Return to pretty…please!

If you’re a long-time reader of my blog, you know that recently, I’ve been very focused on the importance of looking your very best, whether you’re single, in a relationship, a mom, or childless. This is something I believe so strongly in that I never set foot in the gym without at least a coat of mascara on. That’s because the way I look on the outside correlates to the way I feel on the inside. Making sure I’m groomed and put-together gives me my mojo. It’s that simple.

Now I can be rough-and-tumble on occasion, wash my own car, get dirty, etc., but at heart I feel best when I know my undergarments match, I have 20 perfectly-painted nails, and there’s a pair of towering heels on my feet. Consequently, I’ve been called vain and self-centered, and that’s fine. Maybe there is a little truth in that.

But you know what I’ve never been called?

Slovenly. Sloppy. Haggard. Washed up. Because I take pride in myself, and that’s something that society on the whole is missing.

I crack up whenever I’m invited to a party or dinner and the hostess (or friend or acquaintance) always prefaces it with an emphatic “it’s casual.” This is something I’ve heard many times over the years. I suppose because I don’t wear jeans everyday, that even my casual wear is considered dressed up. That’s the travesty of modern life; it’s a great time to be alive, but propriety and integrity are all but dead (one need only watch a single episode of Jersey Shore to see this). It seems that these days, sloppy passes as casual, casual has become dressy casual, dressy casual is cocktail, and cocktail is formal. And formal…black tie? Doesn’t exist beyond the socialite stratosphere. There is a clear distinction between levels of formality, but these days no one knows the actual differences, only a watered down, bastardized version of what they once were.

It’s true that beauty is only skin deep, but that doesn’t mean we should brush off appearances so quickly. After all, our clothing, our civility, are what differentiate us from the animals. And how many studies do we really need to do to prove that the polished, attractive, well-groomed people get the job almost every time? It’s true.

Today I happened to open the paper to a great article about this very topic: Pretty is as pretty does, by Meredith Trusty. The article begins,

“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” Coco Chanel said. She has a point: When did women stop fixing themselves up?

In the age of leggings as pants (a sin I’m guilty of, wearing them as I write), Ugg boots and college sweatshirts, and wearing pajamas to go grocery shopping, I think Coco would be rolling over in her grave if she knew the state of women’s wardrobes today.”

Exactly my question, Meredith. When did women stop fixing themselves up? Because in June Cleaver’s time, the women were practically all stay-at-home moms (with larger families, I might add), and they still did their hair, put on a dress and lipstick and pumps, and retained their femininity and self-love. What the hell happened?

Don’t we have more conveniences these days? More help? More shortcuts? How did those women manage to look like ladies in a world where juice boxes, DVD players, and microwave ovens didn’t exist? Try cloth nappies, massive prams, and glass bottles instead. How did they do it?

You know how? They did it because they had to. They had no other choice. That’s what was expected. And I think they managed it all because they took some time for themselves. They retained their identities first as women, then  as wives, then as mothers. Good for the woman, good for the man, good for the kids.

In her article, Meredith closes with these thoughts, which sum up mine exactly:

There’s a reason why women love Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, and I’m guessing it’s because they always looked like ladies. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jackie and Audrey would never have been caught in sweats.

So what to do, what to do?

Small steps are key, of course. And to be completely fair, the way of the world and the average lifestyle of women today hardly allow for a full skirt-blouse-heels combo every day.

But what’s wrong with interpreting the ladylike looks of bygone days into something modern, and easy for that matter?

Throw on skinny black pants, a boat-neck and ballet flats, and boom—you’re Audrey in “Funny Face.” All-American jeans and a white button-down will make you Lauren Hutton’s doppelganger. The point is, it’s not hard to make it look like you tried hard. A first impression is all you get; shouldn’t you look your best?

So to end this one-sided debate, I think it’s fitting, if only for symmetry, to end with another pearl of wisdom from our dear Coco:

“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.”

Amen, Coco, amen.

{Got a question? Formspring me!}


    1. Hey, we’ve all slummed it before at home, no biggie. I think the most important thing is that when we go out, we take the time to put our best face forward.

