Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux

I have to admit to a weakness for books about the French, especially books about French women and their approach to life and to style. For example, in recent years I have read French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, and Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, by Debra Ollivier, to name just a few. Guiliano’s book is just common sense: “Eat too much today? Eat less tomorrow.” Ollivier’s book is harder to sum up, but the basic message is, French women value themselves more than American women do, and thus take better care of themselves.

Another book I read, in the same vein, was Elegance, by Kathleen Tessaro. This was fiction, kind of in the chick lit category, and it was totally forgettable. I don’t believe I actually finished it. I had to read the summary on Amazon just now to remind myself of the plot, which is: dumpy young American woman moves to France and discovers style, in part thanks to an old copy of an out-of-print (but real) book called A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. Woman is transformed, all live happily ever after, or something like that.

After Elegance was released, the author and publishers of the book-within-the-book, A Guide to Elegance, decided to re-release a slightly updated version of it; this is the book I have just read. Originally written in the early 1960’s, the book is an encyclopedia of all the information you need to be truly elegant, that is, if you live in Paris in the 1960’s. Entries include Accessories, Gloves, and Suits, for example. If these kinds of things are your cup of tea, this is a fun read. Some of the advice is timeless: you don’t need a lot of clothes to be elegant; the best approach is to buy the highest quality, best fitting clothing you can afford and just get along with fewer things. Yes, we’ve all heard this before, but Dariaux is very convincing. Other bits of advice are hopelessly dated: proper attire for the country is tweed suits and low-heeled pumps. Some advice is just plain bizarre: girls under age 14 shouldn’t carry umbrellas. Huh????

I checked this out of the library thinking that I would just skim it, but I couldn’t resist reading it all the way through. It was the perfect book for when you have ten minutes to spare, and you just want a little treat, so you read one entry, and then you feel optimistic that you can have style too. Or you just laugh at how silly it is. Fun fun fun.

The author was for many years the Directrice of the fashion house of Nina Ricci, in Paris. She is a lovely writer, in addition to being extremely knowledgable about the finer points of when and when not to wear a veil with one's hat, for example. I think I kept reading this book in part because her lovely language and subtle humor were a delight. Here is what she has to say about Yachting:
Now is your chance to show everyone that you are not afraid to be seen without make-up, that you never leave a trail of disorder in your wake, that you have a wonderfully even disposition, and that your elegance is based on utter simplicity. If this be the case (and if you are not subject to seasickness and know how to swim), you will surely have the most wonderful time of your life.
Isn't this charming?

This book’s grade is A- (for some of the outdated advice).
(Book 37, 2006)


Fundamentals of Sociology, 166 said...

I absolutely love this book. I agree with you that some of the advice is outdated, like wearing jewelrey as a matching set. Some of it I don't find practical for my lifestyle, such as wearing evening dresses for dinner parties. But even though some of its outdated to my mind, I feel that instead of chucking them in the trash, I can use outdated advice as a guideline. Like if I ever did go to a dinner party and I was sure that I wouldn't be overdressed, I would wear a brightly colored one becuase she suggests it and I find most of her ideas pleasing. I'm glad that you like the book. I hope that you purchase a copy for youself because I think it is a really handy reference.

lorrwill said...

Would I sound like a total geek if I admitted not only reading this book, but several times?

I pull it out every now and again. It really is a charming little book.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently reading Elegance by KT out of politeness to my friend who bought it for me. It's really not very enlightening, so I agree with you in that it's not a great book. But I have to point out that she lives in London, not Paris.

I'd like to find this Guide to Elegance book; it sounds interesting. I'd probably not be caught dead in a tweed suit though.

Ofelia said...

I just finished this book, and I was trying to see any picture of this woman. I couldn't find any. I found the book real fun: I kind of loved the section of the 3 types of husband. I am still laughing at it. The advice is dated, but good as a general guideline.

Linda Brady Traynham said...

I read Genevieve's delightful book when it first came out, and other than her advice on white kid gloves (I still have all of mine) she has more than stood the test of time. I rarely wear anything other than black and will never forget her discomfiture over showing up at a wedding in shades of lettuce green! Put your money in good jewelry, ladies, and no one will notice you're wearing ten buck silky slacks from Target and a twenty buck tunic from Ross Dress for Less!

Anonymous said...

I am reading Kathleen Tessaro's book for about the 9th time and find it comforting. As someone pointed out earlier, the main character lives in London not Paris. I find Louise Canova a sympathetic character and appreciate as well as identify with her life change. As far as Madame Dariaux advice - it's how I think life should be lived. Women behaving like ladies is sadly a rare thing.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Tessaro's, Elegance. Perhaps it is the "American" in me? I found the book a delight! So much so that I was inspired to search out her muse and found your blog.

Sylvie said...

J'adore Genevieve Antoine Dariaux! I have read the original Elegance (after buying it on eBay) as well as a Guide to Elegance AND Kathleen Tessaro's book. I've enjoyed them all. The little blue Guide to Elegance is absolutely a book to which I enjoy as reference book. I am currently reading Forever Chic by Tish Jett (an american who has lived in France for many years and is sharing secrets and observations) So far, it's quite informative and enjoyable.

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