Saturday, June 25, 2011

Appropriate Clothing

My grandmother knew a thing or two about dressing comfortably. She lived in an old house out in the country, and until her later years, she and my grandfather gardened extensively, kept animals, and generally lived the rural lifestyle. But when she had to go to town--for groceries, to the bank, or for some entertainment--she dressed for the occasion. That was when her best clothes, shoes, and jewelry came out, and she could fix her thick and curly white hair into the prettiest styles. (She tended to wear hairnets around the house to keep her rather wild mane in order!)

Anytime I venture out, I have to question, "Why did we stop dressing appropriately?" Seeing people in dirty and torn clothing at the library, seeing people in the grocery store in pajamas, seeing adult men "of a certain age" wearing the same things that 10-year-old boys wear and women wearing super short shorts and barely-there tops away from the beach or pool.... Not appropriate! It's a lack of respect for themselves as well as for those around them.

I live in an area where people come from all over to tube the river. I hate the tubing season because everywhere one looks is more flesh than I care to see, especially when I'm shopping for food or stopping in a cafe for a bite to eat. I fully understand that bathing suits are appropriate to the river, but for walking down the street? For shopping? We passed a woman the other day walking down the street whose bikini was so small that from a not-far distance, we could have sworn she was completely naked!

So I was delighted to see that the great Edith Head had made a list--alphabetized!--for appropriate clothing for women. I've just finished reading her memoirs, titled The Dress Doctor, from 1959. After many tales of dressing some truly amazing men and women (and herself), she concludes with an appendix, "For the Do-It-Yourself Dress Doctor."

One of the fantastic illustrations by La Edith.
 Some of her "Prescriptions for Dressing":

AMUSEMENT PARKS: Spectator sport clothes--skirt + sweater or blouse, or sport dress, sport suit, or simple street dress; + comfortable shoes+sweater or jacket at night. Hat and gloves optional.

BICYCLING: Shorts, pedal pushers, or pants + shirt, sweatshirt, or sweater; + sneakers + anklets. Cap optional.

CHURCH: Day dress, dressmaker suit, or ensemble (dress and jacket); + hat + gloves + street shoes. Hats or head coverings are always correct, in some churches obligatory; bare arms, incorrect.

Classroom.  Sweater (pullover or cardigan), or blouse (sport or tailored), with skirt (straight, gored, pleated). Or sport dress (shirtmaker, jumper), or sport suit (suitable fabrics--wool, wool jersey, flannel, tweed, cashmere, corduroy; cotton and synthetics in spring); + jacket (cardigan or blazer) + vest + car coat + top coat + loafers, moccasins, saddle shoes or oxfords + bobbysocks (cuffed) or knee-length socks or hose + gloves (knit or sport) + bag + scarf or hood for campus.
Leisure. Pants--blue jeans to velveteens--Bermuda shorts or pedal pushers; + blouse or sweaters + loafers or leisure shoes.
Social Functions (teas, luncheons). Dressmaker suit or afternoon dress (wool, knit, silk; in spring, prints, cotton, organdy); + jacket or coat + day (not sport) shoes + hose + small hat + gloves.
Evening--semiformal. Afternoon or dinner suit or dress (suitable fabrics--silk, taffeta, velvet, soft wool, brocade, satin or lace; in spring, organza, cotton, organdy); + coat, jacket or stole (fur or fabric) + dress shoes + hose + cocktail hat + long or short gloves.
Evening--formal. Short, long or ballerina-length dress (faille, taffeta, brocade, satin, lace, tulle, net, organdy); + formal coat (taffeta, brocade, satin, fur) or stole + evening footwear.

At Home. Hostess: Short or long dinner dress. Guests: Short or long dinner dress (depending on hostess's request); + evening shoes + wrap + gloves.
Restaurant, Hotel or Cafe (usually a dinner dance or dinner preceding other formal functions). Hostess and Guests: Long or short formal dress; + evening shoes + gloves + wrap.
At Home. Hostess: Afternoon dress, short dinner dress, hostess gown, or evening separates (dinner pajamas, or dinner skirt or slacks with evening sweater or blouse). Guests: afternoon dress, ensemble, or evening separates (skirt + sweater or blouse) + suitable shoes, gloves optional.
Hostess and Guests: Short, ballerina, or full-length formal dress; + stole or evening wrap + evening shoes + gloves.
At Home. Sport dress, afternoon dress, or cocktail dress, + suitable shoes. Guests: according to request of hostess.
Country Club. Sport dress, short dinner dress, afternoon dress, or separates; + suitable shoes + wrap + gloves.

HOUSEWORK: Housedress, smock, duster, or skirt or pants of any becoming length with shirt or T-shirt or wash sweater (all clothes in this category must be functional and washable, but colors can be gay); + apron suitable for work in hand --rubber, plastic, or cotton + low-heeled ties, moccasins or flats--not bedroom slippers.

ROLLERSKATING: Action skirt, or slacks, with blouse or sweater; + wool socks + cardigan sweater or jacket.
There are many other gems, like what to wear shopping, what to wear to a prize fight, what to wear hunting (including specifics for game or bird hunting) and fishing (whether fly or deep-sea!), and much more. This was a fun read that definitely puts the meaning of dressing well and appropriately in a new light from someone who spent her life thinking about how clothing made people look. She wasn't just about "what to wear and not wear" but about the outcome of all kinds of presentations. Really interesting stuff!

I'll leave you with this quote from Ms. Head;
"There is a point every woman can learn from the actress. Do your clothes justice--never appear in them half-baked, be the finished product. An actress doesn't wear a dress or suit and say, "This'll look wonderful when I have the right shoes and the right hat." She knows that each impression she makes is important, that she's always being seen. She takes pride in herself.
So should we all."


  1. I must find a copy of this book. What a great concept, though I doubt I'll need the advice about what to wear to a prize fight!

  2. It's a great little book, and her life was fascinating! Be warned, though, to find the original 1959 edition, and not the recent re-do that just focuses on clothing tips (although that would be interesting in its own right, I'm sure...).