There are points in your life when you're more susceptible to external influences than others. Your teenage years are definitely one of them. Finding your style, transitioning from childhood to adulthood, negotiating friendships and relationships…. these are all things that have endless possibilities and in negotiating this maze we can often grab for something to show us the way, be it the influence of a peer group, or a style guide (French women don't…et al), or an older sibling or mentor of some kind.


I've just returned from a very brief trip to Melbourne, and for the few hours that I had spare in-between flights and the dinner I was attending, I spent them (instead of window shopping on Collins Street) in the State Library of Victoria, paging through old copies of Vogue Australia from 1987 - 1990.


I was searching for a half remembered article by the late Hardy Amies (the couturier to the Queen), in which he espoused the correct way to dress. I remembered it as influencing me enormously. And I found it in the July 1987 edition in a complete "Eureka!" moment.


But funnily enough it was flicking through all the other copies that brought wave after wave of nostalgia - the front covers that I recalled instantly, the articles on artists the latest theatre and plays, the social pages up the back with boutique openings and weddings, the glamorous fashions, the ads. I realised as I read it that the influence on me at that time was far more about the collective whole, rather than the initial article that I was searching for.


It was in the fold out double page ads for Yve Saint Laurant's Paris perfume (my first "signature" scent, it's heady rose fragrance is most certainly a creation of the 80's). It was the fashion shoots (white shirts with the collar turned up, pleated short skirts, cropped jackets and double breasted jackets, hats!), I even found a big article and accompanying fashion spread on the launch of Hayman Island, somewhere I have wanted to go since… well, apparently 1987. For a 12 year old growing up in Adelaide, well before the Internet shrank our world, the impossibly chic world of Vogue was a definite influence on my burgeoning style. It was ladylike and groomed - there were no endless articles on the latest in cosmetic surgery and fillers and injectables, no tattooed models, no articles on boring celebrities that are celebrated for the size of their derriere and a sex tape.


So, the article that started the search off? Well, I thought I'd reprint it here. In many ways the dated advice is slightly disappointing on the re-read, although I can see that it influenced my style and that there are many things I adhere to today.



from Vogue Australia July 1987

"Standing on Pomp and Circumstance

In a second letter to his Antipodean Goddaughter, Hardy Amies gives some very personal advice on party-time protocol, and bedroom politics.

Dear Susie,

I am so relieved you found my letter helpful. If you give advice, as I'm supposed to, you have to appear preachy, but I want only to make it easier for a beautiful young Australian to be totally at ease in the rest of the world.

This letter will be lighter than the last because I want to talk with you about parties and appearances. I am certain we must enjoy the pleasures of this life to the utmost; that is the best use of the years that are given us. You must be totally selfish. Only you feel, only you remember, only you hope. But you must obey the rules, which are that you must do everything you can to avoid causing disorder and unhappiness.

What is miraculous about life is that we are animals who have evolved into things which think of others. If I were on a sinking boat which was overloaded I know I, an old man, would jump overboard and leave a chance of surviving to younger people.

But on with parties. Going to a party is like being born: you launch yourself into a world of competitive and often cruel people; you must be prepared to fight. Wonderful weapons are your good looks and your youth. Add some experience (from me) and you are pretty strong.

Remember you go to a party to amuse not to be amused. You give and not take. If you don't feel able to do this you shouldn't go. Don't wear anything aggressive. The knock out dress will produce the "ohs and "ahs" but a lot of men will be perplexed and the women will hate you. For you, redhead - oh well, reddish - calm, misty colours and soft caressing stuffs. Chiffon is wonderful. Also, have everything loose rather than tight. This makes you look really relaxed, a mood which is catching. Arrange it so that you have a guy to accompany you so that you don't make your entrance alone. But even if it's your favourite beau, don't ever hang on his arm (that's common) nor give any impression that you're inseparable. That's a bore. When you're introduced to a fellow put your hand out quickly and if your name has been mumbled announce yours clearly. Wait for an older woman to give you hers - her name I mean. Look everyone you speak to dead clean in the eye and never by a flicker show that you're interested in what is going on elsewhere.

