Tuesday, 12 January 2010

In search of charm: the arts of sophistication

If you're a fan of vintage charm and etiquette guides I have a treat in store for you today in the form of a new Paper Flowers weekly series: 'In search of charm'. Yes ladies (and men - why not?), I will be offering you advice from the 1962 book of the same name written by Mary Young,* principal of the Mary Young Model School and Agency (surely every girl's dream academy? Hogwarts, eat your heart out). Some of it is surprisingly useful, some hilarious, and some downright outrageous.

Bizarrely, I was given this book by my doctoral supervisor, Deborah Cherry, while I was helping her clear out her bookshelves. Quite what a radical feminist art historian was doing with this guide to 'becoming [a] poised, enchanting young woman', one can only imagine...

So, dear internet, join me, if you will, on a journey to see how much of this advice is relevant to the woman of the 2010s.**

Today's pearl of wisdom comes from the introduction:
'Ladies,' said Mr Samuel Goldwyn, the famous Hollywood producer, 'if you want to be devastating, use all the arts of sophistication, but remain demure.'

Now the phrase 'the arts of sophistication' conjures up good grooming, elegant dressing, beauty culture in all its aspects, poise and grace of movement, good speech and a developed personality; 'demure' suggests that tenderness, sweetness and serenity without which no woman can be truly beautiful. And if this book tends to dwell on 'the arts of sophistication', it is because I can't stress too strongly that I feel the young woman of today should be that well-balanced person suggested by a wise Mr Goldwyn.
So is remaining demure really all-important to the 'devastating' woman of 2010? I'm certainly not averse to using a little strategic demureness myself, but is this a retrograde step which can only confirm the belief that women are the weaker sex, incapable of doing things for ourselves and in need of protection from men? Or is it just another weapon in the modern girl's armoury as she makes her way in a world that is still weighted in favour of those of the male persuasion in so many ways? What do you think dear readers?

More charming tips coming soon: highlights will include 'Are my gloves the right length?', 'Things to leave to, or allow, the escort' and 'Do I look unnecessarily short?'

* This is out of print and 48 years old, so I am taking the liberty of reproducing extracts here. However if you know better, please let me know and I will try my best to keep it legal...

** Photo by Paula Wirth. Check out her Flickr photostream for more fab vintage graphics.


  1. What a fabulous cover. The demure bibliophile in me is getting very excited.

  2. And as for intellectual copyright, I think it's usually lifetime of author/artist plus 50 years, but I'm not totally sure. In music it used to be release date plus 50, until Sir Cliff R challenged it because he was beginning to lose copyright of his own early recordings. Translations and special edited editions of books are considered "new" works.

  3. Demureness as definitive of character probably is retrograde, as you say, but then the fault would be with who or whatever instilled it. Demureness as affect is potentially powerful and suggests a rather more dynamic character. Employed with discretion, it could be truly devastating.


  4. Mrs L-P: does that make me a criminal?

    VB: I couldn't agree more. Also, I am pretty sure that men employ it too...

  5. This book was a formative part of my youth! It may seem hilarious now, but I think it's quite an important bit of social history.
    Also, don't women love men who behave with chivalry on dates? And don't men love to be made to feel like kings on a night out? Why not? It's romantic. Perhaps modern man and modern women could both pick up some handy tips.