Wife Dressing


Wife Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well Dressed Wife, with Provocative Notes for the Patient Husband Who Pays the Bills, by Anne Fogarty. Originally published in 1959, then re-released in 2008.

I know this wasn’t on the short list of books I referred to as my summer reading list. I think I’ll refrain from posting what’s in the queue because it changes on a dime with one trip to the library or bookstore. This book, Wife Dressing, is one that I stumbled upon in my local library which instantly captured and sustained my attention from beginning to end.

First up, this is not (I repeat NOT) a book for crunchy girls. If that’s you, save yourself the trouble of reading any further and catch me next week when I review something deep like C.S.Lewis. This book was written almost entirely with the city or suburban wife in mind. Factor in that it was written in the 1950’s and there is all kinds of stuff that would make even the most well dressed 21st century wife cringe. Or at least drop her jaw in disbelief.

There were parts of this book that I genuinely enjoyed, and plan to put into practice. Some of it left me incredulous that I hadn’t thought about these things. We’ll get to that in a minute, but it’s worth noting that Ann Fogarty was a successful fashion designer and New York socialite. In other word, a rich chick whose life was in many ways foreign to most of us. Some of her advice just isn’t transferable. At least not to me.

However, it was entertaining and a lot of it is transferable. It is transferable because when I get dressed, I am “wife dressing” in the truest sense of the phrase. My husband has strong opinions about my appearance, his likes and dislikes, and has no trouble offering an immediate thumbs down (or thumbs up!) to what I drape myself with day to day. That brings me to the first chuckle worthy quote I ran across in Wife Dressing:

The most dangerous threat to successful wife dressing is triumphant cry, “I’m married! The battle is won!”

To paraphrase John Paul Jones: “You have not yet begun to fight.”

The wedding is only the beginning. When your husband’s eyes light up as he comes in at night, you’re in sad shape if it’s only because he smells dinner cooking (p.10)

I agree. You crunchy gals with crunchy husbands have it good, so don’t take it for granted. In another bit of “dated” advice, Fogarty reminds her readers:

Remember that it’s your husband for whom you are dressing. Keep him in mind when you shop. No matter how much your best friends like something,if your husband is critical you’ll find yourself giving it up, even if you’re sure you know more than he does about women’s clothes.

Clearly, Fogarty  couldn’t begin to imagine the mind of the 21 century wife. With that admonition, she begins to explores a range of topics related to wife dressing, including color, cut , fit, and dressing appropriately for the occasion.In addition to dressing appropriately for the occasion is the importance of eschewing displays of extravagance among those for whom they will be viewed as arrogant or offensive. For example, the wives of your husband’s subordinates.

Some of her best advice is in the realm of expressing individuality, and being prepared for those days when you have to cover lots of terrain at once. Because our Sundays often include church, followed by family visits, a possible cultural outing (or outdoor event) I especially liked her tips for taking one ensemble and transforming it easily with the simple addition of a well stocked tote in your car. It’s a tip I definitely plan to start using; immediately.

Navigating the unknown for a specific event was another area which offered good tips to remember:

The English language doesn’t seem to cover this situation, so calling your hostess is no good. Save the call. She’ll only say something vague that won’t tell you a thing. “Informal” to some people means corduroys and leotards; to others, “no decorations” will be worn. Conservatism with dash is the best combination for an evening’s journey into the “unknown”.

Unknown, such as the phrase “cute but classy” that our girls and I recently needed to translate, can be a tricky thing to figure out. Conservatism with dash sounds about right

There was a note that I almost decided to leave out because quite frankly I haven’t the slightest idea how to seamlessly include it. However, I want to do it because I find the transition in our particular era to fascinating and worth discussion. That, and it gives me a chance to plug a friend’s work.

Fogarty believed women should always wear girdles under a dress. Despite her middle aged, 18-inch waist, she wore one and strongly admonished her readers not to go dress shopping without wearing foundations similar to those they would be wearing underneath the dress.:

Figure control at all times improves posture and stops you from spreading. The idea of not wearing a girdle under a full skirt is wrong. As for slim, tight skirts, I think there should be a federal law against wearing them girdleless. My mother put me into a girdle when I was 13; I have worn one ever since.

Given the return of corsetry and the marked (well known and proven) results that they offer a woman in terms of posture and keeping a waistline, I wonder if girdles weren’t a very large part of the reason why we didn’t see as much middle-aged spread in years gone by despite the fact that women didn’t regularly run or do squats.

Fogarty wrote that during an extended time without wearing her girdle her waist went from 18 inches to 19 and 1/2 (no weight gain, just spread), which immediately and forever seared into her the importance of figure control.

