About a year ago, I searched out a copy of an article from Vogue Australia circa 1987. I was curious as I could remember reading it intently as a 13 year old, and viewing Hardy Amies (the English Couture designer) wardrobe pronouncements on the matters of taste and style as gospel.

Hardy Amies via Getty Images

I had always been disappointed that it was only the second part of the letter that I had read as a 13 year old - I remember wondering what was in the first? What gems of information had I missed? Well… when I searched out the letter in the Melbourne Library archives, I found the first one. Eureka!

Cindy Crawford in UK Vogue 1987


Or not quite. This one gives advice to his goddaughter, Susie, on social matters. Including how to broach the British upper crust. Advice that is slightly questionable, and most definitely hilariously dated in modern day terms. Thank goodness I didn't read this and take it as gospel! For many reasons as you can now read for yourself….

From Vogue Australia, March 1987

Dear Susie,

It was so nice seeing so much of your mother on her recent trip. When you get to my age you treasure old friends. I suppose I've known you all thirty years - it's that long ago since I first went to Australia. I was tremendously flattered when your mother asked me to be your godfather. I fear I have not been a very good one: I always remember your birthday too late to do it justice. I'm grateful that you never hold it against me.

So I've now decided to make amends and carry out your mother's wishes that I should write to help prepare you for your visit to England - and I expect Europe, next year. Of course I'm frightened of boring you; I'm sure I shall tell you things you already know. But bear with me: I am having fun sorting out my own thoughts. At its best I should be giving you advice on how to live, the summing up of experience. I shall be happy recording this, it's something to leave behind.

Remember I was brought up with much less money than you and I've had to fight my way to what I've managed to achieve. I can remember mistakes and pitfalls and can warn you. I can also recall little triumphs and will pass on the secrets. My main school was, of course, the shop. I learned how to understand the rich by waiting on them, like a good butler. Like a good butler, I am a snob.

A good snob respected the social structure: a bad one idolises it. Snobbery does not mean cruelty, unkindness to friends or guests, it means a clear evaluation of social position which is only discreetly discussed for fear of hurt.

Your mother is sending you to England to help your education. You know, they know and I know that everyone hopes you make a stunning marriage.



I seriously suggest that you should start at the top. You already know a good deal about Australian snobbery. The snobs of Sydney and Melbourne are the nicest people there. They have helped to make Australia great and they are determined to do their best to keep it so. It's the same thing in England only it's better organised.


You've heard about Debrett's. It's the most fascinating, incredibly accurate account of English history. Wildly useful, it places you in the world immutably. My tip is, consult Debrett's as soon as you get to London. Don't talk about it - people are self-conscious - they pretend it doesn't matter. But you've only to look at the detail, the family ramifications that are given and which are all supplied and kept up-to-date by the families themselves. It's all taken very seriously but never discussed. This is important for you. It's also importent to get titles right. Never be frightened to ask.

Don't be lazy about looking up people you are introduced to, particularly chaps. It's not necessary to seek out titles: that is unpleasant snobbery. But someone with land or prospects or in Debrett's is very desirable, You know exactly what you're getting. Who's Who is also extremely useful. It gives full scope to the self-made man and to the self-made family, which, of course, all those in Debrett's were originally.

I've just had a thought. The higher you go in the social scale the fewer poofs you are likely to find. I don't know why. All strata of society today are of course very tolerant of poofs. It's very middle class to do anything other than to accept them. They do indeed brighten up the scene everywhere. But I'm not sure I recommend them as husbands. There have been very successful marriages. He will help with the house running, even if he doesn't cook he'll know about cooking. And God, won't he be interested in your clothes. But you'll know the dangers. It takes a very fine athlete to be good at tennis as well as golf.


I am totally in agreement with your mama when she says she thinks you ought to get a job. I think she said that you were keen to. Don't ever give the impression that you don't need the money. But, on the other hand, you can afford to take work which teaches you rather than makes you a profit. Interior decorating, dress designing and even one of those courses at Sotheby's are a bit overdone. Have you ever thought about gardening? Don't faint. It's the great, new, chic thing to do. There are well-run schools in London such as the Chelsea Physic Garden. Then if it appeals to you, you can go to Water Perry which is near Oxford. It would be wonderful to be a real professional and be able to control the gardeners with authority.



Tell dad you must have a little car. He'll understand.


As you're only eighteen you could do the course for six months, then you should consider going to France for a year. You must learn French. That slightly, undisguisable Aussie accent is very attractive, don't  make any mistake, but you must be able to hold your own in French. Don't go to Paris, there's too much English spoken there, as there is in the south of France. You want a fairly well-to-do bourgeois family in a provincial town like Lyons or Tours. I'll talk to you later about it all. It's so easy to learn a language before you are twenty-one. You'll never get such a chance again. The same thing applies to history.


