Jessica Kim (of BabbaCo fame) recently asked her customers and fans to share memorable motherly advice. The thread includes hearth-warming tales of delicious meals, but my memories go to what I consider Fancy Lady Tips. I adore this topic. When that 1955 Housekeeping Monthly list for young wives is read tongue-in-cheek at bridal showers, I’m amused… not outraged. Even though they sound silly now, those guidelines were the purported path to a peaceful, quiet home. Don’t we all want a peaceful, quiet home? Certainly there are ways to achieve that without frantically fluffing pillows before the breadwinner arrives all grumpy and expecting a cool drink from his freshly lipsticked wife. But the other stuff about wearing dresses and preparing yummy food and de-cluttering the house? I love it all. Sometimes I think I’m a 1955 housewife, minus the smokes and garters.
My mother, perhaps in an effort to stifle inherent Gertrude-ness, didn’t adopt the myriad, judgmental rules dictated by her own mother. Mom never insisted we protect our ears as fiercely as our virginity. (Grandma Vinette abhorred lobe-baring hairstyles.) But my pretty mother still encouraged us to approach the world with a ladylike respect. We sported our Sunday best on airplanes. Young girls wore bright, cheery colors… never black. My sister and I were expected to don a dress at least one day during the school week, and all of us shook hands with grownups and uttered (with some reluctance), “how do you do?” Mom also reminded Paige and me that youth embodies its own beauty that requires no adornment or alteration. And though young girls require no makeup at all, a grown woman should never be seen without it.
Abby’s mom was another role model who stamped her worldview on the passport of my youth. Abby looked like Tatum O’Neal, wore an enviable add-a-bead-necklace, and carried her books in an L.L.Bean tote bag. Abby was an 80’s goddess of the preppy ilk, and her mother was my shaman for all things tasteful. One Friday night in 1984, as Abby and I settled in with our Cokes and Betamax, we watched her mom prepare for an evening at the country club. “When you go dancing, you should always wear a gown that floats,” she said, and also included, “…never leave the house without a quarter for the pay phone and a safety pin.” Watching this elegant woman gather her wrap and bag for an evening of romantic adult fun, I couldn’t wait to be like her. Abby’s dad was super handsome and kind and quietly masculine and wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening twirling with him in a floaty gown? If following her advice would lead to this pretty future, I was taking notes. (And later I totally found my own super handsome, wonderful guy to share evenings with in formalwear.)
Since I don’t have daughters to torture with old-fashioned counsel, I’ll bore yours, or heap unsolicited Fancy Lady Tips onto the young folk who find themselves living in my house. (Our four-year rotation of young tenants is the topic of another set of paragraphs; but where others collect Fiestaware, The Lees collect People.) I’ve encouraged more dress-donning, bed-making, de-cluttering, oven-using, and flower-potting for quite a few young women. But the goal of these girlie pursuits isn’t to please some Man (although that might be a side-effect), but to experience the joy of creating a little beauty in the world. Maybe I’m traditional, naïve, and engage in magical thinking, but some part of me believes that nothing too, too terrible can happen in a clean house that smells like muffins. And even if it does (and it did)… it’s a little less terrible if it happens in a clean house that smells like muffins.
My mom and Abby’s inspired this list of Fancy Lady Tips. I hope you’ll add to it.
God created you with hair and skin that match naturally: stray from either too far, and the result will be unappealing.
Dress nicely when traveling, as others will be more apt to come your aid should you require it.
Accept compliments gracefully, and offer them sincerely.
Everyone is fascinating if you listen.
Plant flowers. Buy flowers. Send flowers.
Wrap presents beautifully (and reuse the double faced satin ribbon)!
Make guests feel cozy and special and welcome and expected.
Don’t mix liquors. Bubbles or booze, but pick one for the evening.
Little boys should have little boy haircuts, lest they look like teeny criminals.
Unmade beds are an insult to the home.
Everyone appreciates a handwritten thank you, even if one isn’t expected.
There are oodles more, but the final suggestion is inspired by Ran, who may be the last man on the planet who stands up whenever a lady excuses herself from the dining table. It’s antiquated, quaint, and possibly ridiculous… but has never failed to make me feel noticed and special.
Let’s all be old fashioned and wonderful to each other.