Monday, 12 October 2009

Book Review: "A Guide to Elegance" by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux

This may sound like a frivolous book to be reviewing for a blog supposedly about personal finance, but actually I found the advice it contained extremely useful and practical, assuming that the topics of clothes and style are of interest to you in the first place. As I have mentioned before, I find clothes-buying an area where I am naturally inclined to spend money.

This book, whose full title is "A Guide to Elegance for every woman who wants to be well and properly dressed on all occasions" was originally published in 1964, though was updated and re-published in 2003. Though some of the advice, written as an A to Z of clothing-related themes, harks back to a more genteel era, with the suggestion of different outfits for morning and afternoon, cocktail parties and weekends away, sounding in many cases more like 1934 than 1964, much of it remains entirely applicable.

Mme Dariaux considers that Frenchwomen tend to have far fewer clothes than their American counterparts, partly because they are less exposed to advertising, but that the garments they do own tend to be of far better quality. She notes, and this was one of my favourite points in the book, that a woman's aim should be to own a single perfect outfit for every possible occasion, and that there is no stigma attached to wearing the same dress on many occasions.

Other advice is to invest fairly heavily in a good quality, and ideally colourful, winter coat, possibly bought with a skirt in a matching colour, as this should last for several years, and to take the opportunity of a prosperous phase in life to acquire some good jewellery, handbags, a gold compact, a nice umbrella - rather than to buy fashionable dresses which will not stand the test of time.

Under the heading of "budget", is the surprisingly short list of items that the author considers essential to a woman's wardrobe; this is expanded upon in the "Ideal Wardrobe" section.

Her advice on bargains is that whether an item is really a bargain has little to do with its initial cost, and everything to do with how much use and pleasure you derive from it over time. The author also wisely counsels against buying anything, particularly in a sale, because it is bound to be "useful"; you should love it.

In summary, I thought this was an excellent, and very encouraging book. It left me feeling that if I could manage to take a long-term view, plan, and save up for clothes that I really wanted, I would end up better dressed, without having spent too much, and with less clutter in my wardrobe.

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