Charm has been in the news recently - Stephen Bayley has written an eBook about it, and is diligently doing the rounds plugging it. A couple of weeks ago he claimed in a radio interview that charm was 'essentially a male attribute'. Oh Stephen! Somehow his book research appears to have entirely bypassed the huge feminine charm industry that existed in the first half of the twentieth century: both the charm schools and the advice on charm dispensed in books such as The Powers Girls (although some of the advice Bayley dispenses in this Esquire article could have come straight out of a mid-century modelling manual). It's an interesting topic to discuss: we are suspicious of charm these days - think of politicians going on charm offensives and shudder. We've come a long way since Lilly Daché (my personal charm guru) proclaimed that describing a woman as charming is the 'highest compliment' you can give.
Charm was also the subject under discussion in an advertorial I found, pasted into an edition of Anita Colby's Beauty Book I sold through my Etsy shop. It was by John Robert Powers written to promote his range of Powers Model Hosiery. There's a nice circularity in that Anita Colby was herself a Powers model before heading over to Hollywood. Her own book offers not just a beauty course, but a beauty and charm course.
I've repeated the full advice below (or, if you have great eyesight, you can see from the images above), so we can all - men and women - relearn the secrets of charm. Powers Model Hoisery was launched in 1930 and existed all the way up to 1986. Looking at the typography, I think this advice must date from the 1950s, and shows that charm was not only a desirable quality, it was seen as a powerful tool in appealing to the aspirational woman and to sell tights, if not a lifestyle.
I've just finished reading a 1940s guide by Powers' contemporary Clyde Matthews who echoes much of this advice, arguing that in a relatively young and classless America, charm is the way for a woman to rise to the top of both her profession and society. Perhaps this is my British bias speaking, but today I think part of the reason why we can be so distrustful of charming people is the suspicion that they're using it to hide something. That said, writing this mid-way through a marathon TV session of The Face, I wish the contestants would pay attention to Power's points about personality and voice as they do seem to do on their hair, face and dress. Sometimes you really only notice charm when it's missing.
Symbols of Charm by John Robert Powers
What is it that makes a man's eyes light up when a woman walks by? Is it her face? Her figure? Her hair? The way she walks? The way her lips move in a soft smile, or the warm eagerness in her eyes? Is it the quality of voice when she speaks?
Charm is all of these ... and more!
Small things go to make up charm, which in itself is a mighty big and important thing. Certainly you know a woman (probably more than one) whose figure is not perfect, whose face is not truly beautiful, yet by her personal magnetism she overshadows those with mere physical beauty. This woman understand and has confidence in herself, thus she is able to develop both physical and mental attributes to her advantage.
YOU can be this kind of woman ... one whose charm is evident in all the small ways that count. Let me tell you what I consider the ten most expressive ways. Practise these, and you'll be the woman who attracts every man's admiring glances.
- The way you walk ... graceful carriage is one of woman's most subtle charms.
- The way you sit ... grace in repose is the outward manifestation of poise.
- The way you figure ... a lovely figure requires proper diet to adjust weight, and exercise to adjust contours.
- The way you dress ... know the lines and colors most flattering to face and figure.
- The way you make up ... I call it "make down" - which means accenting, not exaggerating, your natural good looks.
- The way you groom ... gleaming hair, manicured nails, neatly pressed clothes, hose that fit slim and sleek - such things add to a lovely appearance as their opposites detract.
- The way you smile ... the brightness of your expression reveals your friendliness, says you're a person worth knowing.
- The way you act ... good manners are always in good taste.
- The way you think ... turn your thoughts outward, as well as inward, to broaden your interests and thus develop your mind.
- The way you speak ... a well-modulated voice and unaffected manner are essential.
You see, charm is both an inner and outer glow - one prompts and furthers the other. There is no such thing as an unattractive woman, only the woman who does make the most of herself by cultivating the ways I've mentioned. Strive for perfection in each, to achieve that alluring quality, CHARM!
be a Charmer ...
Charm more than beauty, is the secret of a woman's attractiveness. Not all of the Powers Girls are really beautiful, any more than all are blondes, or redheads, or brunettes. But each and every one of them has charm - derived from making the most of her good points and the least of others. Observe their ways ... practice their ways... to become a more charming person yourself. Concentrate on
- your grace
- your fact
- your hair
- your dress
- your grooming
- your personality
- your voice
and I guarantee that compliments will come your way!
- Grace in motion, grace in repose - these are qualities to strive for. When you walk, glide, rolling your weight from the heel to the ball of each foot. Toes, straight ahead. Pace, the length of your foot. Gait, easy and rhythmic. When sitting, relax. (But don't droop - there's a difference!) When standing, show off your most attractive view: front foot pointed forward, back foot at an angle, hips turned slightly, one hand in front, one in back at the thighline. Disassociate yourself - always! - from nervous, erratic motion. As tension decreases, beauty grows.
- Face and fortune are synonymous only with those who care for their skin. Cleanse your face in the morning, at night, and before applying fresh make-up. Give skin the benefit of cosmetic stimulants, lubricants. Use a powder base for smoothness, colour, protection from dirt and grime ... apply it with sweeping upstrokes. Conceal undereye circles with a lighter foundation, soften sharp contours with a darker shade. Rouge high on the cheekbone, blending up toward the eye, down toward the jaw. Accent your eyes. Draw a perfect lipline with deft brush strokes. And remember cosmetics give a lift to your looks ... a smile gives a lift to your spirits!
- Hair responds with a gleam to brush, shampoo and pincurl care. Your brush count: one hundred strokes a day. Your shampoo schedule: once a week for normal or dry hair, twice as often if oily. Have your locks shaped professionally for the style your prefer - one that accentuates your best features. If you do the shaping, trim when your hair is damp. Investigate wave-sets, tints and rinses, permaments, hair conditioners ... experiment until you find the very best for you.
- Dress your type, your height and weight, your age, your colouring, the occasion - you'll be smartly dressed! Simply cut, simply adorned clothes are always appropriate, whether you're sophisticated or demure. You should know that vertical lines add upward inches, horizontals add outward pounds .. that cool colours are the most flattering if your skin has blue undertones,warm shades if its undertones are pink or ochre. Avoid equally: the melange of accessory shades, the matching of more than three unless you are working out a monotone costume.
- Grooming adds important touches to your bandbox look. 'Set' power with a damp cotton ball pressed lightly over the skin. Smooth hands frequently with lotion. Keep legs free of fuzz ... sheathe them in nylons to improve their form. Touch-up your polish between manicures. Renew perfumes every three or four hours, as you renew lipstick and powder. Maintain your daily grooming plan more easily by setting a weekly time for shampoo, manicure, pedicure, skin care, wardrobe check and repairs.
- Personality must measure up to appearance if you are to be a real charmer. Evaluate yourself: your self-control, cooperativeness, dependability, sense of humor, humility, tactfulness, gentleness. These traits exist is every well-adjusted, confident woman who enjoys life and living. Develop them until the rest of the world can see in your what you see in yourself.
- Voice your beauty - it should be heard as well as seen, for your voice is a picture of the inner you. Listen to yourself speak: do you sound breathy, harsh, shrill, monotonous? Correct these faults - you can! Enliven your conversation with new topics, new phrases, new ideas. Broaden your interests to become a more interesting person. Listen ungrudgingly as others speak and respect their opinions ... but don't be afraid to offer your own - politely of course!
There you have it - a five-minute lesson in charm that, once learned and constantly practiced, will enable you to develop your potentials of attractiveness. May that be fully realised!