Monday, July 25, 2011

The Art Of Being A Well Dressed Wife

The Dancing Queen is the epitome of tasteful restraint in her dress and an example to us all.  She may wear just one antique ring with a beautiful setting for her jewellery, and she understands the maxim, "Less is More."  From my own perspective I have to admit that less is never more.  More Is More, obviously!  If I put an antique ring on my finger it immediately reminds me of another  piece of jewellery and then possibly another and another in a complementary colour family.  Those authors who write columns in fashion magazines advise us that if we feel a little uncertain about our appearance when leaving our homes in the morning we should take one item off.  I would favour of putting one more thing on.  My nana hailed from Yorkshire and she was like a fairy godmother to me - but I can still remember her telling me, "If a little's good, a lot's better" and I must have absorbed this and taken it on as my own personal style mantra.  So perhaps The Dancing Queen and I come at matters of style from opposing perspectives.

Having recently returned from a sojourn Abroad, The Dancing Queen presented me with this handy little book.  She knows I could use some help, obviously, given my resolute refusal to take any style direction.  This is The Art Of Being A Well Dressed Wife and it was written by Anne Fogarty , first published in 1959.

 I was eager to improve myself and immediately read it from cover to cover.  Imagine my disappointment.  No more mink shorts!   Plus which I don't believe I have the manual dexterity any longer to apply false eyelashes (if I ever did, that is).  Apparently they may be just the playful accent which I need.  On top of the bad experience at the hairdressing salon in the weekend things are beginning to look pretty grim, I must confess.

On the positive side of the ledger I discovered that "the worst mistake you can make is to force yourself to shop.  To idly decide it's spring, the bird's on the wing, is not the time for a foray on the stores UNLESS you're in a truly shopping mood."  So it may be that there will be no more shopping for me, a prospect which Mr Shoestring will not balk at.  Also the author informs us that "A chronic blight on the American home scene is sleeepwear in the kitchen!  Negligees, bathrobes, and terry towels do not belong with food, pots, and pans.  The kitchen is your natural setting as a woman and you should look beautiful, not bedraggled, in it."  Oops, once again I think I may have slipped up but in future I will be happy to keep out of the kitchen and let others deal with the tedious tasks which must take place there.

But I loved this part.  "I think here is a good place to mention shoulder cape-covers for make-up, although they are one step removed from the category of robes.  At the time this book goes to press I am introducing a new design, a poncho-style make-up cape in a Dacron and cotton fabric, which is long enough for moving from one room to another when someone's around.  There is a little pocket for sachets so that an aura of scent accompanies every movement."  Wow, she thought of everything.  Shades of hairdressing encounters, it must be the capes which are starting to appeal to me.  But if you need a cape over your clothes how much make-up are you applying?

There is even a section devoted to the vexed question of "Should the family car go with my wardrobe?"  Anne very sensibly advises that "It is more important for the car to blend in with the natural habitat.  It should look well in the drive silhouetted against the colour of your house and fit into the colours and shapes of your geographical location as a whole and your own particular neighbourhood or street."  What a relief!  I don't think Mr Shoestring could bear it if I told him he had to replace the car to suit my clothes especially as they are such an odd assortment of colours and shapes that we might need to buy a gypsy caravan.

Well, we may have let standards slip beyond ever recovering lost ground but perhaps if we take on board some of the simplest of Anne's edicts we will be able to hold our heads high and face the world knowing we have fought the valiant fight in an effort to fly the flag of fashion.  After all, as Anne declares on page 1:  "If you adore her, you must adorn her.  There lies the essence of a happy marriage."   I will just highlight that part and show it to Mr Shoestring.  He need never know about the plan to replace the car and start wearing a make-up cape over my clothes.  Though I am picking he would be fascinated by the mink shorts.

The Shameful Shearing

After a year and a half of resolutely frugalista behaviour and home hair dye jobs with no haircuts it was time to submit to the tender ministrations of a hairdresser during the weekend.  At the best of times I am not one of those patrons who relishes a trip to the salon – there is the mirror for a start, you have to either gaze at your own countenance and realise just how time has worked its wicked magic on you, or avoid looking into the mirror and consequently look all shifty eyed and furtive.  Then there are the hairdresser's questions designed to shred what little you have left of self confidence when you enter the premises. 

