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A Guide To Dressing Rich

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“It is easy to look elegant, opulent, and chic and still remain happily solvent.”

This is the premise of Leah Feldon’s 1982 guidebook, Dressing Rich. Like most dated style books trading for one penny on Amazon, I expected Dressing Rich to be filled with outrageously useless advice and disturbing sexist/racist asides. For these reasons, we usually add a little disclaimer to any book-related post, stating that ITG doesn’t endorse any of the excerpted advice.

But I’m not sure we need that disclaimer here. Dressing Rich surprised me. It is oddly…accurate? Is that the word? The author outlines a method of dressing that is unadventurous but effective. It’s not the only way to look rich, but it strikes me as a pretty surefire method. If—and it’s a big “if”—looking rich is your thing.

Here, a few pieces of advice, followed by commentary from me. (And below, from you! Get in there.)

The Look

- 'Nothing can put more of a damper on a social or work situation than feeling overdressed, underdressed, or just plain badly dressed.” Overstated, but generally correct.

  • 'Flawless grooming is practically synonymous with looking well-to-do.” True, but who has time?

  • 'The worst grooming transgressions include: dirty hair, stained clothes, dandruff-dusted shoulders.” Also: dirty fingernails.

  • 'Classic items you should wear include: the shirtwaist dress, the dirndl skirt, the Chanel slingback shoe, the French beret, a string of pearls, the tunic top, the turtleneck sweater, tortoise shell glasses and the straight-legged, tailored, pleated trouser.” Sure to everything except the beret and pleated trousers. No pleats, please.

  • 'The time has come to put your plastic high heels and rhinestone-studded T-shirts out to pasture.” Probably true, but shit! I just got these jellies from eBay.

  • 'Items that you should never wear: jumpsuits, high-heeled backless sandals, jodhpurs, satin miniskirts, jellies, and costume jewelry.” Why is she picking on jellies?

  • 'Don’t get too carried away with investment buys. I was recently looking to invest in a pair of lightweight khaki slacks and found the exact classic style I was looking for at Yves Saint Laurent for a walloping $365. [In 2014 money, that’s $1,046.] Needless to say, I moved on. Spending that kind of money on a pair of simple wool slacks is insane, even if they are perfect.” Preach!

  • 'Apart from ill-looking shoes, nothing can downgrade an outfit faster than a shoddy handbag.” I have complicated thoughts on status bags, almost entirely negative, but I don’t think she’s referring to status bags here. I think she means that anything relatively clean and well-constructed is acceptable, in which case: agree.

  • 'Monochromatic outfits with slight variation in tone will look most sophisticated in neutral tones like white, black, and beige (the favorite of Marlene Dietrich).” Seconded; otherwise you look like a crayon.

  • 'Silk is simply the most elegant-looking fabric in the world. Silks are sophisticated and feminine without being frilly, which makes them perfectly suited for business situations where you want to have an aura of success.” Sure. Silk flatters everyone.

  • 'Hard, stiff, cheap leathers look just that. They are lowbrow and unacceptable. If you can’t afford the best leathers, forget them altogether.” Undecided.

Details

- 'Buttons must be functional. No decorative buttons allowed. Purely decorative buttons often downgrade a garment. They should be stitched only through the outer layer of fabric—not through the lining.” Fair enough.

  • 'Seams and stitching must be even and without puckers.” Never noticed, but I suppose so.

  • 'A bad hem is a sure sign of a cheap garment. Hemline stitches should be invisible from the outside of the garment. If the material is delicate or transparent and there is no hem, the edge should be well finished by hand-rolling.” Same as above.

Accessories

- 'Avoid baggy pantyhose.” Obviously.

  • 'A too-large bag on a small woman looks as foolish as a minute purse on a large woman.” Correct. Gigantic bags in general are silly. Your bag shouldn't require its own subway seat.

  • 'Shoe soles should be clean and well-polished.” Impossible because I walk to work.

  • 'The little accouterments that you carry in your bag can bear the mark of wealth or the stamp of poverty. They should, therefore, be first-class. It should always be a pleasure, not an embarrassment, to pull out your wallet, eyeglass case, and whatever paraphernalia you carry in your purse.” We are not discussing the inside of my purse.

  • 'Wallets should be slim, not stuffed to the gills. There is an inverse relationship between the size of a woman’s wallet and the size of her income.” My wallet is huge, but what am I going to carry instead? A money clip? I’m not Patrick Bateman.

Jewelry

- 'Gold astrological signs and small gold initials have no place in a chic wardrobe. Give them to your very young nieces.” These don't strike me as tacky so much as a bit juvenile. (Even—or especially—if worn ironically.) Juvenile isn't necessarily a bad thing.

  • 'At least one part of any outfit you wear must be of top quality, look unquestionably expensive, and be in subtle and exquisite taste. The trick, of course, is to use one or two 'unquestionable' pieces of a particular outfit to establish rank, lend credibility, and upgrade the rest of the ensemble. These 'upgrading' items are your investment pieces.” Possibly controversial but, to my mind...true.

—Molly Young

Photos by Devon Swartz.