I remember taking you to The Magic Flute about six years ago. You were very absorbed by it and quite delighted with the music. I know you are a sensitive and intelligent girl. So you'll have to stay in what is called upper class society and I hope you'll raise yourself higher. I did it by my work. You will do it by your looks.

If you keep to yourself well aware of the standards of your background - and you're lucky that you have nothing to be ashamed of- you'll find that it's axiomatic that you have a fuller life in the upper echelons than you do in the lower. A full life means creative and provocative friends, an interest in fashion (all its aspects not just clothes) an understanding of music and painting and particularly architecture (with an emphasis on the domestic). I don't have to mention things like cooking and housekeeping. Your mother is a wonderful teacher.

Australian upper class life is without doubt based on European standards: not slavishly of course, but basically. Then to feel at home in Europe you must know as much as you can about European history. Don't bother about the early days of the Plantagenets and the Tudors. The Stuarts are truly amusing and you are bound to come across some of their descendants.


I'll give you some more detail another time. And, of course, I'll allow myself to offer some observations on dress. You will sniff disapproval, I think you must make up your mind how chic you want to be. Being chic is largely a question of discipline. You have to be very strict with yourself and allow no sentimentality - no birthday present bracelets and brooches. You can afford to try to be chic because your sense of humour will soften it all and no freckled redhead like you will ever be frightening. But you'd better get some of those curls cut off. There has never been a chic woman, in my time, with long hair. I embrace you….

For part 2 - click here

31 comments:

  1. Wonderful!
    One of my all time favourite quotes: "But you'll know the dangers. It takes a very fine athlete to be good at tennis as well as golf."

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    1. There are some total gems in this piece! Glad you enjoyed x

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  2. How fascinating. I'm so glad that you didn't read this in your formative years! I love the advice on getting a job - hilarious. Thanks for sharing! x

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    1. It's definitely a relic of its time! And yes.... glad I didn't follow any of this advice. I also wonder if Susie was real and whether she ended up married at 21 to someone grand and bossing around her gardeners with authority!

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  3. I never received any advice like this in the 60s. Now I know my education was lacking. I did enjoy Swan Lake when my Grandma took me. Just maybe I'm sensitive and intelligent!

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    1. You probably had a slightly more practical education Karen! Although as you show signs of being sensitive and intelligent then it's definitely upper class life for you! x

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  4. Laughing over this, it's so funny! It really is of a time, so well-written too and the visuals you attached are perfect. Thanks Heidi, so interesting XO

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    1. I found placing the pictures very amusing - glad you enjoyed. I can't imagine Vogue printing something like this these days… although as those "how to" books are so popular maybe they should do an updated version. xx

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  5. I'm obsessed with old advice books and columns so this was a treat!

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    1. I love the ones from the 50's, and this does seem almost like advice from then, rather than the late 80's… glad you enjoyed! x

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  6. This letter is so sweet and even sweeter in its earnest tone. While it does herald to a gentler time I also realize that the only serious option in life back then was a faffy job until you got married. Imagine having to depend only on Debretts but then again I never got anywhere with google searches either hehehe! x

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    1. So ernest! But I kind of hope Susie was more Australian than this particular English style of education/ life goals… my older sister finished school a year after this advice was given, and certainly we were not being brought up to think of marriage as the ultimate end goal. But I did find some of my Interiors classmates in London to have these ideas, which I found totally bizarre at the time (late 90's).
      I think Facebook and google can give a lot more info than Debrett's these days. A different kind of info though… xx

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  7. Heidi
    Who can believe that our attitudes and social values have changed so much in a mere 29 years? I re-read the part 2 but didn't find it nearly so odd. Of course, they were written by an Englishman. I wonder if English values, (both upper and low class) have changed as much as ours? The changes in Royal Family marriages etc suggests that they have. Thank you so much for hunting out these 'letters'. Judith

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    1. Well, part 2 was more about wardrobe, so it wasn't quite so eyebrow raising I think… but when I read this part 1 only a year or so ago I was quite surprised given that it was the late 80's and read more like advice from the 50's… it didn't seem to me things could have changed quite so much and that it might have been a little dated at that time? I certainly don't remember the 80's as being quite so backward with social values, but maybe I've forgotten a lot of it...