Because it was such a long time since my last visit the memory had dimmed of all those difficult questions, but shortly after being seated and submitting to the odd little paper strip around the neck and the enormous black cape the memories came flooding back.  I had long suspected that at Hairdressing 101, before the new trainees were even permitted to take up their sharp shiny new scissors they would have to complete the first part of the theory in the syllabus – Cut The Suckers Down To Size.  This is where the questions kick in.  First of all, “Who cut your hair last?” (This to be accompanied by suitably superior and haughty looks and tut tutting sounds.)  However I was prepared for this and had thought it would be amusing to shoot right back, “You did, last week!  Don’t you remember?” 

On this visit though I was spared that old chestnut and instead the interview commenced with, “You have very, very heavy hair!  It is dragging your face down.”  (Well, what could I say?  I have never weighed it and I don’t know how heavy hair usually is.  I looked morosely at my reflection in the mirror.  Was there a resemblance to a jowly Winston Churchill, were there incipient dewlaps?)  We moved on briskly to, “Your hair is very, very dry!”  I wasn’t inclined to say, “I suppose that is probably because I have used so many cheap home hair colouring treatments and inferior products on it”, so I just meekly agreed and nodded.  Then it was, “Oooh, your hair is very, very thick!”  (I imagine that would account for the weight of it, but who am I to tell a hairdresser their business?)  Lastly we had, “Your hair is so very, very curly!”  Had I missed something?  Was there a sign outside which requested that only citizens with lustrous locks, if a little on the thin and fine side, and dead straight, should enter these hallowed portals? 

No matter, I had only asked for a trim and surely even dry, thick, heavy, curly hair could be trimmed successfully with enough perseverance and sharp scissors.  So we went on relatively happily for a few minutes and I was just beginning to relax when the cunning creature scurried away and returned with a large hard covered book with a glossy picture on the cover.  Did I like the look of that haircut?  Yes, it looked fine to me.  Of course the model was a good 30 years younger than I, had the neck of a giraffe and not the jowls of a bulldog, but she was very attractive and her hair style was most fetching.  Anything for a quiet visit; if I was required to admire hair styling photos so be it.   

Alas, therein lay my downfall.  Before I realised what was happening I heard a strange harsh sound – not the efficient snip, snipping I had expected as the dry (horribly, hideously dry) ends of hair were trimmed, but a rasping scratching noise.  On looking up I realised my hair was being cut with some kind of a razor and in a random fashion with seemingly no plan or method!  I was in for an attempt at the style on the front of the hairdressing book!  I am such a feeble creature that I reasoned that it was too late to make a fuss now and that I was probably better off without all that dry, heavy, curly, thick hair.  At least it always grows back again.  I tried to relax and not twitch or flinch, it would be a dead give away and also might result in even more damage being done with the razor like tool.    

Another one of the weapons hairdressers use is the cunning attempt to sell obscure products to vulnerable and unsuspecting clients.  I was experienced in this field and was congratulating myself on the fact that I had got away without purchasing a shampoo, a conditioner, a heat activated styling lotion, something which seemed like good old fashioned hairspray and something else which seemed like sticky wax (but did smell very pleasant).  Then I fell into the novelty trap.  Had I ever seen this product, it was a salt water spray!  Ha ha, I thought, no I had never seen such a product, but why would anybody want to spray their hair with sea water?  My admission of ignorance of the product’s existence was taken as a sign of enthusiasm and before I knew it I had agreed to buy the wretched stuff.  I wonder if it could be used as a condiment on salads, perhaps?

So it was that I came out of the salon with a little bottle of sea water, a lighter head and a lighter wallet.  Mr Shoestring had been striding up and down outside for a while waiting for my reappearance.  “What happened?  I thought you were going to get a trim?”  I have to admit I was not able to explain coherently just what had happened in the gloomy recesses of the salon, but secretly I did wonder how it came to pass that the woman next to me had gone in and asked for a trim and come out with just that.  I had heard most of the story of her life in more detail that I would have thought possible in that brief time in the hairdresser’s chair; perhaps that is the secret.  Never stop talking, don’t pause for breath, and beat them at their own game.  Wear them down with words.    

Now in case you feel that all is doom and gloom after this outing I have to tell you that the new haircut has received universal approval.  (People are so generous, they must recognise a lost fashion cause when they see one and want to cheer the poor misguided soul upon her way to hair fashion oblivion)  Here are a pair of lovely earrings which came from the op shop  ($5.00); they will look much better with the new haircut and will be visible without all that hair obscuring them.

 I am sure that The Dancing Queen will like them very much - she looked at some lily earrings when we were at DIY Deco Weekend in Napier and these are very delicate and finely wrought.  They were in their original box and come from Harvey Gill Ltd - Jewellers - Boston.  With a little black crepe dress next summer in Napier they will be just the trick for cocktails on the balcony.  As long as I don't lose them before then, of course.