      When I used to work from home, I remained in the state I woke up in until 4pm. Then I’d shower and put on my makeup to go to the gym. It doesn’t matter what you look like when no one sees you if you’re comfortable with yourself. But even if one is comfortable sans makeup, in gym gear, they really should think twice about going out in public in that state. You just never know who you might run into. Your partner’s ex, your ex, your boss…there’s nothing worse than seeing a blast from the past when you look less than stellar.

  1. I just happened upon your blog, and imagine my surprise when I saw you referenced my article–I’m honored! So glad you enjoyed it, and keep up the amazing work on your blog.

    1. Meredith…so glad you found my blog and left a comment. I thoroughly enjoyed your article and am so glad there are people like you out there asking the same questions I am. Keep writing and I hope you visit again soon.

      PS: I also write for, and have submitted this post for publication there, which will hopefully give you LOTS of exposure since Ask Miss A has more than 60,000 visitors monthly.

  2. P.P.S. I emerged today from a three-day head cold and despite the fact that I didn’t feel 100% great, I dolled up to go to Borders and Ulta. And guess what? Saw someone I knew. And she said, “you look beautiful!” Just because I feel like crap doesn’t mean I have to look like it. That’s why God invented makeup.

  3. I’m a freelance writer and stay at home mom. Many times I’m working at home and have no need to go out other than to bring my daughter to school & pick her up. Sure I have the days where I look less than stellar, but nearly every single day I put on makeup and fix my hair. I never ever go out anywhere without doing this, even if its just a quick stop at the supermarket. For me, it has everything to do with making myself feel like I look my best for no one other than me. If I don’t look good, I don’t feel good. I think it has everything to do with self-esteem. Great post!
    .-= Suzanne aka Punk Glam Queen´s last blog ..More Original Retail Price Gouging at Beyond The Rack =-.

    1. Suzanne~

      First off, thanks for your comment and for stopping by! I’m glad to hear others’ perspectives on this. I’d never even dream of suggesting that we all stay “on” 24/7…that is totally impossible. But I think there is a lot to be said for getting into the habit of grooming enough that we feel good about ourselves. I have to admit that the times I’ve spent all day in PJs were during my “single” days…between marriages, if you will. I personally find it very uncomfortable to be unkempt, especially if there is a man in my midst….I can’t possibly feel good about myself if I look in the mirror and I don’t have my mascara and lips on. So hats off to you for putting on your prettiest face, even if only for you. I actually think it’s a good example for little girls to see their moms taking care of themselves…it embeds the idea of self-love in them. And since we live in a tough world, I think showing our girls that they should believe in and nurture themselves—that they are worthy—is wonderful idea.

  4. I understand your point V and partially agree with you. We all could use a bit of glamour in our everyday lives, however I think we should not judge upon those who are most comfortable in jeans and sans make-up. If dressing up just isn’t their thing, we as a society (especially other women) shouldn’t push it on them making them feel as if they weren’t “real” women if they don’t pull on some heels and apply some lipstick.

    I find your comparison to 50s women especially interesting. Like you I adore their femininity, but we shouldn’t forget that this era was quite oppressing for women. I once had to do some research for a student film that was set in this decade and it was just disgusting to read all the rules and study the etiquette they had to abide by then (most of them dictated to “know your place”, “be a pretty face” and “put yourself behind your husband”). I really wouldn’t consider myself a femininst, but this just made me mad and I am really lucky I wasn’t born back then.

    Burning bras may seem like a silly thing to do, but I think many women have forgotten what the women in the 60s/70s have done for our generation. Things we take for granted today that were unthinkable just a few decades ago.

    Personally, I like to dress up and sometimes do it even if I have nowhere to go. Like you I feel best when I’m put together. However, I also have days when I spend the whole day in my lounge pants and old t-shirt without a hint of make-up. And I don’t feel guilty about those days.

    Wow, that was way more than I intended to write… 😉
    .-= Irina´s last blog ..Real vs. Steal – KAiN Side Drape Pocket Tank =-.

  5. I absolutely loved this post! Totally agree!!! There’s no-reason to not present ourselves publically the neatest/prettiest that we can even if it is in jeans, a tee shirt, etc… there’s plenty of pictures of folks (both women as well as men) who get this “right” time after time and they’re not all Hollywood stars with personal stylists.

