Fogarty, Anne. The Art of Being A Well Dressed Wife

Bloomsbury, $24.99

The humour-challenged feminist that lurks inside this reviewer recoiled at the title of this sweet reprint from 1959.

However, the more one reads, the more one is captivated by this lovely pink volume. Enchanted. Not by the actual “wife” bits – they really are horrible, a testament to another era:

“In any social situation, remember that you are an appendage of your husband.”

“The kitchen is your natural setting as a woman and you should look beautiful, not bedraggled, in it.”

Chauvinist nuggets should be treated with the scorn they deserve. Shrug them aside. Focus on the fashion. Anne Fogarty, a one-time model, stylist, designer, and businesswoman, wrote this how-to guide half a century ago, and it stands today as a chronicle of mid-century feminine style.

At heart a delicate historical record of an era of gloves, stockings, and foundation garments, A Well Dressed Wife also maintains relevance when describing how to store and care for your garments. Of interest to current fashion students and couture historians alike will be the intricate glossary, which sorts the fagotting from the fichu.

Despite the husband-pleasing directive, Fogarty’s wives are quite emancipated for their time. They may work; in fact, work-dressing is covered alongside dressing for home and the many sartorial aspects of socialising. Fogarty’s take on travel is rather amusing: 20 pairs of shoes for a 10-day “rest” at Boca Raton? Adorable.


Reviewed February 2011