Better than Beauty, A Guide to Charm

This week has been about vintage at Khoollect! And what a completely marvellous excuse to dig out this little gem by Helen Valentine and Alice Thompson and have a genuine reason to share it!

This 1930s book on etiquette was picked up in a small vintage dress and accessories shop, in the charming town of Tetbury, Gloucestershire.

There I met the gloriously blue-eyed Helen, a true vintage goddess who had a Southern drawl and a great knowledge of the local bluegrass scene. While I was swooning over her hats and headpieces we got chatting about ‘hat etiquette’, at which point Helen produced Better than Beauty, A Guide to Charm. I was sold.

What is it all about?

Originally published in 1938, this book is built on the notion that: “while beauty makes a first impression, charm lasts a lifetime.” And it angles itself towards teaching us all how to perfect that “winsome blend of kindness, confidence, and grace.”

Is it worth the read?

On the one hand this book is a deliciously entertaining, at times cutting, little window into society style in 1930s New York. It is peppered with asides; from the opening dedication to “two women who undoubtedly could profit by reading it”, to a mention of Mrs. M. last seen walking down Fifth Avenue in a “regal mink coat over a reddish brown dress… Is she chic? She is not!”

But it is also, at times, full of incredibly straight-talking advice which could have just been overheard in a mother/daughter tête-à-tête just about anywhere. Ever wondered about shading and contours with make-up? Fear not: “Never mind all the confusing details of planes and angles. This isn’t a mural for the Louvre, it’s your face.” Concerned about how to make successful conversation? This book has the recipe: “Assemble good ingredients, mix and space with your own thinking, and serve attractively.”

You can also just enjoy the original illustrations by Emery I. Gondor, which are a gorgeous feature of the book and add a vivid shot of visual humour. At times a bit of fun, this book also offers some timeless and useful advice. It has also started me with an addiction to collecting vintage etiquette guides so if you can point me in the direction of my next one… please do!

Published by: Chronicle Books ISBN: 0811834514

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Caroline Woodward-Court

Caroline is Khoollect's resident book reviewer. This lady has had her noses in books since she can r...

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