    When we lived out in the mountains of Park City, UT there were oodles of people who looked great in casual attire and many just coming off a mountain trail hike, ski run or having been to our local farmer’s market. It’s all in the neatness, body language and relative fitness of an individual. There’s no doubt that sloppy jeans, a pulled-looking tee shirt and old running shoes with fly-away hair on a person carrying a noticible bit of extra weight just doesn’t look as “neat n’ pretty” as more fitted jeans, a fresh tee shirt, nice belt, great leather boots, smooth ponytail, some small hoop earrings and a dash of makeup looks on a person whose taking care of themselves both outfit-wise and physically as well. They don’t have to be model/starlette starved or physical trainer buffed either: just toned-up a bit for their own individual height, stature, etc.

    Our society has gotten super-sloppy in many, many ways but I don’t believe (in my personal opinion) that that means we all have to devolve along this postmodern trending and look so sloppy ourselves…again, wonderful post V!

  6. This is a great, really well thought-out post, and I would agree on many occasions. It definitely makes me feel better to get ‘dolled up,’ and I love to play around with makeup and get absurdly glamorous from time to time.

    On the other hand, I kind of feel like as a society we’re leaning more and more toward materialism and putting too much weight on things like the appearance of beauty. I sometimes go out in a casual outfit without anything but a swipe of Bare Minerals and some Blistex. I believe that in some cases, yes – to go out in certain attires and without any sense of personal grooming is sloppy, but in other cases, I find it to be a sign of confidence. If I see a woman without any makeup on, but she looks like she doesn’t ‘need’ it simply because of the way she carries herself, I am more impressed than anything else.

    I would hate to become the sort of person or a member of a society that values women based on their perceived beauty and conformity, and many of Coco Chanel’s tenets seem a bit outdated to me for that reason. This is such a wonderfully thought-provoking post!
    .-= Lindsay {Shrimp}´s last blog to rock | orange lips =-.

  7. Thank you to all who have taken the time to read and respond to this post—I appreciate your perspectives. That said, allow me to clarify a couple things I believe some have misinterpreted about the point I was attempting to make. I am by no means implying that we never go “casual,” or that every woman should wear makeup. There is a time and a place…”when in Rome” as they say, and I add to that, “when at home…”

    I was simply agreeing with Meredith Trusty’s point that today, there are a LOT of women (and men, actually) who traverse the public domain looking like they just rolled out of bed, and there is a general lack of respect for dressing appropriately for the location/event altogether. Historically, it seems that women took more care in how they appeared in public…they really were more ladylike. At no point did I say that life for women was better then, only that they managed it all with less time-saving gadgets and inventions than we have today. I’m not passing judgment, I am only pondering why with more conveniences, we, as a society, are not more put together, but on the whole probably less. It’s disappointing that at least sartorially, there are very few distinctions made between at-home and public wear. When one dresses up for a night on the town or to celebrate, it just doesn’t feel right to walk into a fine dining establishment and see people wearing the very same thing they’d wear to the grocery store or a keg party. It’s the clothes that delineate the difference between “this” night and any another. A bride wears a special (often obscenely expensive) dress for her wedding day. It’s just a dress, yes, but not really. Brides select their dresses based on the location of their weddings. All I’m advocating is that in real life, we do the same a little more often. It doesn’t take any more time to put on a pair of pants or a skirt than it does to put on a pair of track pants.

    In the end, we must all dress/behave/speak in a manner we can live with ourselves. To each his own.

  8. I absolutely loved this post. I think our society is getting too casual. Not just in terms of what we wear or appearance in general, but also manners and such. I’m not saying we need to read a book on table etiquette or anything, but isn’t it common knowledge to not fist-bump an interviewer after a job interview? I read about that in an article on MSN, by the way. Also, the less we time we take to put our best selves forward, the more we will regard other things in an i-don’t-care manner overall.

    1. Hi Clever girl~

      Thanks much for stopping by and for your gracious comment. I agree that the I-don’t-care attitude seems to be epidemic. And mind you, I’m in the southeastern U.S., where there is still a huge emphasis on manners and politeness. Thank goodness for that. On the whole, people here are still extraordinarily polite. But globally, times have changed.

