As summer quickly approaches, and wedding season is upon us, a large group of women will expand their titles to assume the role of ‘wife.’ While there are a million books and guides on wedding planning, wedding etiquette, wedding flowers, wedding gowns, wedding vows (…you get the picture), there is very little on what to do the next morning after the wedding. Okay, you’re a wife. Congratulations. Now what?
It was this thinking that got me started in collecting vintage housewife books. I knew that there once was a time when being a wife was an art form. It was a respected and coveted title. And women got together and talked about how to be better wives; they shared recipes, household tips, and, undoubtedly, gossip. Some women had careers as well and they would talk about how to best balance everything. Many books were written during this time and one in particular, Wife Dressing, is a favorite.
In 1959, American Fashion Designer Anne Fogarty published Wife Dressing, a brutally honest look at what it meant to dress the part of a wife in an era where the husband paid the bills and ruled the roost (for the most part). I love the notion that wives should consider their husbands when deciding how they present to the world. Call it old-fashioned but, if you believe Anne (as I do), “The wife plays an increasingly important role in the advancement of her husband…you are an appendage of your husband.”
Remember that Anne Fogarty, all while enlightening wives with this information, was a successful career woman and fashion designer with a famous eighteen-inch waist (it pains me to think about how tight her belts must have been). Her role as a wife (which she would be three-times over in her life) was simply a piece in the puzzle of who she was. She was not limited to one definition; however, she saw the role of wife as important and well-deserving of extra attention. In fact, she considered herself a wife first and foremost; a fact that would influence her fashion philosophy.
Anne was practical, encouraging women to dress for their body and not the one of the model in a magazine. She advised women to play up their assets and learn how to camouflage weaknesses. And she’s blunt: “If you’re very thin, don’t think a loose belt is going to make you look fuller. You’ll only look like a potato sack.” I mean… I kind of wish she was my best friend.
Per Anne (which I like to say as if she and I are great friends), in fashion, fit is everything and it is to be worn with confidence, good posture, and adorned with a happy husband. Anne suggests that, “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.”
The idea of Wife Dressing is that you learn what looks best on you, what makes you feel good, and demands that you consider the man who will look at it most often. Anne opens Chapter One of Wife Dressing with the following:
Wife-dressing is many things:
A labor of love.
A means of self-expression.
And, above all, a contributing factor to a happy marriage.
Anne says that we should Dress for Everything and see clothes as an adornment and not a mere covering. We can do that today with the ability to order online and find the perfect wardrobe addition (or substitution). Wife dressing is not about spending money. It’s about being selective, honest (with yourself), and having discipline about who you are. And it’s about keeping your husband in mind when you shop.
The criticism, of course, is that a woman should not dress for “a man” but for herself. She should not allow being “a wife” to define her. We are told that being independent and shunning our married label is empowering and will result in greater gender equality.
What??? Frankly, I believe that it has the opposite effect. Am I less of a woman because I feel empowered in my role as a wife? Because I choose to take my husband into consideration when deciding what to wear, am I damaging my gender? This criticism is, in my mind, misguided. It takes away a woman’s power to outwardly express pride in her role as a wife, a role that has been chosen and freely entered into (assuming it has and is not the result of a forced marriage but is a chosen, happy, and healthy marriage). If being a wife- and considering my husband in my decision-making- makes me feel empowered, feminine, and content, what is there to criticize?
It is a notion like this that inspired my blog in the first place. There are attitudes about femininity being bad and that women must shed their gender identity to be truly happy and equal. I simply disagree. I encourage women who enjoy being women to embrace it and never apologize. We are all free to choose to be empowered or constrained. Choose to be empowered.
And if being a wife empowers you, welcome to the club! Let’s make it okay to unapologetically talk about it again. Let’s take pride in our identity as wives and genuinely embrace that title as a strength. I know that I’m back on my ‘Reagan Love’ soapbox again but it’s one of the few soapboxes I have.
My husband and I are a team. He is not just a man. He is my man, my husband; the person I love most in the world and whom I have chosen to make happy. I want him to look forward to coming home and I want to constantly show him that he is a priority; that he is wanted, loved, and appreciated.
So, I make him breakfast every morning, stock up on his favorite coffee when it’s in season (Guatemalan Casi Cielo from Starbucks, offered in January/February, in case you were wondering), and I take ten minutes before he gets home from work to change into an outfit he loves and that makes me feel good. I put on a little blush and mascara, wipe down the kitchen counters with a good-smelling cleaner (right now it’s Mrs. Meyers lilac scent…amazing!), and get my mind right.
For me, that’s often praying about how thankful I am to have such a remarkable man coming home to me. After all, I never want to greet him with a complaint about my day or instantly assign him a chore because he needs to fix something that broke, etc. All of that can wait. It’s important to have that moment where he can leave the day outside and be sweetly welcomed home and into the arms of his loving wife (who looks super cute… at least that’s how I’m picturing this scene in my mind).
And remember, as human beings, we are imperfect (myself included). There are times when Ross comes home and I’m looking a hot mess, scrubbing the bathroom toilets, clearly not planning well for his arrival. But most days, I try hard and I know that he appreciates it. Why not consider doing the same?
Wife-dressing begins with the traditional rings for your third finger, left hand. From that point on, it’s up to you to interpret your changed role in society. The clothes you choose and the way you choose to wear them will state very clearly your outlook on life in general and your attitude toward life as a wife in particular.
So what are you telling the world? More importantly, what are you telling your husband? To all brides (old and new), welcome to the art of wife-dressing. Now put on some lipstick, pull yourself together, and get out of that potato sack. Unless you’re Marilyn Monroe. That girl wore the hell out of a potato sack…
Credits: Vintage Wedding Advertisement courtesy of Pinterest.
Wife Dressing Book Cover courtesy of Pinterest.
Designer Anne Fogarty in her studio courtesy of www.dressingvintage.com.
Anne Fogarty Advertisement courtesy of www.dressingvintage.com.
Vintage Women Shopping courtesy of Life Magazine.
Husband & Wife courtesy of Getty Images via Pinterest.
Marilyn Hare on Box via http://www.yourdailymedia.com/post/meet-the-actress-who-set-out-to-kiss-10000-wwii-soldiers-to-boost-morale/.
Susan Hayward courtesy of Pinterest.
Coming Home courtesy of Pinterest.
Marilyn Monroe Potato Sack Dress courtesy of Pinterest.