Now girdles aren’t really my thing because I need to breathe, and corsets have always fascinated me a little bit. Hearthie makes beautiful corsets. However, I need to both move and breathe freely,  so I simply wear these under most of my dresses and fitted t-shirts. After nearly a year, I can honestly say my waist has shrunk and my posture is absolutely wonderful. My back is stronger too.

Chapters cover everything from proper travel packing, to a strong admonition against boudoir wear outside the boudoir, to distinguishing value and cheap, and resisting the urge to wear white shoes. For some reason, Mrs. Fogarty really disliked white shoes- except on brides and nurses. I kind of agree.

She writes that being a slave to fashion is a terrible idea while simultaneously warning against wearing a dress which was all the rage one season but out of vogue the next. For those of us who don’t (or are to old to) shop based on current trends, the point was moot. Her point on good taste however, is worth adding here:

The sole arbiter of what you wear is your own judgment. Price tags may limit you horizon. Labels may help you recognize designers whose styling has pleased you before. Saleswomen will advise you on what is most becoming. But the breathless words, “I’ll take this one,” are your responsibility alone.

Good taste is harder to define than it is to recognize.

Despite the fact that about 1/3 of the book is way too rich for my blood, this wife dresser found a lot of it quite useful.

Grade: B+

18 thoughts on “Wife Dressing

  1. Elspeth says:

    Our young kids got sick, and they in turn have given me their bug, so I had a lot of lying around time the past 3 days. With nothing else to do, I decided to read (and write) which is why my break has ended shy of Father’s Day.

    I truly needed the distraction.


  2. Booky McBookerson says:

    Interesting about your back being stronger from the shape wear. Maybe I’ll try that if I can find the spare change, lol.

    And hearthie does make beautiful things.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. hearthie says:

    I shall have to read that. And thank you. Thanks to CF, I need to remake some corsets. And YES, they work your back muscles. One of the myriad reasons why you have to take your time easing into a reduced waist.

    I am easing into the idea of elevating my wardrobe and am simultaneously excited and horrified.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elspeth says:

    @ Hearth:

    I have seen a few women ( a couple of them quite young) get into wearing a corset with pretty good results. Because a really good one is outside of my budget, I opted for basic midsection control and even that guided me into better posture and more tamed muscles. It certainly helps that I work out but I’ve always worked out so I concluded that the little bit of help and nudge to remember to keep my core straight was just the ticket.

    @ Mrs ktc:

    I will put the The Lost Art of Dress” on my list of books to read. The list is so long now, LOL. But I will eventually get around to reading it. It does seem to be a lost art as our culture tends to extremes. Either extreme exhibitionism, or extreme modesty. Extreme sloppiness or dressing to the nines for a picnic in the park. Tons of clown makeup, or refusing to do any thoughtful grooming at all. It’s rather strange to me,


  5. Bike Bubba says:

    I’m going to take a look at this one from the husband’s point of view–maybe Secret Agent Man and I can have dueling commentaries? :^)

    Seriously, Mrs. Bubba and I have loved the older books on home ec for a long time. She’s got one by Jackie Kennedy’s couturess, and it’s a gem. Made it very clear that one does not need to be a “natural ten” to look great.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Elspeth says:

    To be sure there was a time when it was understood that any bit of class in fashion was the domain of the matron not the maiden. I bet that is why so many great books on fashion and proper dress in days gone by.

    Hearth has written a good book on the subject. It is very relevant today while demonstrating that the general rules of feminine class in dress are timeless


  7. hearthie says:

    You’re too kind, Els. 🙂

    Style is the prerequisite of the older woman because to have style, you have to know who you are – and mostly, teenagers don’t. They have fashion, they try things on, and that’s fun and appropriate to their age and stage.

    I don’t want to quash that age-appropriate urge – but let us note the words “age appropriate”. 🙂

    Or why my 12yo currently has blue tips. Why not? When can you think of a better time to have blue hair? (And she looks amazing, it suits her true-self, that neither one of us really knows as yet – because it’s not done cooking).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Elspeth says:

    I completely agree with you Hearth that the exploration of the teen years is fun and very appropriate. What is not appropriate is for married women in their 30’s and 40’s to chase after the trends and ideas of teens and early 20-somethings.

    Make no mistake. My comment was not intended to bash the young but to note how foolish it is that many among those of us in a different phase of life mistakenly try to follow the lead of our children’s generation rather than embracing the knowledge we’ve lived to acquire and dressing in kind.

    Women our age are missing out on so much opportunity to express beauty and style because they do that!


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.