The (Lost) Art of Femininity

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Is there anything more quintessentially feminine than the 1950s housewife? Think of June Cleaver, wearing pearls, heels, and a full-skirted dress to do her housekeeping. Even Lucille Ball, whose homemaking in I Love Lucy was eccentric (to say the least!), looked and acted feminine on screen and off. So how can a modern-day vintage housewife reclaim femininity for herself? Is femininity really a lost art?

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Feminine Women Like Men

Femininity means that you really like men (or at least you like masculinity!). Yup, I said it. Opposites attract. A feminine woman really likes men, and she shows it by listening adoringly, by instinctively working to please him, and by cultivating a feminine, public, “star image.”

Listen Adoringly

A feminine lady uses body language to convey rapt attention. You can reflect his position with your own, open your eyes slightly wider, and look upward toward his face while pointing your chin downward. Watch his face the whole time that he is talking.

Don’t interrupt! Don’t correct his stories or try to tell a better joke. Listen to his opinions, especially the strongly-held ones, without giving your own opinion, strongly held or otherwise. And DON’T argue with him.

Also, avoid telling him how to fix his problems and offering advice. I know that this is hard! But everyone tells others how to fix their problems. Be the one who JUST listens, and lets him get it all off his chest, instead. You will be the refuge from the world. And it will set you apart from others.

Work to Please Him

Do things that please him and avoid things that displease him. So simple, yes? Ha!

From experience, I can start with a few tips. First, don’t let yourself go. Physical beauty is not the first requirement of femininity. But when a woman lets herself go, she is announcing to men that she doesn’t care whether they like her or not — which is not feminine.

Second, make sure that when he comes home (and home is always where you are!), make sure that his arrival is the best part of his day! (Except bedtime. And dinner.) My suggestion is to get a copy of The Good Wife’s Guide (yes, the image that claims to be from Housekeeping Monthly is the same thing) and follow it as closely as possible for at least 30 minutes after he comes home. Eventually, you will learn what makes him feel best when he comes home.

Third, do things you don’t want to do — and don’t complain or nag about them. Go along with what he wants to do, and plaster a smile on your face if you have to. Maybe go to a football game or watch a silly movie that he picked. Go to dinner with his family and say only positive things afterward. (His family and his work are both cases of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”)

Finally, stop your unfeminine habits. Here is a list of things that annoy men or ruin your image of femininity and glamour:

  • Obvious makeup
  • Messy smoking and chewing
  • Beauty machinery — curlers, cold cream, mascara brushes, touching up lipstick
  • Slips and straps that show
  • Lipstick on teeth, cigarettes, cups, spoons, napkins
  • Stray hairs on your shoulders
  • Powder smears on necklines
  • Any odor other than perfume
  • Chipped nail polish (better none than some)
  • Overrun heels
  • Tortured hairdos (Your girls might like your perm — but men probably won’t!)
  • Bracelets that clank like an anvil chorus
  • Your paraphernalia in their pockets
  • Perpetual peeps into a compact mirror
  • Brassy laughter
  • An aggressive manner
  • Profanity
  • A lumbering, masculine walk
  • Slumping, droopy posture
  • Table-hopping (with eyes as well as feet)
  • And when your own man mentions a quality about a woman that disturbs him, quickly add it to the list! For my man, it’s women who wear yoga pants and jodhpurs, when they aren’t actually on a horse or yoga mat!

Create a “Star Image”

This one, even though it is from the 1950s, seems tailor-made for today’s cameras-are-everywhere social-media lifestyle. Essentially, you are curating a glamorous image and maintaining it. Of course, the book focuses on maintaining it around men — but also:

  • Seriously, don’t be a Karen. It isn’t ladylike — there is nothing good about it at all. And SOMEONE will film it and your ABSOLUTE WORST SELF will go viral. You do not want that to be you.
  • The day you go to Walmart in your pajama pant and fuzzy slippers will be the day that What Not to Wear takes an unflattering picture of you. Right?
  • You don’t always have to be ready for a picture or video — but if you are, you’ll like the result a lot better.