This also applies to the dinner table. Talk to your neighbours as if they were the only people in the room who mattered, with one exception. If it's a small party - say eight or ten, best numbers - watch out for general conversation, and especially for the moment when an interesting or important guest is speaking. A good host or hostess tries to have general conversation, to get someone to hold the whole table. Shut up when this is happening.

Otherwise make your neighbours talk about themselves. All men like to do that. Ply them with intelligent questions. Try to accept all food and drink that is offered you but eat and drink only what you want to. It's not necessary to empty plates and glasses. Above all, don't refuse the pudding with a remark like "I never eat sweet things". A small helping, half -eaten, never hurt anyone and does not disappoint your hostess.

Thank God you don't smoke. It's not only disgusting, but very old fashioned. Don't make up your face in public. You have never seen a member of the Royal Family doing it.

And what do you do after the party? Do you go home with someone if he asks you to? I suggest you should do that only when you are certain that you would like to marry him. I don't mean in order to trap him but only after you've given it a great deal of thought. I think trial runs are a good thing and help to make a marriage successful.

Now, a few words on your appearance. I approve very much of the way you do your hair, short enough to keep it off your shoulders to show off your long neck. (a great assets, it sets your head correctly on your shoulders and makes, with your broad shoulders, a good "hanger" to your clothes.) Keep the hair well brushed and go to a hairdresser who cuts well. Never, never, wear anything like bandeaux or flowers in your hair.

Be very careful about earrings, nothing at all by day. You're a swimmer, a wonderful look, so studs of pearls or diamonds are okay by night. Never, never please think about those plastic jobs. I hope you try to avoid plastic in all forms except as ice trays. Remember that jewellery of silver, wood, china and glass doesn't do what pearls and diamonds do, light up eyes and flatter your skin. It just tells everybody that you haven't got any real jewels. Jewels which enhance your looks and your status are usually old. Don't forget to clean them. Toothpaste is an excellent cleaner of diamonds.

Should you ever yearn for furs remember this: fur should be used only as a lining. This has been done since time immemorial. You show a little fur at the neck, that is all. To wear fur outside a coat, which denies you the warmth of the turn inside, is a vulgar display of wealth. A mackintosh lined with lightweight fur, like nutria or (yes please) sable, is a wonderful garment for northern winters. Never mink: it's too heavy.

About summer clothes, you know more than I do. I know you like a plain costume for swimming and wouldn't be seen dead in any frills on the beach. Just apply this rule for further up on dry land. Avoid all prints if you can, they are used to disguise not quite expensive enough cloth and faults in making the garment. Above all, they fuss up your appearance, which should glow like a fresh peach.

I like to think of you in plain coloured tank tops with wide boat-shaped necklines and cap sleeves, quite loose; in linen by day and crepe de Chine for dresses and the evening. You can have several skirts, all full and flowing. An outfit with a white crepe top and chiffon skirt all in white with a pale pigskin belt would look wonderful on you. Don't wear any earrings until you get some diamond or pearl studs.

Make a collection of good belts: pigskin, black patent leather, brown calf. Don't have anything which is not of the finest quality and very plain. Such belts make a cheap dress look expensive. I should like you to have six shirtwaisters in genuine man's poplin shirtings. If you wore such a dress, freshly laundered, at a drinks party you would make most of the other guests look silly.

Never buy cheap shoes. Impulse buying is something you can't afford. Build up a little collection of plain shoes os every event is catered for. Keep them carefully, always on trees immediately you take them off, and train a boyfriend to clean and polish them.

You don't have to worry about handbags because you can get away with little shopping baskets in wicker or canvas and a tiny satin pochette for evening. An expensive Hermes- type handbag is very ageing.