      At the end of the day, our external appearance is a major representation of who we are as individuals. I have a wonderful friend, a graphic designer —Ben—who has paid me the highest compliment over the years. He’s said that I have a good “brand.” That’s the modern-day extension of reputation.

      So I’ll close with this general question: what does your brand say about you?

  9. Brilliant post! I have a post in draft about overdressed vs underdressed and would love to link to this one if that’s OK? I am so with you on this… I think the only time I’ve left the house without make up is when Im sick and have to go to the Dr’s. I write my blog from home whilst my daughter is at school but I try to make an effort with what Im wearing every day. I love fashion and to not bother about my appearance goes against the grain – after all, whether we like it or not, it’s what we are judged on first – the rest comes later. x
    .-= ThatGirl39´s last blog ..Forty Loves…. =-.

  10. I both disagree and agree with you. I used to go all dolled up, full make up, heels and skirts and dresses, every day year round But guess what: I was SO depressed. It didn`t make me feel better at all.
    Then I had a lifeturning horrible event happen to me. After that, I had to stop and take an overview of my life. I started listening to my body. What did it tell me? “Please, stop wearing those god-awful heels. Yes, they are pretty, but your feet hurt and it makes you frown.” And I asked myself why I did the dress-up game I had been playing. Then I realized it, I was just trying to make up for not feeling worthy. So I stopped dressing for people around me. I stopped trying to look like a perfect fifties girl. I swapped my dresses with long tunics, and my stockings with pants. I wore flat shoes for the first time in five years. And boy, did I feel liberated!

    So, I guess my point is that you can look good and still be comfortable. Trousers exist that are neither sweatpants nor skinnyskinny jeans. There are many beautiful flat shoes that can make your legs look just as graceful, but with no pain. Believe me, they exist out there, they are just hard to find. And if you stop wearing so much makeup, your skin gets to breathe and it looks so much better. And suddenly you find yourself looking at your makeupless face, thinking, “Wow, I am actually quite beautiful without it, too!” And you start loving yourself even when you are not all dressed up. And that is when you become the most beautiful.

  11. Thank you! the 21st century women need a wake up call! I swear there is something wrong when women mistake Lulu Lemon as dressy casual or think it’s appropriate to wear yoga pants as dress pants to work (Yeah I’ve seen it…and i cringe).

    1. My little peach…thank you for your comment. I share your abhorrence of loungewear as officewear. In my experience, it seems to be flip-flops attempting to masquerade as sandals (and fooling no one). Ugh. Flip flops are for the beach, for schlepping to the mailbox. They have no place in an office, not even on casual Friday. It’s supposed to be business casual Friday, not wear-any-damn-thing-you-please Friday. Word.

        1. Fashnlvr…I checked out your post…you have absolutely nothing to worry about! There is nothing wrong with casual wear as long as you are pulled together, which you are! You have heels on and you are polished.

          Thanks for your comment, and don’t worry about a thing!

  12. I couldn’t agree more! I get a little tired of friends (who live their lives in grubby tee-shirts and sweats), greeting me with “Oh, where are you off to?” whenever we run into one another, because I’m dressed in a manner that they percieve as being “dressed up”. I take pride in my appearance and I enjoy the ritual of putting together an outfit, styling my hair and applying my makeup each morning. It’s loads of fun. Plus, I think that people respond more positively to you if it looks like you have made an effort.
    Great Post!

  13. I completely agree with everything you have said. I think that girls today look sloppy and I can’t help but feel that the grunge era and heroin chic are partly to blame. I never go out without my hair looking clean and tidy (I put it under a scarf if it’s not), my nails clean, tinted moisturiser, mascara and my eyebrows tidy. I never wear trackpants in public, leggings as pants or ugg boots. I wear full make-up and blow dry my hair most days for class, and I always dress up for parties. And you know what? I always feel confident and fantastic – even if I have pms, even if I have gained a little weight, I know that I am looking presentable and classy, which is more than I can say about half the girls I see around town. And if that makes me vain, so be it!