There are also a few things that you can do to make this easier:

  • Get some feminine and pretty go-to outfits. I have a pretty, fitted, velvet hostess gown (also called a brunch coat) that I wear in the evenings so that I look prtty while feeling cozy. I wear foundation garments under my house dresses (I talk more about housedresses in my article on a vintage capsule wardrobe) so that when I need to leave the house, I can slip on a day dress and be ready to go. My day dresses are similar in cut and fasion to my housedresses, which makes it easy to wear one. Then, when I get home, I change back into a housedress!
  • I firmly believe that every housewife will feel better if she gets up a half-hour before her children to start her day BY HERSELF! And I consider this quiet, private time to dress and do her hair and makeup to be her self-care. (And it is possible to do a vintage morning routine with small children, too!)
  • You don’t HAVE to wear makeup every day. But a good skincare routine and brushing your hair every day are ESSENTIAL.
  • Always smell good. At least smell like soap-and-water even if you don’t wear perfume. I try to get my soap, eau de toilette, lotion, and body powder to match in fragrance, because I am very conscious of little details like that.

Feminine Women Are Well-Groomed

If you look over the list of unfeminine habits, you will see that several of them are about being an unkempt, disheveled woman.

Being well-groomed means taking the time to look at yourself in a mirror when you are ready. It means no slips and straps showing, no tears or smears or stains, shoes polished, clothes brushed, seams straight. It means the hair is smooth and neat, makeup is carefully done, and lingerie is fresh and dainty. No bad smells, no bad breath. Basically, it means paying attention to being well-turned-out.

It also means that you have taken time to learn to apply makeup and style your hair properly. That you know what colors of makeup and clothes look best on you, and you stick to those. It means that you take care of your skin, your hair, your body, and your nails. And it means that you put time and effort each day into your appearance.

Why Looking Good Matters

As I mentioned earlier, the books talks about how physical beauty is not the most important thing. Instead, putting time and effort into your appearance shows men that you are interested in pleasing them. And there is no bigger aphrodisiac for a man than a woma who wants to please him!

When a lady takes the time to know what makes her look good and to follow through and make herself look GOOD, she is letting prospective husbands know that she will be an asset socially. A woman’s appearance reflects on her escort, whether he is her date or her husband. And therefore, when you put energy into your appearance, you reflect well on him. You make him look better by looking elegant and well-groomed and acting demure and ladylike. Be a woman of distinction in public, and you will increase his social standing as well.

Posture is Part of Being Well-Groomed

The presentation of femininity includes dress and grooming, carriage and posture, voice and languages, and the attitude of femininity. Don’t be a Slumpy Sadie or a Droopy Della! If you struggle with posture, strength your core or try posture wear.

The Importance of a Signature

Every woman has at least one valuable asset in addition to her sex. Part of your femininity is your individuality. Every woman has her own special brand of appeal.

To accent her femininity each woman should develop a unique beauty accent. A certain smile, gesture, etc. You can even take a feature that might otherwise be a liability and turn it into a trademark — like turning a mole into a beauty spot. If you don’t have a natural trademark, you can develop or invent one — like a hairstyle or always wearing frothy giddy hats.

A graceful gesture, a warm smile, a sympathetic ear, or a gentle manner of speech have won and held as many men as have flawless features or a bewitching figure.

Feminine Women Are Sweet-Smelling

You know what this means! You don’t have to use a lot of perfumed products. Soap and water are good enough for everything from your floors to your laundry to your feet! But everything, including your environment (as much as possible), should smell delectable — or at least clean.

I actually use Ivory soap for most cleaning, my laundry, and my children. And I also use original blue Dawn dish soap. I use lemony and piney cleaning products. My children use Ivory soap and J&J baby oil. I keep Ivory soap and Jergens lotion in the original cherry-almond scent at every sink in the house. I use a lot of baking soda and burn plain paraffin candles to get rid of bad smells, and I keep potpourri (homemade) in every room.

