The Vintage Agony Aunt Library On Style and Decorum

Since I read a load of books about how to be stylish, getting dressed has become a nightmare. Here is my morning thought process as I try and apply all the rules.


Anyway, these modern books are restrictive and boring, a rehash of books from 50 years ago and more (I know because I own them). No, I don’t need a classic white shirt thank you because I either work from home or dress up as a banana / dolphin for my alternative stand up comedy routines.
So I’m going back to my glorious originals, more of that in a minute.

I’ve been trying to get my wardrobe organised, my whole life. Here’s a sketchbook diagram of that process, years ago before those decluttering books and programmes came out.

If there was ever a drawing not worth doing, this is it.

This is one of my favourite style books – ‘In Search Of Charm’ by Mary Young (Brockhampton Press Ltd, 1962). It tells you how to take off your coat, button up a cardigan, laugh pleasantly and get out of a car without flashing your arse.

‘How many colours am I wearing?’ Right now I am wearing seven and that’s only four items.

This always happens, I’m getting distracted and now reading the whole book. Here is an extract about how to drink coffee:
Keep the cup over the saucer when drinking. Do this either by leaning over the saucer or by picking up the cup and saucer. You thus avoid the ungainly habit (seen much too often these days) of scraping the cup on the edge of the saucer, and then wafting the cup minus saucer through half a yard of air to reach the mouth. (These remarks apply, of course, to any drink using a cup and saucer.)

Please remember this if you find yourself in my company in the future. Ha.
I have about thirty of these books from all different decades. I have an idea! Send me a question about style, decorum, etiquette or feminism and I’ll answer your question using my Vintage Library. Here’s an example of a question – ‘Is it correct to let an escort hold my elbow protectively in a crowd?’ The answer is, yes it is. But don’t let the escort hold your arm all the time in the street. This can look sloppy and in any case, neither of you can thus execute good deportment.
Right, that’ll do, I’m off.

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10 Responses to The Vintage Agony Aunt Library On Style and Decorum

  1. …handy tip with the cup and saucer thing…innovative! … no longer will I be plagued with unkind comments about all those drips and drops that my beard doesn’t quite camouflage adequately…

  2. Nadia says:

    What should I wear to exercise? Should I exercise at all?

  3. Xtina says:

    Can you please advise me how to stylishly hide the un-mendable ladder in the sleeve of my favourite old cardigan? Also, how does one deal with tights that attempt to descend to the knees with every movement, often dragging one’s undergarments with them? You could throw them away when you get home, but what to do in the meantime? Oh and how do you get armpit sweat stains out of white clothes?

    • jonearyblog says:

      Hi Xtina. I can’t find my copy of “Things Everyone Wants to Know” but from personal experience, I’d cut the toes of the tights and wear them with socks and boots, then they won’t ride down. At Primary School of course, the twin girls would wear their pants OVER their tights which was just bizarre but as your question is about being out and about and on the move, you could try it I suppose. I have many 1940s wartime make do and mend books about unpicking knitted garments, taking up the stitches and reknitting a cuff but that’s to end up with a short sleeved cardigan. I can post you a photocopy if this appeals. Another suggestion is to reknit the sleeves in a contrasting colour and then do matching pocket tops and perhaps a collar to pull it altogether. But that sounds like a restoration job for an expert in the V&A. And wouldn’t be satisfactory.
      If it were my cardigan and if the ladder is on the back of the arm, I’d darn it by using a darning mushroom and doing that thing where you weave stitches in and out both horizontally and vertically. If you can match the wool, this hardly shows. Or then option two: cover it in a stylish elbow patch. But I always look like a tramp. Now going to look up armpit stains: ‘use an enzyme pre-wash detergent such as Bio Tex then wash using a biological detergent. On less hardy fabrics, rub the stain with a stick such as Vanish (check suitability of fabric beforehand) before washing. On some synthetic fabrics, stains are impossible to remove. Other solutions: make a solution of white vinegar and water (1tbsp to 250ml water and blot the stain, to clean and deodorise. then soak overnight in biological detergent.Silk and wool are particularly prone to staining but will not withstand much soaking and scrubbing.; and I’d better stop there because I have no idea about copyright/out of print stuff. In fact, I am now loathe to do a credit in case I get into trouble. Anyway, all this is from a photocopy I found on the floor in the Co op. GOOD LUCK!

      • Xtina Lamb says:

        Wow, what a service! Think I’ll try the darning mushroom, though the cardie isn’t wool, it’s an odd fine silky synthetic yarn. I can probably find something similar. Tights – aside from dashing into a mens outfitters for braces, I think I just need to seek and destroy the errant ones from my wardrobe. Biotex yes! I’ll do that. Thanks Jo, you are fab!

      • jonearyblog says:

        If you need the fabric to still be flexible, picking up the stitches and knitting them back in would be better than darning but sounds like its very fine. You are kind to say that – I took an age to reply because I couldn’t find the comments! I stumbled across them and replied in a hurry. I LOVE darning, it’s like cheating the Man. Getting more life out of this disposable fashion world. If I were twenty years younger with time on my hands I’d do an anti fashion blog starring people outside of fashion who look great and make their own things. Xx

  4. eating pastry with royalty, what do i need to know?

    • jonearyblog says:

      From ‘In Search of Charm’ by Mary Young as I don’t have any royalty etiquette hints, only dates.
      Firstly, some taboos. Do not: eat with the lips apart. Take a second mouthful before the first mouthful has finished. Make too much noise while eating. Take such a large mouthful of food that you are unable to answer a question for a few seconds.
      Use a dessert fork only OR spoon AND fork but never the dessert spoon alone. And hold yourself in good posture. Nothing makes a more deplorable picture than seeing on the other side of the table, someone bent double over a plate taking up food as though she has starved for a week.
      Good luck Adam, you’ll be fine!

  5. love ’60’s cardigans! (and 50’s). great stuff. finally convinced the guys in my band to buy suits. black with velvet lapels.

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