    1. Hi Erin…thanks for your comment! Amen, sister! It’s all about putting your best face forward.

      I’m reminded of why I wrote this post regularly. Went to dinner with a girlfriend last night at a restaurant that was neither formal nor totally casual. My girlfriend and I both had one ladylike dresses, heels, accessories, perfume. As we conversed over a lovely Australian Shiraz, in walked a threesome—two guys, one girl. She was dressed worse than both the guys in a baseball hat, long-sleeved tee, cutoff shorts, and flip-flops. To DINNER. I said to my friend, “When you can’t distinguish between what you wear to walk the dog and what you wear out to a proper dinner, there is something wrong.” Not saying she shouldn’t go to dinner in cutoffs. But maybe that dinner should be at McDonald’s.

  14. Great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it and the topic is something close to my heart. There are so many bad looks you see in public now. Dirty clothes, ripped clothes, greasy hair, over-dyed hair, muffin tops, too-short skirts, visible underwear, too much skin revealed etc. These people are not homeless either, a lot of them come from homes where their parents totally despair of their offspring but have lost control. In fact, the homeless take more pride in their appearance and make the best of what they have.

    It’s not just the girls/women and along with the bad exterior appearances go bad language, bad grammar, bad manners, no respect (for anyone) and a general lack of self esteem and confidence. They think they are exerting their independence but really they are just copying the worst role models. I think society has a lot to answer for. A world where no-one takes a genuine interest in the wellbeing of others and is all about the individual is one where positive role models are seriously lacking.

    1. Lisa…wow, you said so many things I was thinking when I wrote that post. It is such a travesty that we seem to have an epidemic outbreak of bad appearances, bad manners, and bad grammar, both in the US and Australia.

      We HAVE to teach our children to be proud of themselves, that appearances, manners, and grammar DO count. I’m not saying that we push vanity or superiority, but that we teach children to always put their best foot forward, not for anyone else, but for themselves. Self-confidence, healthy relationships, and happiness in life all stem from how we feel about and present ourselves.

      Thank you so much for your comment and for visiting!

  15. I stumbled across this post while link hopping. Just wanted to speak up that I’m another who completely agrees with you. I’ve never considered that we have so many more conveniences yet dress down so much.

    I just recently started to become adamant about my style…attempting to brand myself in my new environment. It was something I cared about before but I admit there were times I’d let myself slip and I was not sick or had any other decent excuse to be out in the world looking that way.

    I understand the importance of looking put together now. It helps me personally feel better and it reflects well on my family. I’ve not been married 2 years yet and sometime last year, after running into a couple out and about my husband whispered to me that he was glad that I still wore makeup and looked nice. The other wife was significantly smaller than me (i’m plus sized) which in some people’s eyes meant she would be the one that looked nicer but her stretch pants, tshirt and dishelveled hair did nothing for her. I’m glad my husband appreciated that I try to look nice and because I know he appreciates it, it does motivate me to put a little extra effort in when I know we’ll be among his colleagues.

    1. Ms. Lady~

      Thank you for visiting and for your comment.

      Aren’t you a lucky lady to have a hubby who acknowledges your efforts? I think that it is wonderful for women to take pride in their appearance and also be appreciated for it. I agree that it is indeed a great motivator as well.

      I’m especially grateful for your comment, because as we all know, size alone is neither a saviour nor a sinker. As you pointed out, it doesn’t matter if you’re pint-size or plus-size—when you look like you just rolled out of bed, it’s just as unattractive. And on the flip side, when you’ve made an effort, it is clear to everyone around you.

      I hope you’ll visit again soon!

  16. I think the pajama bottoms out to the store etc. is beyond inppropriate. There are a few comments on here involving being a feminist, however, somewhere along the way some seem to feel that feminism means you should not care about how you look. This propaganda was generated at the same time as the notion that if you are a feminist, then you must be lesbian. I am a feminist without a doubt, however, that does not equate to being a slob. This is a self-respect issue. If we wish to be taken seriously as professional women, then we must not be sloppy. I am not suggesting heels at all times etc, but simply looking neat and put together. I think that how we present ourselves on the outside reflects how we feel on the inside, and that the what is on the outside can influence the inside. Dressing nice is not for others, it is for yourself.

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