My house also holds potted scented geraniums and fragrant flowers, which my husband grows for me. And I love flower arrangements in my rooms. It’s part of why I include a cutting garden next to my herb garden.

Personal Ladylike smells

On my body, I use body oil, body powder, creams, lotions, etc. I do try to make sure that all the scents on my person are the same, or at least complementary! But some days, I feel like sandalwood, some days like rose, and some days like violets. Or freesia. So I have some different ones — I don’t really have a signature scent. I just want to smell nice.

I do not, however, use any sort of douche or whatnot. If I smell so bad that daily ablutions with soap and water don’t help, it’s a good sign that it is time to see a doctor! (And I am known to bathe a couple of times a day on my period.) Don’t use too much soap on your private areas, tho. They are delicate!

Feminine Women Are Soft-Voiced

“Her voice was ever low and soft, an excellent thing in a woman.” This is so hard for me! And your voice should not only be soft, but also kind, and full of warmth and expression. And sound sweet — even musical. It’s a tall order!

My biggest problem is that I sometimes feel like yelling because I am frustrated or upset. I struggle with emotional dysphoria EVERY DAY — mostly from being raised with the idea that my feelings, as a child, were SUPER IMPORTANT, and always have to be expressed and acknowledged. Now I struggle with self-control. Not talking at all and simply moving my children to where they need to be, or speaking in a super low, quiet voice works wonders in disciplining my children. Especially if they are being rambunctious in the house, whispering or speaking very quietly after moving very close to the child is MUCH more effective than yelling.

I have also gotten good results from smiling (make sure your eyes are smiling, too!) and not saying anything. It helps me remember to stay soft and quiet. Sometimes it is hard for me and using NLP and behavior modification helps.

Fortunately, I took voice lessons when young, so my voice doesn’t sound awful. If you can, I HIGHLY recommend taking singing or elocution lessons to improve your voice!

Feminine Women Are Attentive

Especially now, we have a tendency to ridicule and mock the bring-Papa-his-pipe-and-slippers approach to marriage, but nearly every husband cherished a secret dream when he chose marriage that his wife would be a romantic, fragrant, soft-spoken, tender, feminine creature whose most important goal in life is making him comfortable and content and that his home would be a haven.

If you are a wife, treat your husband like a lover. Pamper him. Please him. Cultivate your conversation as carefully as you do your front yard. Apply your decorating skills to make your living room comfortable and beautiful, and your bedroom inviting and romantic. Play the woman of distinction when the boss comes to dinner — and sexy mistress in the boudoir.

Never let your competence interfere with your femininity. Aggressiveness and ambition are anathemas to femininity. Even if you are a hard-driving CEO, you should not show it as part of your feminine presentation. Femininity has a place in the public sphere as well as at home. It should be applied, not sacrificed in all that a lady does. Charm, like charity, begins at home.

Women complain chivalry is dead. Maybe we have helped to kill it. A little patience on our part could revive it. Wait for a man to pull out a chair, rather than do it yourself. Same with doors. Let your man do the ordering in restaurants. Then be pleased, even ecstatic, over his choice. If you don’t give a man a chance to look after you, eventually he will give up and let you look after yourself. Even if you can do everything he can do (spoiler alert: science says nope), the truth of the matter is that it wouldn’t be much fun.


When you compliment a man, he is likely to feel that you are a woman of rare taste, refinement, and discernment. Give a man a flattering image of himself and he will try to live up to it. After all, the easiest way to get a compliment is to give one.

Stop arguing with him. Stop trying to prove that anything he can do, you can do better. Let him know that you think that he is pretty special.

And that brings us to the end of the second chapter of Always Ask a Man by Arene Dahl! What do you think? Are women being emancipated out of their femininity in this modern age, as Yul Brenner said? Has femininity become a lost art? Put your two cents in the comments!

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