The Commandments of Style, Old and New Testaments

The indoctrination to sartorial rules began for me back in the days when women were “ladies,” and ladies paid strict attention to those rules, if they didn’t want to be referred to as “women.” It was a time when white gloves for ladies and hats for men, while they would become quaint anachonisms in a few short years, were still the norm. I’m sure there were variations on the old rules, depending on one’s background and culture, but for a middle class white girl in the suburbs, these were designed to help cement one’s social standing and demonstrate that one’s parents had class and taste.

So here are the style commandments as delivered by my mother (in no particular order):

  1. Thou shalt not wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day (cliché, yes, but people lived and died by this one)
  2. Thou shalt not mix patterns. (florals+stripes = tacky, tacky, tacky!)
  3. Thine shoes and bag shall matcheth shalt match.
  4. If thou be of corpulent stature, thou shalt not wear any of the following: horizontal stripes, bright colors, shirts tucked in, two-piece bathing suits, sleeveless shirts, large prints.
  5. If thou desirest not to be marked as a harlot, thou shalt not wear any of the following: red nail polish, (think this one may have been a family quirk), tight sweaters, animal prints, or anything with rhinestones.
  6. Thine patent leather shoes are to be worn for Sundays, holidays and parties only.
  7. Thou shalt not pierce thine ears or wear dangly earrings during the daylight hours. (part of that harlot thing again…so many of the rules were about not looking like a Girl Who Does It)
  8. Thou shalt not wear black and brown together. (it’s like matter and anti-matter, dude, it’ll tear a hole in the time-space continuum!)
  9. If thou be over 40, thou shalt cut thine hair short.
  10. Thou shalt not wear black, except to funerals and cocktail parties.

Fun, huh? No wonder the 60’s “do-your-own-thing” fashion movement hit with such a vengeance. Since then, fashion rules may emerge for a time, but then get thrown back into the Fashion Marketing Cuisinart and re-emerge in different form every couple of years. One year, high waisted jeans are to be shunned as the mark of a fashion leper, the next they are au courrant. Trying to keep up with the rules would mean reinventing yourself every few years, and unless you’re Madonna, that’s not good for either the wallet or the psyche.

So over the years this femme has evolved (and devolved) some commandments of her own. While I may stray on occasion, these are the guidelines I generally return to that help me feel grounded. These work for me based on my body type (short and curvy) and the styles/silhouettes that appeal to me. So here are my own Style Commandments, New Testament version (also in no particular order):

  1. Thou shalt eschew the Frou-Frou. (I’m just not the ruffles and lace type)
  2. Thou mayest wear the spots of the leopard, but thou shalt wear only one animal print at a time.
  3. Thou shalt Step. Away. From. The. Gaucho. Pants.
  4. Thou shalt remember the amortization factor. Dividest the price of the item by the probable number of times thou wilt wear it to help decidest whether to whip out the plastic.
  5. A little bit of lycra is thy friend. Empire waists, not so much.
  6. Thou shalt not wear anything that results in physical discomfort.
  7. Classics shall be the foundation of thy work wardrobe; useth more trendy accessories to minimize the Stodgy Factor.
  8. Make this thy mantra: when in doubt, simpler is better, less is more.
  9. Thou shalt shun the matchy-matchy.
  10. Thou shalt buy what fits and flatters, regardless of the size on the tag.

What are your Commandments of Style? Do they change from year to year, or remain pretty consistent?

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14 Comments

  1. August 8, 2007 / 12:53 pm

    You know, I heard that from a lot of friends about the patent leather and skirts once I got a bit older, (esp. the ones who went to Catholic school) but I don’t remember it being an issue for us. Of course, we also wore those very poofy petticoats underneath, so you might not have been able to see anything anyway.

    Your boots sound fabulous!

  2. Vegan Hunter
    August 8, 2007 / 11:39 am

    Wow, no Old-Testament commands against wearing patent-leather shoes with a skirt? The rule as I learned it was: patent-leather OK for little girls wearing opaque tights. My parents banned trousers (per order of Bill Gothard), so my fashion-maven Nana decreed patent leather not-an-option. Now, my fabulously classic knee-high low-heel square-toe patent-leather boots look wonderful with my BROWN fitted skirt suit.

  3. August 10, 2007 / 7:28 am

    Your mother’s rules were all taught to me by my mother. What a lot of good looks we missed. Oh, and also, thou shalt not mix blue and green. Ha, for several years in the mid-90s the main stays in my wardrobe were turquoise and chartruese worn together.

    My major rule is Thou shalt not buy anything that can’t be worn with at least five other things already in your closet.

  4. August 11, 2007 / 2:30 am

    That’s a good rule, too, maya’s granny.

  5. August 13, 2007 / 9:17 pm

    Thou meanest “Thine purse and bag shall match”, varlet. Only a caitiff sayeth “matcheth”, for verily, such slanguage parseth not. If thou must speak forsoothly, follow the rules or die like a felon paynim!

  6. August 13, 2007 / 10:19 pm

    Your rules are pretty damn awesome. I follow them all to the letter, except for the empire waist one (thanks to a recent weight gain, the slimmest part of my body is between my waist and boobs, so an empire waist looks very nice).

    If only everyone thought the way you did about fit, or proper work attire, or about NOT MIXING ANIMAL PRINTS. It’s an outfit, not a safari, lady.

  7. LaVida2
    August 13, 2007 / 10:31 pm

    I TOTALLY agree with the patent leather shoe rule…which is why I refuse to wear patent leather shoes now. I remember having to shine those suckers up as a little girl quite often because of the dirt that would get on them. That’s a complete oxymorom in my book: shiny patent leather shoes and little girls (especially the tom-boyish variety).

  8. August 13, 2007 / 10:47 pm

    Thou meanest “Thine purse and bag shall match”, varlet.

    By God’s great gnashing teeth! All of those years of working Ren Faire and I still get it wrong. 😉

  9. August 14, 2007 / 1:00 am

    I had 12 years of Catholic school, and patent leather shoes were never an issue. Sleeveless blouses and pale-to-white lipstick were worn by ‘bad girls’. My mom’s rule was that girdles were to be worn to control my non-jiggly jiggly bits.

    I endorse the rule that new clothes must go with old clothes. Also, clothes must be pressed. No exceptions. And i always dress as though I could meet my mother while out.

  10. August 14, 2007 / 3:20 am

    I recall a rule about red shoes–only worn by children and prostitutes. I am still trying to find that perfect pair of red patent leather pumps to break that rule in style.

  11. January 12, 2009 / 9:47 am

    I guess it’s easier to be lower working class sometimes — there are fewer rules.

  12. October 20, 2010 / 5:30 pm

    Lol! My mother lived by these same rules! Oh my father added women should not carry extremely large shoulder bags, since only “hookers” carry those kind of bags! I was a teen during the 70s and these bags were very popular in NY! And don’t forget a lady does not wear make-up before 16! Hmmm…I had to wonder how my Dad knew about the “hookers” and big bags! lol! It’s amazing how these rules crop up in my head when I see them on them on others and when I’m dressing…talk about indoctrination!

    Les péchés du père sont condamnés à hanter la vie! 🙂

  13. ONEWEIRDWORD
    March 31, 2011 / 5:33 pm

    I’m 47 going on 48, and I’ve just recently embraced, “Thou shalt buy what fits and flatters, regardless of the size on the tag.”

    It’s both liberating and comfortable. Looks better too!

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