The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum

by Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh

Published by Broadway Books

300 pages, 2001

Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm

by Helen valentine and Alice Thompson

Published by Chronicle Books

164 pages, 2002

The Bombshell Manual of Style

by Laren Stover

Published by Hyperion

208 pages, 2001




Miss Manners Revisited

Reviewed by Sienna Powers


Maybe it's just a sign of the times. A sign that, with all that we know now, there are some things we know for certain less than ever before. Or so it would seem. How else to explain a recent rash of books aimed at helping women deal with a myriad of social situations that you'd think would have been learned in childhood. And if all three of the books reviewed here occasionally make you ask: Why on Earth? There is also laughter and -- perhaps -- even illumination to be gleaned on some of their pages.

"Manners will make you fabulous," write Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh in The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum. "Manners are sexy. The well-mannered get invited to more dinner parties and have a wider array of friends and colleagues who admire them."

Izzo and Marsh maintain that there "is a kind of woman who understands this implicitly." The book, one gathers, was created for those who don't.

The pair were driven, they write, to authorship of the book by a long run of encounters with rude and "socially inept" people. "And," they tell us, "after a lifetime of passionate interest in the subject and experience in a great many milieux, surely we had become experts in etiquette."

Eight sections take us to every branch of social situation possible: the workplace, society, friendship, sex and courtship, couples, weddings and divorce, home and entertaining. Each of these sections begins with a fictional first-person story about a Fabulous Girl in training navigating the social course to becoming a fully-fledged "FG."

Each section's story is followed by a careful look at conditions that could come up under that category. For instance, under "Sex and Courtship," there are entries called The Art of Flirting; First Dates; Post-First Dates; Canceling a Date; When to Move From Supper to Sex; Admitting Important Facts; Sex, Sex, Sex; and Dating Variations. Even these subcategories are broken down still further. Under Dating Variations, for example, we find entries on the social niceties of dating a married man; dating more than one person; Internet dating including romantic e-mail etiquette; dating a famous person; sorting the wheat from chaff, romantically, and how to -- finally -- check your happiness radar to see if this is, in fact, The One.

The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum is a fairly exhaustive work. Izzo and Marsh have taken pains to think of just about every social situation and what type of decorum might be required. If you have the questions, Guide to Decorum will likely have covered the answers.

Along the same lines, but of an entirely different vintage, Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm is surprisingly timely on a number of fronts, considering it was first published in 1938. "Every era has its own concept of charm," the book tells us in the introduction. "It springs from the current ways of life." Better Than Beauty tells us, conclusively, that while "beauty makes a first impression, charm lasts a lifetime."

With the age of this particular volume in mind, the prose is surprisingly light. Under a section on make-up, for example, we're told how to apply blush:

Apply rouge lightly to the cheeks. Never mind all the confusing details of planes and angles. This isn't a mural for the Louvre, it's your face.

In a section on body types, the authors write:

If you are stout, you can do one of two things. You can lose weight or you can make the best of the figure you have.

And, in a section on money:

It must have been much easier to be a gracious woman in those periods of history when we were supposed to be helpless and utterly unaware of the facts of life, particularly the sordid money facts.

What's most surprising in Better Than Beauty is how little really changes. Oh sure: we've had technological advances in beauty and modes of transportation (there's a mention of rumble seats and one of a 15 hour trip between Newark and Los Angeles on one of the "new" planes) but, boiled down, many of women's most essential concerns have changed very little. It's a sobering thought and an engaging read.

Produced in the same vintage spirit, but with an entirely 21st century approach, The Bombshell Manual of Style explores the all-but-forgotten arts of the bombshell. "The Bombshell is as complex as she is compelling," writes author Lauren Stover. "She is both provocative and misunderstood, a sort of endangered species."

Unlike the other two titles collected here, The Bombshell Manual of Style is not just about answers to questions you may or may not have asked before. On one level, Stover's book is aimed at helping all women discover their inner bombshell. On another it's a fascinating collection of quotes from known bombshells and lists of the things bombshells like. The pages of bombshell perfumes, for instance, just go on and on and on. From the Chanel entry:

The Bombshell wears them all: No. 5, No. 19, No. 22, Coco, Cristalle, except for Allure, which she might buy for a niece, but finds too girlish for herself.

Or from Diorissimo by Christian Dior:

A Bombshell wouldn't dream of exercising without the appropriate fragrance. It must be light, clean, rapturous and give her a sense of hope. Inspired by the delicate, quivering lily of the valley, Diorissimo is her favorite.

On art, Stover tells us:

The Bombshell loves Rubens for his full-bodied appreciation of women and Georgia O'Keeffe of her full-bodied appreciation of flowers. She could live without the cow skulls. A Bombshell only likes Andy Warhol if it's a picture of her.

The lists -- of everything from books likely to be found on a bombshell's shelf to where she prefers to buy her lingerie -- are compelling and certainly amusing. The subtext of The Bombshell Manual of Style, if there is one, is perhaps one of helping every woman discover -- or rediscover -- her inner bombshell. | April 2002


Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.