Luggage is important. It announces your taste level, so no tapestry please and no metal boxes or matching sets in pastel colours. Try for leather trimmed canvas in neutral colours. Don't worry about matching. The best look is well-worn expensive, not that of your first trip abroad. And please no suitcases with built in wheels. But don't hesitate to have a small collapsible trolly if you've a lot of luggage for a long stay. Also to be avoided is luggage slung over your shoulder. What's the use of avoiding having to wait for luggage coming down the shoot if you look like a crumpled coolie? Your aim when travelling is to look calm, uncrushed and experienced.

What to wear? It's easy: man-tailored slacks in thin, beige, all-wool gaberdine, pleated fronts, turn-ups, belt loops and a plain, expensive leather belt; a man-tailored shirt in neutural colour, pure silk with long sleeves, buttoned cuffs (no links please) which you can roll up to the elbow if it's hot; and a camel hair cardigan for the chills of the night. Have a deep, canvas shopping bag to carry your books, newspapers and passport.

As regards evening, do keep everything as plain as you would by day. Your danger is that if you're too dressed up you'll look like a sports champion at the end of a successful tournament. Avoid taffeta!

One final word about behaviour. I know you're okay in private houses but in restaurants where, alas, it's necessary to do much entertaining, don't forget to try to give your wishes and requests to your host and hostess, rather than directly to the waiter. "James, do you think I might have a glass of water?" sounds much better than "Waiter, can I have a glass of water?" Also, if you're asked to choose your meal, you should make your requests to your host or hostess.

Well darling, that's about it. I hope it's been useful. You would have managed quite well without me but I just hope I've made it easier. Ever your devoted godfather. "

So, tell me who or what your biggest style influence was. Magazines, a celebrity, friends, relatives or a style guide book?

37 comments:

  1. That letter was a scream! "a cumpled coolie". Hermes bag ages, avoid taffeta, et al. Well I'm off to order my sable lined Mackintosh as it'll make me glow like a fresh peach.

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    1. GSL, I only ever saw the second letter, and remember at the time feeling annoyed that I could not read his first. Well, I found it and got to read it and the first is even funnier than the second printed above - such dated advice and so lacking in political correctness. Would never get published today!!
      Glowing like a fresh peach is key. Can't wait to see you trotting out the fur lined mackintosh!

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  2. That letter overall was classic with a few errors like the smoking and making up in public which the Queen only recently did herself... Before the internet, magazines were everything! I read as much as I could get my hands on but I also relied heavily on my mother and her friends and my friends' mothers with their travels and parties etc. My friends when I was younger never did influence me so much because back then most clothes were made to last so there was no experimentation with zara or primark etc. But I also I find these things cultural so what works in Australia would never work in Asia etc. I say be clean and be nice and that is pretty universal!!

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    1. Do you know I've never made up my face in public, and I think that letter was the reason why!! I just can't bring myself to do it, so it was obviously deeply buried somewhere as to why I shouldn't. You lived a more international life than I as a child N. but I was lucky to travel and see some of the world. Vogue really was my window to the world though - Adelaide, and Australia, was at that time a very long way away from anything.

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    2. Oh and being clean is a good one - lots don't adhere to that though. I often think good grooming (clean shoes and clothes, buttons sewn on etc) has fallen by the wayside, and it makes everything look worse

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  3. I love this! For me it is seventeen magazines in the late 70s with phoebe cates everywhere and ads for bonne bell lip smackers!

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    1. We used to buy seventeen magazine too Wendy! Between my sisters and I we used to purchase pretty much all the magazines local and international. I much preferred seventeen to our local version (Dolly magazine).

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  4. Brilliant. My favourite line: "Never buy cheap shoes. Impulse buying is something you can't afford...". The runner up has to be, "I hope you try to avoid plastic in all forms except as ice trays...".
    These sorts of things are incredibly formative. I remember at school people would rip out adverts from vogue, etc at put them on the dorm walls. I was a teen in the 90s, so lots of the cK adverts with Kate Moss doing the rounds.
    I remember one girlfriend who adored Audrey Hepburn and tried to live by the motto: "what would Audrey do?" after reading a biography.
    x

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    1. There were some good one liners in there Charlotte… and some total clangers too! I have certainly adhered to that one about cheap shoes. Have never bought them. I used to take a vogue shoot and then try to create the look out of my own wardrobe and makeup. Some looks were more successful than others….! So funny about your friend and Audrey - does she still try to live like Audrey?

