Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How To Dress For Success

I found an old copy of Edith Head’s brilliant 1967 advice book, How To Dress For Success at the wonderful Counterpoint Records and Books in LA a few months ago. V&A re-published it in 2009 if you'd like to read it for yourself.
Designer/Writer Edith Head
Edith Head is responsible for costumes in such iconic films as Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve, Sabrina, and Rear Window. But in this book she gives advice to the everywoman. It is extremely outdated and therein lies it’s charm.
Audrey Hepburn in dress by Edith Head from Sabrina
Based on the title, I expected it to be about dressing for success in the business world, but I was born into post-feminist America and therefor naive about what was considered successful in the ‘60s. She does however, devote the first chapter to business.

In a job interview Head suggests dressing appropriately, but be careful not to look too beautiful. A personnel director she spoke to about hiring girls said, “I didn’t hire her simply because I felt anyone that looked that attractive would have a date every night in the week and would never be free to stay until 5:15 in an emergency.”

She also gives advice on how to go from office wear to date wear, “It’s amazing what a softer blouse and pretty jewelry can do for a simple suit. Carry with you dressier gloves and a glamorous cocktail hat, and you have it made. The extras will all fit neatly into your hatbox or tote bag, so you can switch on the glamor after five.” Women carried hatboxes to work in the 60s? They left this out of Mad Men.

The next, much longer chapter deals with husband hunting.

Head’s first piece of advice when dressing to impress a man: wear clothes, “The contents of this chapter may be a shock to the woman who feels that the less she wears in pursuit of a man the better. To her we can only say that while the boys ogle and applaud the charms of Venus Unadorned in art galleries, night clubs, and between the covers of some magazines, it’s the covered girls rather than the Cover Girls they invariably marry. Man is a possessive animal by nature and cares little about sharing his wealth of a wifely treasure with the wolf-pack. And corny as it may seem in our free-wheeling society where topless bathing suits, fanny-revealing pants and above-the-knee skirts abound most men shudder at the thought of their wives as striptease artists.”

She says to look for men at places you go everyday, but if all else fails, take a trip to where he’ll be, “If you just can’t meet any men in your own town or city, pack up your vacation wardrobe and go to a convention hotel. Pick the convention where you’d be likely to meet the kind of man you think you’d like. Bankers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, plumbers, printers, publishers and advertising men all attend conventions by the hundreds.”

If you meet a man who likes sports, then you’ll need to take an interest in that too, and that means shopping for sports clothes, “If there’s no such store near you, write to Abercrombie & Fitch in New York. You’ll get excellent advice and guidance and a wardrobe worthy of a pro. And once you know which sports are his favorites, subscribe to magazines that will keep you abreast of what’s happening and who makes the news in these areas.”

Once you’ve tricked a man into marrying you, never let them discover who you really are, “If you won your conservative husband with your own quiet, well-mannered behavior and understated taste in dressing - don’t change your entire personality once the ring’s on the finger by buying wild beaded draperies, oriental hassocks and exotic modern carpets to furnish the love nest. If you do, he’s likely to fly right into the arms of his secretary. You can bet she’s conservative, because he picked her!”

And most importantly, if you’re tall, never wear a fez.

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