Edith head: lessons in old-school glamour

In a career spanning nearly six decades, Edith Head, right, dressed Hollywood stars, from Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren to Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. An eight-time Oscar winner who created the clothes for more than 1,000 films, she also dispensed her no-nonsense
Advice to the ordinary woman in her bestseller, How to Dress for Success. First published in 1967, it is being reissued, and almost 30 years after her death, Edith’s witty, incisive tips still hold true.

How to build a successful wardrobe

Since time began, women have wailed to their poor spouses, ‘I haven’t a thing to wear.’ As far as I’m concerned, no woman in history ever had a right to make this complaint (with the possible exception of Lady Godiva).

In my experience, most women who claim they have ‘nothing to wear’ have dozens of things that they never wear, either because they don’t fit or because they are inappropriate for the things they do and the places they go.

Building a proper wardrobe is like building a home. Indeed, you should think of it like a home, because it is something you’re going to live in. It must be comfortable and suit all your needs.

Its extent will depend on where you live and what you do. If you’re an unmarried business girl living in a city, your wardrobe will be very different to that of a mother of three in the suburbs. The city woman needs a more sophisticated wardrobe.

But if you live in a small community, you need more changes than the city woman: she doesn’t see the same people at every party, but you do.

Chart your activities

An excellent way to approach the building of a wardrobe is to make a blueprint plan of your activities. Give the questions in this list one of the following answers: every day, frequently, quite often, rarely, hardly ever.

How often do you:

Go to business meetings?
Go out dancing?
Go to the

Go to informal dinners?
Go to formal affairs?
Go to sporting events?
Go to dinner in a restaurant?
Entertain at home?
Go to school functions?

As soon as you’ve completed this list (adding any activities I’ve missed), take all the clothes out of your wardrobe. Separate them into the categories on the questionnaire.

How many outfits do you have that are right for business, dancing, dinners, and so on? Does your wardrobe lean in one direction like the Tower of Pisa? Is it top-heavy with things you really don’t need, and sparse in the areas marked ‘frequently’ and ‘often’? If so, you’d better start rebuilding and reorganising.

Many women have asked me if it is possible to have a well-built wardrobe on a limited budget. ‘Money,’ I tell them, ‘is no guarantee of taste, and an overstuffed wardrobe is often as bare as a skeleton when it comes to wearable apparel.’

As women, we all have certain weaknesses. I know one who can’t resist pretty shoes but has nothing suitable to wear with them. Others adore frilly lingerie but never have any money to buy outer clothing.

One friend of mine, who has little need for dressy evening clothes, is forever buying new ones. The result of her unfortunate indulgence is her startling appearance at the most casual gatherings. This is what a psychiatrist might call ‘wish-fulfilment’ buying.

I won’t venture into the subconscious desires of the woman who keeps buying all that fancy lingerie, but I do know that yielding to such temptations results in a ‘sick’ wardrobe.

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Edith head: lessons in old-school glamour