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    2. I think that there are elements which she still tries to emulate, but thankfully it is no longer a case of severally restricted calorie intake and constant Audrey references! x

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  5. I have never loved you more.

    This is the best blog you have ever done because I totally relate.

    I recall the Hayman Island shoot and thought of it non stop when I finally went there with E in 2004.

    In love with that pink dress.

    Magazines were a HUGE influence.

    See you soon x

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    1. Thought you would relate to it! That pink dress I remember so well - I think I tried to sew a version for myself from memory. The Hayman Island shoot was in the same edition as the Hardy Amies letter!! We have booked to go there as I have always wanted to go (booked it a month ago), and then finding the shoot in that same edition I could not believe it!! Looking forward to catching up in person x

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  6. Dear Heidi,
    This is priceless. Old Hardy had very sage advice and fancy having him as a godfather. How wonderful for Susie (Wonder who she is?).
    The fashion is a scream. I went from the whole pie crust collars waist coats and midi skirts from Lady Di in my early 20's to those double breasted jackets and massive shoulder pads that swamped my (at the time!) skinny figure. By the time I had my kids slim and body con was the order but I never got the chance to wear them and feel cheated to this day!
    We went on a holiday or babymoon as they are called now when I was 6 months pregnant. Mr. B chose Bedarra over Hayman and it was a bit of a fizzer given that we did not get our money's worth out the open bar of wonderfulness, although Mr. B gave it a red hot go on my behalf and we did take back a number of bottles of the petite Moet liqueur which was the drink day. I wished we had gone to Hayman but we are planning fingers crossed a trip in November.
    Kate Bx

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    1. Kate B, you would have been the most stylish girl around town I'm thinking! Those frilly collared blouses were all the go in the early 80's… as for the Bodycon stuff, well I was around 14 when it was in, so was fairly limited in what I was allowed out in public in. My older sister though had an enviable wardrobe of lycra bodysuits with large shoulder pads in polka dots. So chic!
      Fingers crossed you'll get to Hayman in Nov, although I'm sure Bedarra was the bomb at the time. But as you're so close to any of them you've got an advantage over us - so $$$ to fly there from Adelaide!!

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  7. I had a gorgeous older cousin - very Jackie O in looks. Among other things she told me never to run for the bus or train as it looks inelegant and never eat on the street as it’s common. Still to this day I always have to find a park or a cafe to eat - just can’t do the eating whilst walking along thing. Nor touching up make up in public. There is certainly a lot of good old fashioned advice in those letters - I love the bit about going to a party to amuse - not be amused. I think a lot of people could benefit from that advice! My cousins engagement dress and wedding dress were both beautifully classic and timeless as was her hairstyle - I think Hardy Amies would have approved. Super post! Tonkath

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    1. Do you know Tonkath, my school had a rule that you were not allowed to eat in public in your uniform, unless you were seated in a restaurant or cafe. To this day, I can't do it either!! At the time if you were spotted strolling down the street stuffing your face you'd be hauled over hot coals and have to do a detention. So your cousin was definitely on the right track there! The other big thing at school was keeping your knees together at all times when sitting. It's sort of obvious I'd think, but I do see women sitting with legs apart all the time now and sort of wonder at it!
      I thought the part about the party was good advice and agree with you that society today seems to be about me, me, me - what am I going to get out of it, how will I look at the party…
      Your cousin sounds like a wonderful style guide Tonkath

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    2. I was brought up to never eat while walking and it grosses me out so much to see people walking down the street in their lunch hour shovelling food in their gob. If you don't have time to sit down and eat properly, then take something back to your desk.

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    3. I was brought up the same way re eating while walking in public. After all these years I still wouldn't do it. Make up touch ups?...done the lipstick only once. Felt like I had committed a crime.LOL
      I liked his party advice. "Go to amused, not to be Amused"..
      Linda C.

