Elegance: A complete guide for every woman who wants to be well and properly dressed on all occasions, written by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, directrice at Parisian fashion house Nina Ricci, in 1964. Dariaux, used her status as an authority within the haute couture scene, to construct a series of laws of personal adornment. The book serves as a comprehensive A-Z style encyclopedia that covers a multitude of dress-related choices that the modern woman might be met with in her day-to-day life. Ranging from accessories, to zippers, to shopping in the Orient, the topics are linked by the author’s prescriptive guidance on the correct way to achieve both sartorial and behavioral elegance. Dariaux does not evaluate the relevance of dress in relation to fashion, but rather how best to construct a single outfit to negotiate the changing demands of the day.
Though informed by her relationships with high society women, Dariaux’s definition of elegance supersedes socio-economic boundaries. It is unlike beauty, or ‘chic’, in that it can only be learnt and is never a given. Whilst fashion is an undeniable component of elegance, Dariaux maintains that strategic combinations of separates and colours will allow the individual’s appearance to outlive passing trends. It is therefore available to any woman willing to abide by the author’s insightful rules, regardless of whether she shops at Macy’s or Balenciaga. Minimal excess and the ability to construct an elegant appearance regardless of means, equates the book with popular women’s magazines of the time, such as Ladies Home Journal and McCalls.
Genevieve Dariaux’s dictatorial voice is softened by her witticisms and humorous analogies that democratize women’s experience with dress. From wearing an item to death, because it was exceedingly expensive, to wanting to incorporate every new purchase into a single outfit, women both past and present are united by their sartorial fallibility. Dariaux’s rules of elegance are still applicable, as they arose in order to manage common behaviours that persist today.
Many references to popular designers and shopping destinations are anachronistic remnants of the 1960s, making the book a valuable record of consumerism. However, the refreshing outlook on subjects such as age, weight and comfort, can be used as examples to show how the modernity that is inherent to elegance foreshadows developments in fashionable aesthetics. The book is therefore relevant to the spheres of consumerism and design.
Dariaux proposes that elegance and fashion have become distinct frameworks due to the loss of creative ingenuity that stems from mass-market copies. With gems such as, “one cannot afford to buy cheap”, the reader can infer that there is a particular bias towards the high fashion industry, undoubtedly a result of the author’s occupation. In her eyes, elegance is a means to rectify the discord created by the vast availability of lower quality examples. Dariaux’s laws that dictate selectiveness and restraint also suggest that her agenda is to promote the rejection of cheap ready-to-wear. She asserts that even if the consumer cannot afford high fashion, investment in quality separates allows her to align herself with couture values.