Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

A Head for Dressing

(Image of Edith Head: TCM)

“The basic elements of any business woman’s wardrobe should rely on this trio: simple casual suits, tailored dresses, and good separates.” Edith Head wrote that in 1967 in her book “How to Dress for Success.”

Sounds simple enough, but times have changed in the workplace and in society. That didn’t stop a number of designers from showing very nice suits during the last spate of shows. But are suits and tailored dresses being worn? I see a lot of separates. Mostly jeans with boots or pumps with elongated toes, paired with a shirt and fleece vest or 3/4 length coat. That seems to be the uniform of the working (?) mom. Younger professionals are wearing those low waisted trousers with a bit of flair to the bottom with the same shoe/boot choice. At least that’s what I see on my infrequent excursions into the coffee shop.

Yesterday I finished watching my Lifetime On Demand’s version of “Coco Chanel.” What an eye opener. (To begin with, the apartment! At least the sitting room in which Shirley MacLaine held court was magnificent. Why did that sort of decorating go out of fashion? Ah, I answered my own question: “fashion.” Move me into M. St Laurent’s or Mde. Chanel’s digs any day. But I am in danger of becoming a fossil.) The story stops in the 1960’s. I guess my view of fashion does too. Chanel knew a thing or two.

Do you know what I miss? Gloves. All the women seated at the front row of the fashion show finale were wearing gloves… longish gloves under 3/4 sleeves. Most had a double wrapped pearl bracelet over the wrist. A few showed wristwatches. Bracelets were a given. How incredibly elegant. The collection featured the same sorts of looks. Don’t forget that it was Mde. Chanel’s stated purpose to liberate women’s clothing from the Victorian era. She chose jersey and other materials to make her sportswear for women. Scandalous!

Today’s looks can be said to be even more scandalous. Overt sexuality is the order of the day. I’m as red-blooded as the next ex-fraternity man, but — and perhaps this is age — the woman who holds my peripheral vision longer is the one who is beautifully tailored, well-groomed, and very confident. (“I like you; you remind me so much of me….” Mrs. E. is known to joke.) Tailored looks slim, elongate and flatter. Ask Mr. Mizrahi, he’s doing nice work over at Liz Claiborne. I’ve just emailed him to see if he’d like to weigh in with his opinion of modern elegance. He is another who has a unique vision… a head for this sort of thing, if you will

Stay tuned. Great dress, huh? Can this only happen in New York?

15 thoughts on “A Head for Dressing

  1. I think I’ve said this before, but there’s nothing more elegant than long leather gloves. I have such a hard time finding them, but when I do, I snap them up.

    I have a couple of Edith Head’s books and they’re still fresh, all of these years later.

  2. Gloves are lovely and I recently managed to pick up a several pairs of Portofinos (cashmere and silk lined!!) for a song. I still swoon when I open the drawer and see them laying there. I enjoy wearing the so much and have started to toy with the idea of gloves in the summer – not an idea to take lightly considering the heat of Washington DC – assuming I can manage it without looking too precious.
    I have always understood that you should not wear gloves indoors _except_ for formal occasions (a ball, wedding, theater opening). If women are wearing them at a fashion show — I have to wonder if I am wrong about the etiquette for gloves – thoughts?

  3. Hi Alex, I think you are correct. Although, in summer, you could resort to a pair of cotton gloves. The show was set in Paris and I assume that central heating was non-existent.

    Mrs. PvE, ever stylish.

    Fairfax, of course you do… birds of a feather.

  4. Having been wearing gloves from September (unlined, short, right at the wrist bone) through our cold months (cabled cashmere in muted tones and trimmed in brown leather from Paul Stuart for when I am being driven around by my husband, cashmere-lined calfskin in dark brown and black are a must for when I am behind the wheel, stretchy micro-fiber with wind resistance for walks, runs, dog duty, and super warm ski glove with those hand warmers tucked into the palm for shoveling snow). I definitely have Spring and Summer gloves–they look like golf gloves but they aren’t. They are often sold at Bergdorf’s. They are very soft leather, short, often snap across the top of your hand, are cut out over the top of the hand for a very sporty look, and are actually driving gloves. Very cute with ventilation holes and often a basket-weave effect in a contrasting color. Satin gloves for the debutante! There is a glove website for formal wear, and I will try and locate it and forward it–fun to look at. Loro Piana is also a good source for gloves, and not always as expensive as you would expect from them.

  5. Found it–www.debutantegloves.com. I was wrong about satin–the debutante wears white leather. I wore satin gloves once to something . . . can’t remember what it was, but a formal affair–maybe my wedding?

  6. Paula,

    Sigh, I missed the whole debutante scene – I regret the gloves the most!! (well that and all the men in uniform)

    Your description of a summer glove is exactly what I am thinking of!! I think they would look quite the thing with a summer suit or a crisp shirtdress.

    Unlined glace will, I think, be good for a solid glove. There do seem to be numerous sources but none local and as fit is so important in an unlined glove clearly a trip to Manhattan would be a good idea (or would it be better to head south?)

    It does seem that good cotton gloves would also be nice to have for the summer months. Anyone know where to find well made ones?

    Now I just need to find the perfect pieces to add to my summer wardrobe!!

  7. I missed the deb ball as well–but I am living vicariously through my children now, and it’s actually more fun that way! 🙂 I live a very, very long way from Manhattan. I have accomplished major shopping feats, however, on the telephone with a well seasoned sales associate. Describe what you want, tell him/her what size your other gloves are, and ask them to send out a couple of pairs. You may have to pay shipping charges, but it is cheaper and safer than an airline ticket.

  8. I missed the deb ball as well–but I am living vicariously through my children now, and it’s actually more fun that way! 🙂 I live a very, very long way from Manhattan. I have accomplished major shopping feats, however, on the telephone with a well seasoned sales associate. Describe what you want, tell him/her what size your other gloves are, and ask them to send out a couple of pairs.

  9. The wonderful thing about Edith Head (and Hubert de Givenchy’s designs that she “borrowed”) is that she wasn’t afraid to be simple. The shift that Grace Kelly wears driving the convertible in “It Takes a Thief” was simple enough for a young girl’s first Home Economics sewing project. And the nice thing about simple, well-fitting clothes is that you see the wearer first. If you look like Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, or Grace Kelly, you better see the wearer before the outfit! And they should show the body, which Edith’s designs did. They were body conscious but not constrictive. I’m weary of fashion designers trying to be innovative and clever. Sometimes they’re successful, but a lot of their entrées are sunken soufflés! Brava to Edith. No wonder she got so many Oscars.

  10. Oh it is so good to read this! I wish I would have know Edith Head myself! There are at least a few more out there who think about the good old times of the sixties. I AM missing my little hat, my gloves, the elegant shoes and tailored outfits. … I hate this underwear today, where you pay for a full fit, but still the panties do only go halfway up. It is not all that favourable for every woman, and yet, you simply cannot get anything classy anymore. Wish I could sew!
    Thank you for this wonderful website.

  11. Welcome g.otto! There is something to be said about the “good old days.” At least in terms of everyday elegance. People seemed to make more of an effort.

  12. I will suggest a sweet pair of crocheted gloves for summer. I bought a pair of opera gloves for a special occasion, feel most elegant wearing them.

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