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  8. Gosh I wish I had a fairy godfather like that....
    I grew up with dolly magazines.
    Style was not really an option growing up as there was no money.
    At uni I had very little money so again clothes were few and far between.

    It is only in the last few years that I have "found" my style. I credit people with fashion blogs - a few of them in my sidebar have been quite influential.
    I have learned (the long and hard way) that fit is important, as is only wearing things that look good on your current shape. Accessories and makeup are key.

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    1. Can't say I would have minded having Hardy Amies as a godfather either Cilla!! Much better than my lax one…
      I used to sew a lot of my own clothes as a teenager - couldn't find what I wanted locally, and only had a budget for the Myer Miss Shop etc.
      Agree with you 110% on fit. It's key, as is finding the shapes that work on your frame. I tend to stick to that when buying, and it makes everything easier. I do forgo a lot of what is fashionable, and am probably not the most exciting dresser, but at least the clothes I wear hide the bits that need to be hidden and show off the bits that are my better assets.

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  9. This is the best, thanks so much for sharing it with us! I read it yesterday and was interrupted before commenting though I was chuckling for a good while afterwards. Very good advice and he has the cutting wit of Somerset Maugham: the no plastic except for ice trays, hilarious.
    I relied heavily on American Vogue, it was my guide and inspiration growing up in a very small town in Ontario. I was born in 1970 so the 80's were my teen years... I was also heavily influenced by the movies of John Hughes, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. I wanted all of Molly Ringwald's outfits from those movies!

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    1. It's very of it's period, that's for sure Dani! I always wondered where one would buy a pigskin belt too (have yet to see one advertised as that!). I think I'll print the first letter he wrote, which was advice on how to break into English society. It's a total scream!
      Oh I think all those Molly Ringwald movies definitely influenced a whole slew of young girls. She certainly was the style icon of her time

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  10. Really interesting reading letter to Susie, I couldn't agree more that a designer handbag is ageing (well many are)

    In the 1970s my teenage reading was Dolly, Cleo (for the articles ) and some US teen magazines in the school library. We wore Yardley pot of gloss on our lips and flared jeans.

    I remember my friends and I would go to Cornelius furs in the city and try on the minks .."no darling the black is too old for you try the blonde one ," those were the days

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    1. My pet hate is the designer bag used for all occasions… I see so many women that have their black office "investment" bag that they'll then use for every occasion. Looks so silly with an evening gown, or a light summer dress at a wedding etc. They'd be better off with a cheap clutch from a chain store because you look at the bag for the wrong reasons.
      So funny re the furs. There aren't a lot of real fur shops left these days...

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  11. Love this post, Heidi!
    I was a total magazine nut when I was growing up - I've still got British Vogues from the 70s and 80s in a box somewhere. How funny is that letter, although I have to say I do agree with quite a lot of it! I never, ever apply makeup in public, apart from lip balm.
    I long for some shirtwaisters!!

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    1. You're a bit like my sister Ruth - she's kept absolutely everything (copies of The Face magazine from the 80's - 90's). That would be fun to go and dig through. I have to say it was just interesting to compare the fashion shoots and articles from then to now.
      I started to feel a longing for a shirtwaister myself!

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  12. That is gold. I really want to find a boyfriend who will take care of my shoes!

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    1. I've never managed to find a boyfriend (or husband) to take care of my shoes!! Clearly that tidbit of information didn't sink into my subconscious like other parts did!

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  13. This is utterly fab.

    I never read Vogue and it shows I'm afraid. Just not interested in proper fashion but do hope we can still be friends Heidi! I do like reading more about it now but would still not buy a fashion mag.

    I made a marvellous baby group friend in Sydney who had just moved from Paris where she worked as a knitwear designer with Chloe and before that Gaultier or Galliano I think. She looked at me once and said she had never really made friends with someone like me. I hoped she meant I was refreshing company, not just utterly beyond help !

    I just love that line about plastic... and Hermes bags (so ageing my dear) and would never ever do my make-up in the street, and cannot eat there either!

