It’s time for the latest list in my series “The Top 5 ’50s Housewife Books!” This one is all about vintage books to help you become a more gracious and elegant lady. Mostly, these are the books that will help you with the 4th Pillar of Vintage homemaking — show pride in being a Mrs. by putting effort into being an elegant lady of distinction. So, without further ado, the third installment: The Top 5 ’50s Housewife Books for How to Be an Elegant Lady.”
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What Is Elegance?
Elegance is a harmony and beauty that is the result of art, rather than a gift of nature. Elegance is composed of the habits of a civilized culture — habits of personal adornment, poise, language, decoration, education, entertainment, arts, etc. — that create the ART of living.
A lady of distinction masters ALL the habits of elegance. By striving to perfect habits, grace, poise, elegance, manners, and all those other things that raise a vintage housewife above the herd, she is showing pride in being a Mrs. It is partly about appearance. As Arlene Dahl says, if you don’t put effort into how you look, you’re telling your husband that you just don’t care what he thinks. On the other hand, a fishwife’s voice will ruin the chicest appearance!
These 5 books will cover several aspects of elegance. But the most important part of elegance is not the learning, but the practice. Most of these books are packed with information and will take a lot of time to work through and apply. But if you can infuse them into your life, you will be an elegant vintage housewife and a lady of distinction.
1. Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette
This should be the very first purchase in your endeavor to be an elegant lady of distinction (to show pride in being a Mrs., of course!). There are other excellent mid-century etiquette books, but this book is THE “old money” etiquette book (unless you get your hands on an original 1920s Emily Post!). It covers gracious living as thoroughly as it does introductions. It’s also 700+ pages, but if you take it a little at a time, and practice before you move forward, you will be able to learn it all. Eventually. (I’m still working on it; I wasn’t born old money!)
Look for older editions, 1954 to 1963. It was revised later. There is also an accompanying cookbook! You can find the book on eBay, or read it online at Internet Archive. You can also look for Lily Haxworth Wallace’s New American Etiquette, which is a worthy second choice!
Elegance by Genevieve Dariaux is an absolutely amazing book. Like all of these books, people tell me that the advice is dated — but that is because elegance itself has become dated. You will be much more Duchess of Cambridge and much less Kardashian following the advice in this book. It reads like an encyclopedia of elegance, with a brief discussion under each topic in alphabetical order. It is MUCH easier to apply the advice in this book than the last one, tho!
You can find a reprint of this one, but as always, I recommend the original version!. You can also find the older editions on eBay, and read the book online at Internet Archive.
3. Entertaining With Elegance
Entertaining With Elegance is also by Genevieve Dariaux. This book focuses on elegant hospitality, with the same alphabetic topics style. These 2 books are my favorites of her books, and they teach a great deal about the little niceties of elegant living. In addition to Amazon, you can find this book on eBay sometimes. Also, you can read it online at Internet Archive.
4. Secrets of Charm
Secrets of Charm by John Robert Powers is a good source for the foundation that Elegance (see #2) assumes you already possess. I have mentioned this book before, as a source for creating a vintage wardrobe, but it also covers beauty, posture and grace, and vocal culture. You can find it for quite a high price usually, at either Amazon or eBay, or you can read it online, and even download it!
5. The Luella Cuming Studio Course in Social Awareness, Poise, and Gracious Living
Long name — amazing results! (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Actually, this selection is a lot like the last one. This is a home study course in vintage social arts. It provides the foundation in appropriate social behavior on which to build your elegance. It even includes “The Lifetime Plan for Personal and Social Growth.”
You can find it on Amazon and on eBay. I haven’t found it to read online anywhere, tho!
What Are Your Top 5 ’50s Housewife Books for Becoming More Elegant?
Honestly, no matter how many new books I read and courses I see on being more elegant — even being “old money” or classic — it’s all the same as what I find in these books; they don’t seem dated at all! No one beats Madame Dariaux for sheer elegance. And Amy Vanderbilt was as “old money” as Emily Post ever was. So these books will help you to be an unquestionably elegant lady of distinction — even in the modern era.
If you have ideas on what other book lists you’d like to see, let me know!