Thursday, 29 November 2012

Last-Year Reads: On Fair Vanity by Betty Page

"Any really intelligent woman should regard being good looking as part of her job as a civilised human being."

On Fair Vanity is a strange little read. First of all, its author isn't that Bettie Page which is reason enough for sadness. This Betty Page I can find very little about. The book was published in 1954 and definitely feels older in spirit than Lilly Daché's Glamour book, and even a little bit older than Anita Colby's Beauty Book (two years its predecessor). It's part career guide, part style guide - as if the two can't be separated.

I really like some of its advice, and the witty little images used to illustrate it, though it's given in a slightly scatter gun manner (this Betty Page loves an ellipsis). She advises a course of getting your eye in practise at spotting style: devouring fashion magazines, paying attention to what's going on in Paris, window shopping and eyeing up your fellow commuters, deciding what you like about the way they look and what pains you (all pleasurable activities for those who spend too long on Pinterest and similar). There's also some wise words in a chapter entitled: "On Facing Up To Your Birthday":

"the average English woman over 30 is only too apt to allow herself to drop into a comfortable lethargy, which has its outward style in nondescript, uninteresting clothes and a general tendency to look like a ruminant."

You've been warned.

And then there are the odd bits. I don't really know what the above image is meant to show (or the others like it in the book). I *think* it's about being able to do exercises while out and about but that really doesn't explain why the model is wearing an eye-band with her lingerie and ballet shoes, and dog. There's also a chapter devoted to bloating and the book also features its very own poem, "On the Aids".

This seemingly random material is interspersed with many of the great and good in fashion at that time: Madge Garland (Janey Ironside's predecessor as professor of fashion at the RCA), the journalist Alison Settle, the couturiers Norman Hartnell and Pierre Balmain, as well as models and PR and advertising career women. Is it meant to prove her point at the top of the post, that you can be intelligent and be interested in fashion? I was left a bit baffled by it all.

Perhaps the book is a bit odd because it was written at an odd period in British fashion. Both Colby and Daché had the advantage of being over in the States, and being part of the the new glamorous world of Hollywood. Page encourages you to look to Paris and the couture system - in fact when fashion in Britain was about to take a completely different turn. It was the very next year after this book was published that Mary Quant opened Bazaar and the "youthquake" began.

Alison Settle says some very wise words in her interview, which in retrospect, I feel could be applied to On Fair Vanity:

"You are clever, watch which way things are moving: but if you put salt on the tail of fashion, catching it as it flies away, you will always have an out-of-date look about you."

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

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