    Echoes of the Mitfords in that letter. x

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    1. We can still be friends! None of my school friends read Vogue either (well, only one did) back in the day. So lucky re your baby group friend!! You do get the funniest mix of people in the new mum groups - nothing in common bar happening to give birth at the same time. So funny though that you were a breath of fresh air to her friendship wise!
      Definite echoes of the Mitfords in that letter - another era that's for sure.

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  14. Fabulous! And so impressed with your research - actually going to the Vic. State Library instead of browsing the boutiques. Must have been great fun too, leafing through those old issues.
    With the advantage of hindsight found the letter a bit of a giggle, though there are a few gems of advice tucked in, particularly regarding manners at dinners etc - and on not buying cheap shoes or eating in the street. But he really was a bit patronising to the "antipodean" (we used to be called that too in our first year in the UK - or even "colonial").
    There's no suggestion that his god-daughter (or subsequently other readers) might have had any kind of career for which "little shopping baskets" might not have been appropriate bag wear. Also his only thought is that people go to parties just to amuse or be amused - while nowadays many professional women go to parties to build/consolidate networks - and also to pick up information and to show the flag for their country (diplomats) or business. Or to meet a new lover/boyfriend. The last paras - about passing one's choice from the menu to the host/hostess (and not the waiter) works only if there are very few guests. If it's a large table of guests this would be a nightmare for all concerned - and involve - horror - shouting, or, maybe worse - Chinese whispers. The Mitfords would almost certainly have agreed with some of it - though they had their own rules. But they were such free spirits they would break other people's rules without hesitation if it suited or amused them. Remember reading Unity used to take a pet mouse (or was it a rat?) to deb balls. They liked to shock. Evelyn Waugh recounted a ball where guests had to come dressed as the person they'd most like to f---. Diana Mitford, Cecil Beaton, Godfrey Winn and others went as Paul Robeson. Evelyn went as Diana Mitford.

    Also, the hang up about wheels on luggage! Must be a carryover from a time when there were heaps of porters at railway stations and airports! Which reminds me, so looking forward to seeing you soon! Pammie

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    1. It was fun Pammie! Talk about a trip down memory lane, I was amazed at how much of it was completely familiar to me. Agree with you about some gems of advice, but I may print the first letter he wrote - it's downright hilarious. He does espouse a career of sorts - doing a gardening course so that you can instruct your gardeners competently!
      Yes to the wheels on luggage thing - very outdated these days. You'd be lucky to find a porter anywhere!

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    2. Yes, plse do print. Look forward to reading! Love anything that makes me laugh. Pammie

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  15. I never had a godfather, but would happily adopt Hardy. Don't agree with all the points though- no to fur on the outside? Since when was pearls/diamonds too much for the day? I had no idea I should be making my requests known to dining companions rather than the waiter! What an over sight. Thank goodness I don't have an Hermes bag - I don't need any help ageing x

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    1. I obviously took that Hermes advice on board too HIH, as I don't own one either. Phew.
      I would have thought that most dining companions would be rather annoyed if you kept instructing them about your order, rather than the waiter these days… I know I would be!

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  16. I have x 3 boxes of Vogue Entertaining magazines c1982-97 stashed away. I can't bring myself to toss them 'ços one day the Full Catastrophe Dinner Parties will return. I'll need to know the recipes for Veal Paillardes & Daiquiri Mousse. Nothing like an old mag to inspire us!
    M xx

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  17. A 16 year old version of me once read a tongue in cheek book called "The Bombshell Manual of Style" and began to follow it like a bible. It was chock full of "advice" inspired by some of my favorite Old Hollywood stars and I managed to convince myself that I too, could be everyday glamorous as I imagined Liz Taylor and Ava Gardner to be.

    Did I get a part-time job as teen just so I could buy expensive "perfume" and "under-pinnings" because this book said they were essential for glamour? Yes indeed.

    The effects have lingered, I don't strive to stop people dead in their tracks anymore but I certainly do enjoy fancy perfume, lacy under-pinnings and a dash of bad taste, a'la Diana Vreeland.

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