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They say that the contents of a woman’s purse can tell you a lot about her, but so can the contents of her bookshelf.
My grandmother used to tell me that a good woman could discuss poetry, literature, faith and art over tea and her knitting. She said that beauty comes from within, from your heart, your mind, and your soul–that’s the contents of the book. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that. I forgot that to be feminine is to be educated, well spoken, charming, and genuinely beautiful. I stopped trying to be beautiful. I’ve been in the process of packing for the biggest move of my life, and I came across a box of things from my grandmother. Photos of her, books of poetry I hadn’t read in years, beautiful embroidery squares that the two of us had made together…and I realized something. It’s never too late to become beautiful. For my grandmother, femininity was beauty, and femininity was about having class and grace.
Manners Maketh the (Wo)Man
It’s funny, because everyone values manners in others, but we also tend to get prickly when asked to exhibit those same manners. I know that I for one have gotten defensive in the past at the idea of manners being more than please and thank you. I’ve thought, how old fashioned and out-dated, how stuffy, how out of place in today’s world. But even with all those critical thoughts in my head making me resent the idea that I can or should improve my manners, I was always impressed by someone who exhibited the behaviors that I dragged my feet on.
When I stopped getting offended that I didn’t have those same skills, I started working on building those skills. The amazing thing though, wasn’t even the difference I noticed in how people treated me when I exhibited better manners, but the difference in how I felt. I’m not a fancy girl, I don’t come from money or a family with any kind of name. But when I take care about my manners, I feel like someone important. I feel classy, mysterious, educated.
If you’re not sure where to start, or don’t have much prior education on manners, I suggest taking a look at 50 Things Every Young Lady Should Know, and the accompanying 50 Things Every Young Gentleman Should Know. Written for teens, these books provide examples of what to do, what not to do, and reasons for why. I’m one of those people, even approaching 30, who likes to understand the why behind a thing that we do. They’re also a nice book set to read with any children you have.
Emily Post’s Etiquette, (17th Edition) is a more thorough guide, covering things such as invitations, baby announcements, and dinners. You can look for more recent editions, but the 17th edition is wonderful and practically an encyclopedia of information on manners and etiquette in a variety of social situations.
How to Discuss Poetry & Literature
Douglas Rushoff said, “Books have souls. Or so romantics like me tend to think.” You’d probably think that quoting a few lines of poetry isn’t a very useful skill, but you’d be wrong. Whenever I find myself in a situation where I need to have a conversation, But can’t find anything to talk about, I start with a line from one of my favorite poems. People will inevitably ask what I’m talking about, and bam! We’re having a conversation.
You don’t need to be an expert on literature in order to utilize it in your conversations. Being able to discuss poetry, classic and modern literature is a great way to impress folks, and have a conversation with anyone.
If you feel like you need it, you can pick up a book on understanding poetry, but my recommendation is to grab a collection or two of assorted poems, and start reading. Poetry is about trying to put words to emotions and experiences that are beyond words. It’s about conveying a fundamental human experience through the limits of language. The ways we have done that through history, and continue to do that are infinitely beautiful. I recommend 101 Famous Poems, The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and the Best Poems of the English Language for a good variety.
Essential Skills for Managing Your Home
Grandmothers always seem to have the best advice, don’t they? Mine told me once that a house should run like a business. Everyone has a job to do, everyone has a role, and when the household works together, it’s successful. Like any business though, there are a lot of different jobs and skills that are needed in order to make a household successful. From knowing how to clean and cook, to money saving skills like sewing and mending your own clothes, to properly budgeting and keeping track of your expenses, there’s a lot that goes into managing a home.
The Butler’s Guide is a quirky, fun book with a lot of useful information in it. From polishing silverware to caring for laundry and setting a table, there is a wide variety of topics covered within these pages. Not only is it a useful book, it’s a fun read too. And for some simple things you can start doing today to make an impact on how clean and welcoming you home is, check out my post on simple tricks for keeping a cleaner home.
The Vintage Tea Party Book is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. Covering basic etiquette, quick sewing and decorating tips, beauty and styling ideas, as well information about teas, essential recipes for impressing anyone, I’ve opened this book many a time, without ever actually referencing it for a tea party as of yet. I can not recommend this book enough. It is still the very best gift I’ve ever received. Never underestimate the value of a good collection of recipes. A good host or hostess always has some favorite go to’s, and I’ve gotten a few of mine out of this book.
I taught myself to sew a long time ago with an old sewing machine, and a book much like the First Time Sewing: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide book. Sewing can seem like an outdated skill to have in today’s world, especially when you look at ready made clothes versus component materials to make your own. When you’re trying to decide if you should take up sewing, the cost of the machine, thread, needles, patterns, fabric and extra components like buttons, zippers, and lace quickly add up. When you compare that, plus time invested, to the cost of a shirt from the Gap, it’s understandable why sewing is a dying skill. I can tell you though, it is worth it.
Even if the only thing you ever use your sewing for is to mend clothes, you’ll be extending the life of your clothing, and saving money. When you put more time into learning to sew and getting good at it, you can start tailoring your own clothes, taking store bought items and making them fit like they were made just for you. That alone is valuable. To take a $20.00 pair of slacks and make them look like a designer pair of slacks, amazing! This Brother brand sewing machine is actually the same one I have, and it’s less than a $100.00 investment. Admittedly, it’s not the same one I initially found in my grandmother’s craft room, but it has lasted me 15 years, and has mended torn shirts, taken in slacks and jackets that didn’t fit quiet right, made skirts and dresses and stuffed toys, and brought me considerable joy. That feeling of accomplishment in making something, especially in making your first piece of clothing that someone compliments you on and asks where you got it, it’ll get you hooked.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Remember, everyone is different. Everyone’s version of femininity is going to be different. If we were all Marilyn’s then we wouldn’t have had any Aubrey’s or Jackie’s. Find the version of femininity which fits you, which fills your needs, and which makes you into the very best version of yourself. Embrace the things which make you unique, and learn to find your voice.