Saturday 10 December 2016

Review: The Art of Being a Well Dressed Wife by Anne Fogarty

V&A Publishing, €11.99

Margaret Carragher

Published 29/05/2011 | 05:00

Sometimes one can indeed judge a book by its cover. Take for example The Art of Being a Well Dressed Wife by Anne Fogarty. From title to typeface, this book is quintessentially Fifties -- the decade in which it was first published and in which its Saks Fifth Avenue designer author Anne Fogarty ruled the US fashion roost.

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But, much as half a century might leave its mark on fashion (Starched petticoats, anyone? Lace hankies? Freshly laundered white gloves?) how much more does it affect attitudes: imagine getting even the book's title past an editor nowadays, much less its concept.

Yet for all its almost comical anachronism this pastel pink fabric-covered book is a delight, not least because of its author's sheer, unbridled passion for her subject matter.

Under chapter headings such as "After the Trousseau, What?", "The Wifely Art of Courage and Discretion" and "Never Underestimate the Power of a Man", you'll find tips on how to look good in an apron: "Why look like Cinderella's crotchety stepmother when you can be a lyrical embodiment of all that a home and hearth means!"; advice on "trademark" accessories: "Avoid the outlandish. A two-foot cigarette holder or a leopard on a leash is a bit hard to take even once, much less as a permanent accessory"; and guidance on how to keep the good man happy: "When your husband's eyes light up as he comes in at night, you're in sad shape if it's only because he smells dinner cooking."

And much as strident feminists might fume at the book's central tenet -- "Remember it's your husband for whom you're dressing" -- there's also a lot of timeless wit and wisdom between its covers.

For instance, Fogarty's exhortation to discipline "of the mind, the body and the emotions" can be applied not just to fashion but to every facets of life.

And one couldn't but applaud her gung-ho assertion that "the sole arbiter of what you wear is your own judgement" or that, "good taste and the amount of money spent are interrelated but not necessarily dependent on each other" -- even if animal rights activists might beg to differ with her views on fur as a fashion statement: "While a cat has nine lives the ever-so-much-more glamorous mink has many lives too as I discovered when exploring the possibility of a coat."

But for all the sage sartorial advice, it's the bonkers stuff that most engages. For example, in Chapter 9: "Am Wife -- Will Travel" (I mean, even the title) Fogarty writes, one assumes seriously, of taking 20 pairs of shoes on a 10-day trip to Florida, and travelling with 22 petticoats to Europe.

(In Ireland, a customs officer inspecting Fogarty's baggage got more than he bargained for when her "Crinoline Case" sprung open depositing 18 stiffly wired petticoats at his feet.)

Then there's the acknowledgment -- again, one ass-umes, serious -- of man's place in society and in the home. "Never ask for whom the belles toil--we toil at our toilette for the approval and admiration of our husbands and the general appreciation of men with whom we work or meet in other outside situations."Despite, or perhaps because of, her gushing admiration for husbands, Fogarty got through no fewer than three of them before moving on to the great wife dressing room in the sky in 1980. How thrilled she'd be that her prim little manual has been republished.

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