little rip . . . sew it now. Hoard extra buttons when you find ones you like.
5. Weed out the inevitable flaw: snagged stockings, pulled threads, a spot of tomato juice on your doeskin glove, a rip in the lining of your handsome ostrich handbag. Repair it before you wear it again . . . or give it away.
6. Prune the cupboard mercilessly. Don’t drag rejects with you the rest of your life . . . if you haven’t worn an item in two years (a decade?), discard it. Clean it, and donate it to a charity.
How Do You Know What’s Right for You
A lot of the most ghastly mistakes were made when women were encouraged to do their own thing. It’s one thing to have didactic fashion laws arbitrarily laid down by a toffy-nosed fashion magazine not geared to your way of life; it’s quite another to be let loose on a bewildering range of styles and left to your own devices. A great sense of style and chic is needed to steer through that morass.
1. Study yourself in a leotard betore a well-lit, full-length mirror. If this experience drives you to drink . . . vow to re—form your form.
2. Who are you ? What are you trying to say about yourself? What is your image ? Are you playing a romantic Ali MacGraw? Or a carefree groupie? Are you a girl with her eye on Mary Quant’s throne? Are you a lean drink of spring water or a bubbly dolly bird or a languorous sensualist? Decide! Then you will develop antennae that tell you when gingham is right and where a monkey-fur fringe is definitely excessive.
3. Decide whose style you admire or consider close to your ideal. Analyse what this paragon has done and be inspired . . . don’t imitate blindly.
4. lf you see someone wearing an item you absolutely must have—even a total stranger on a bus—say so and ask where she bought it. Don’t ask the price.
5. Read the fashion magazines. Out of the wild and exaggerated fancy there is a message: brown is great for summer . . . length doesn’t really matter anymore . . . superstructured underpinnings are dead. Especially note the accessories: bags, belts, gloves, jewels, hats.
6. If you find a store that pleases you, make it your hang-out. Loyalty is rewarded. When you stumble across a salesgirl with taste and energy, pursue her. Call to see if she’s on hand before you venture across town on a shopping spree. Ask her to telephone you when she has something just your style . . . or when that Cardin coat you’ve been sighing over is reduced 20 per cent.
7. If you are one of those indecisive creatures who cannot tell whether a dress with pleats and flounces in shrimp crépe is as good as it sounds till it’s hung on the cupboard door at home for a week, then never never buy clothes marked ‘final sale’ or ‘not returnable.’
8. Learn about fabrics, seams, and construction. Go to fashion shows and try on a dress by Jean Muir or Ossie Clark so you’ll get a feeling for what makes a £70 shirtwaister different from a £7 one.
9. If you find a bra or panty or shoe that’s ideal for you . . . tights that are like a second skin . . . a ribbed polo sweater that makes you feel like Jeanne Moreau, buy in quantity. That’s what Jacqueline Onassis does. Even on your budget, it makes sense. If you wait until you need replacements, the style or colour may no longer exist . . .
A Sampler of Specifics
Q. Is it better to put all my money into one status Gucci handbag or buy half a dozen bags for different occasions ?
A. A recognisably fine bag has great impact and lasts ages. But it really won’t go everywhere. Invest in the quality leather as your mainstay. And then collect for pennies—a larger canvas tote bag, an old doctor’s satchel (from a junk shop), a small wicker basket or champagne wicker tied tight with a bandanna hanky, an Oriental brass box from an antique shop, a denim over·the-shoulder newsboy bag you make yourself.
Q. Are there any rigid fashion rules that still count these days?
A. Yes. White for tennis (unless you’re playing on your own court at home) and plimsolls. Warmth for skiing, hunting, cold-weather sailing—if you neglect warmth for chic you’ll ruin your day and everyone else’s as well. Rubber-soled shoes for yachting, preferably those with a special-grip rubber bottom. Rules for formal riding and the hunt are specific: visit a shop that specialises in riding clothes and do what they tell you.
Q. Must I wear a hat to church?
A. Women should wear hats in Roman Catholic churches and Orthodox synagogues. And many women do wear a hat to church even where it is not a must, But today a laoe mantilla or a bit of veiling is considered ‘hat enough.’ No woman should ever let lack of hair covering keep her from entering a church on impulse for a few moments of meditation. Attitude is more important than a hat. And anyway, hats are back. I couldn’t live without my giant wolf beret that covers my ears in winter or half a dozen felt and straw cowboy hats in spring and summer. You need to learn clever scarf tricks for your head, a flattering all-over hat for days when your hair just doesn’t cooperate.
Q. Is it right for a divorcee to wear her wedding and engagement rings? Mine are so beautiful.
A. Do you really want a constant reminder of the past? Why not have the stones reset into a marvellous ring you can wear on your index finger or, if you’re not the type, something smashing for your little finger.
Q. Where can l go to find out what to wear at a Bar Mitzvah?
A. A standard etiquette book will tell you what dress is expected at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies of life. Or you might phone the women’s page editor of your local paper and ask advice.
Things That Are Out
Your sweet little lace blouse worn one day too many.
Tell-tale-grey nylon underwear (tint it purple or red or espresso brown).
Structural safety pins.
Wrinkles, spots, baggy anything, runs, rundown heels.
Shoes clearly beyond their prime.
A handbag that had it two years ago, still ‘making do’.
Festive party gear in the office.
Ruffles when you are much more the slinky jersey type.
Too-big coats and shoddy tailoring.
Bulges . . . panties that bind and show-through.
Drooping hems . . . make a fast temporary repair with sticky tape, then sew that very evening.
Baby-doll costumes on women over thirty-five unless you have the figure and complexion of a twenty-year-old.
See-through blouse with a utilitarian bra in full view.
Clothes you’ve hopefully squeezed into and kidded yourself you can wear. Try one size up —you’ll look slimmer, and every hook and eye on your bra won’t be visible at ten paces.
Anything that looks like it’s wearing you.
Itsy-bitsy fragile little jewellery. If you can’t afford knock-out jewellery in 18-carat gold, buy some smashing fakery.
Last year’s rejects or rotting nightgowns as at-home clothes . . . give the family a break.
Toting an adorable Lilliputian evening bag and loading your man’s pockets with survival paraphernalia . . . learn to survive on less.
Undressing for an audience is a sadly neglected art. Too many women just peel everything off with no thought to the effect . . . rudely tossing crumpled garments here and there . . . and then slopping around in an abused and mutilated housecoat.
Men hate to see you in the bedroom clumping about in high-heeled day shoes and bare feet. Most of them prefer you to take your bra off before your pants. Practise doing it quickly, gracefully, and if he’s in a mood for being teased—tease him. Let him see you in a lacy slip you know flatters you. Don’t wear superstructured bras or girdles. Let him catch a glimpse of you through an open door, spotless bare back, creamed gleamy skin, brushing your hair or spraying yourself with scent just for him. It arouses him to know you want him.
America’s COSMOPOLITAN once ran a wise little article about ‘How to Strip for Your Husband.’ Tassels and twelve-button gloves are not necessary. But attractive undressing, sensuous underpinnings, and flattering, fresh at-home wear is kind to your audience—that one special person.
More from ‘Nice Girls Do’ some other time…