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  8. Heidi, do tell, am insanely curious about what happened to his goddaughter.....obviously she didn't snare any of the Queen's sons for a husband?! Where is she now? I wonder if she took the advice about the long hair?! Rx

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    1. I'm wondering if she's real or fictitious - I would think it would be fairly easy to work out a redhead that was 18 in 1987 from a Sydney snob family?! But if real I suspect she made a glittering marriage and is living in a stately somewhere ordering the gardeners about xx

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  9. Hi, it's Hardy Amies, not Aimes.
    Michele

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  10. Hilarious, so many absolute gems - I am just dying to know how well young Susie married... x

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    1. Well we've got Faux Fuchsia onto the case Ann, and her powers of Googling are very superior. Hopefully she reports back with some success! x

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  11. How wonderful! Love this Heidi, thank you for sharing. Also love the old Tatler cover pics, I lived in London and did work experience at Tatler - a wonderful and somewhat eye opening experience for a little old Adelaide girl. x

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I sat on this for the longest time, as I thought it may well offend… but it is a relic of its time. Wow, what you must've seen/heard at Taler! Oh to be a fly on the wall in their offices… x

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  12. Wow. Just wow.

    I'd love to know what Old Suze is up to now and who's she partnered with.Or divorced from.

    Off to google.

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    1. Please report back with your findings! I have a feeling we'll likely never know due to its pre-google era. xx

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  13. Couldn't resist googling Hardy Amies - totally surprised. He led a fascinating life before entering the fashion world. Wikipedia does a v interesting version of his life. Just one little surprise was that during WWII he was recruited to SOE and posted to Belgium for espionage/sabotage work. On his suggestion they used fashion words as part of their code. One of his superior officers wrote to another advising him not to be put off by his "precious" appearance - he was much tougher than he looked.
    Wonder now whether he wrote this as a tongue in cheek letter just for the magazine. It's terribly patronising of women and Aussies. Dying to know though if FF finds out if Suzie was real - and if so what happened to her.
    Having arrived in the UK years ago from Oz I found the Brits then didn't quite know what to make of us. We were often called old colonials of course by people of a certain type. But while accents and slang enabled the British to so easily place a UK person into were they might fit in the social order there - they couldn't do that with Aussies.
    We lived in both Cambridge and London and mixed in a great range of social groups from academics, to regular middle class, working class intellectuals, aristocrats and less well known members of the Royal family. They just accepted us as Aussies and there were no problems. Some of the people I worked with were titled but they weren't at all precious about it and insisted I just call them by their first names. I think Aussies then - and probably now too - are not overcome by titles or positions and take it all with a pinch of salt. I've always talked to Prime Ministers and titled people in just the same way I'd talk to my neighbours or friends. If possible, I usually try to make them laugh. They're not really used to this and often find it quite relaxing. Of course never presumed to call a titled person by first name, unless asked to do so. But otherwise, just carryied on quite normally. Our friends who were closely related to royalty (descendants of Queen Victoria) were among the most down to earth people I've ever met and great fun. Was once at an international parliamentary conference when the House of Commons was having pairing problems so they sent a delegation from the Lords (while hereditary peers were still members of the House) - they were such characters and so funny. They reminded me so much of Fanny's Uncle Matthew (Farve in real life). Pammie

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    1. I had a look at that Wiki entry and he did have a fascinating life! The obituaries from 2003 were also pretty interesting - he was held in such affection by all, but referred to as a terrible snob, as he himself said quite proudly! I suspect Susie was an invention, and that it was more a letter of advice that he was asked to frame as if he were giving to a god daughter to make it more relatable or friendly (especially considering the slightly condescending line of advice as you said!).
      I think as you said, most Aussies don't really care about titles etc… which was why bringing them back (even so briefly) was laughed at with incredulity last year. xx

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  14. Well all I can say is that I have a pink sheet set (not fitted) which I think was purchased in the 80's bearing the great man's name. I am going to my armoire to search for it as it has been tucked away for decades. May I say the queen has never looked as elegant as she does in her later years albeit with another designer whose name escapes me.

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    1. Well Lillian, I am super jealous of your brush with fame, and you would have the distinction of being one of (very, very) few women to say you've slept with Hardy Amies!
      I agree with you about the Queen - apparently she has always said she is not to dress fashionably - it's to be accessible and friendly looking when on her meet and greets. I think it's Angela Kelly (?) who does a lot of her dress designs now?

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  15. This is fascinating and hilarious! Something I probably would have never come across, so I am glad I read it.
    Really loving your blog!
    Erin

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    1. Thank you Erin! I searched for this for so long on the internet before finally going into the library and having it sent up from Archives… definitely it's not advice that you come across today too often!

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  16. Gustavo Woltmann thinks that this is great blog! - Gustavo Woltmann

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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