Why should any 21st-century woman want to behave in what most modern folk consider a mid-Victorian fashion? In other words, why bother being a lady when our society seems hell-bent on rewarding those women who can drink their coworkers under the table, play Russian roulette with romance, deck a bad guy with a single punch, and scream invectives like the proverbial stevedore?
It’s a legitimate question, really. My mother spent a lot of time filling the air with observations like “that’s not very ladylike” and “ladies don’t…(fill in the blank with whatever you really would love to do, from wearing sneakers to church to telling off the moron in the passing lane who’s doing 95mph)…”. (BTW, that’s my mom, below.)
I’m sure she thought I was impervious to her dire predictions of what happens to those who ignore the perils of non-ladylike actions. Wouldn’t she be pleased (and shocked) to see just how deeply those seeds went? (I told you I was listening, Mom!)
Noblesse obligeToday, to celebrate the New Year, I’m collating everything I’ve learned about ladyship into one handy-dandy, easy-access post. I’m not talking about the pinkies-up, silly rules ladylike behavior, I’m talking about the “iron fist in the velvet glove” brand. Our instructress is the grande dame of that particular version of ladyship, the lovely Loretta Young.
Loretta understood that a lady doesn’t look at life as something to be grasped and shaken, to see how much she can get out of it. From a happy heart, a genuine lady shares her own joy.
Loretta knew that a true lady approaches life with an eye to see what she can contribute and how she can share the blessings she’s been given.
Whether those blessings are physical beauty, wealth, a heart full of love, a quick wit, a creative spirit, material goods or good health — she believes those gifts have been placed in her keeping to serve and bless others. Noblesse oblige, lady fair.
I’ve written reams about Loretta over the past 5 years. In fact, I’ve written SO much about her that I’m going to make this post a mixtape of Loretta’s learnings—a gathering of the Movie Star Makeover posts that comprise the many things I’ve learned from Loretta about adopting a ladylike viewpoint in situations that require grace, wisdom, subtlety, and kindness.
So, here’s my New Year’s gift to you, dear readers, a lexicon of ladylikeness for today’s women. I think you’ll be inspired, as I was, to adopt some of Loretta’s timeless lessons in refinement, dignity, self-control, and elegance. It’s time for Ladylike Boot Camp–your drill sergeant is Loretta Young.
Faith, hope, and clarity
I consider Loretta’s autobiography, The Things I Had to Learn, one of the most charming of its sort. In it, she clarifies her worldview as a woman of faith, hope, and charity, which is probably the best, briefest definition of the word “lady.” A lady’s life can be one long song of joy.
Our first class in the art of being a lady consists of understanding the concept of composition or How to Be Yourself and Still Be a Lady. That’s the 101 of Ladyship.
Having graduated from your “freshman” studies in ladylike manner, it’s time to study up on composing yourself in various social situations. Loretta understood the importance of graciously taking control of a situation from the get-go…that’s why it’s important for a lady to join a group with grace and deliberation. And if anyone could make an entrance, our Lady Loretta could!
Now you’re ready for your junior year—Professor Young focuses your attention on the ladylike arts of perfecting one’s appearance, a cheerful outlook, and the importance of carefully protecting your personal brand.
You’re almost ready to graduate from the Loretta Young Boot Camp of Ladyship! Your final undergrad course is on the Grammar of Glamour; how to make the most of what God gave you to give joy to everyone you meet–and give yourself a wink and a smile when you look in the mirror!
Now that you’re out in the world, earning a living and making your way, you might need some pointers on how a lady behaves under certain circumstances.
Loretta trained generations of women in the fine art of gracefully manipulating a garment, specifically, how to twirl a skirt! Here’s her tutorial on the simple, swishy style a lady can use to bewitch her “audience.”
A lady also understands that her influence on those who look to her would be compromised if she failed to keep up with the times. Loretta never forgot to keep her eyes on (spoiler pun) fashion and makeup trends. Here’s how her era-perfect eyebrows depict her feminine love to staying up-to-date.
Think being a lady is all about propriety and strict social rules? Well, it CAN be, but Loretta understood the essence of ladylike behavior–in fact of all true social codes–is finding a more gracious, peaceful way to live amongst others who may not have been raised as you were.
I’d say that in today’s world of violent, vulgar, and extreme self-expression, a little restraint and self-control is needed more than ever. Ever been in a truly awkward situation? Channeling ladylike calm and presenting yourself as a poised, gracious woman can make everything more palatable for everyone involved. I often think “What would Loretta do?”
Meeting a true lady (or gentleman) can be a wonderfully refreshing experience. Why not be that in your little world?
Polite, ladylike behavior is a form of love–you love yourself and others enough to treat them with respect and kindness. Courtesy isn’t which fork to use, it’s a way of making others MORE, not less, comfortable. A true lady doesn’t point out another’s faux pas; she ignores it, deflects it, or uses humor or kindness to smooth it over.
She also knows when to ignore society’s rigid codes. Would a lady commandeer a funeral director’s post-mortuary makeover because she knew her dearest friend’s features were not being shown to advantage–even in the casket? She would, if that lady were Loretta. At the end of my tribute to lipstick, you’ll find a tale of Loretta’s incredible dedication to her friends.
A real lady knows how to function in a harsh world without becoming hard as nails—and she passes that knowledge along to any young woman wise enough to listen. Loretta’s goddaughter, Marlo Thomas (yes, That Girl), learned much from her graceful mentor about staying true to her standards and standing up for one’s rights without putting up your dukes. Marlo’s worshipful tribute on the occasion of Loretta’s 100th birthday has a lot of insights for those of us not lucky enough to be in the same room with Loretta.
Another happy young woman who studied under Loretta’s wise tutelage was Beverly Washburn. She played Loretta’s bookworm daughter in Loretta’s short-lived but much-loved TV series “Christine’s Children.” Here’s what Beverly learned about embracing life as a confident, charming woman from her TV mom.
Today’s final ladylike lessons are incorporated in a post that I annually imbibe like a springtime tonic as needed, when the world, the flesh and the devil corner me. Loretta’s marvelous faith, her incurable optimism, her delight in all things beautiful, joyful, and pure are a restorative.
Her buoyant, ladylike spirit stirs me to rise above the fray. BTW, that was another saying my Mom had. When others were hateful, Mom declared that I should never “stoop to their level. Always rise above, Karen. You’re tall, like a queen. Act like one.”
So, our final archived post shares Loretta’s secrets for maintaining ladylike poise no matter WHAT kind of nonsense is breaking around you.
To the manner born
I’m positive Loretta and my mother would have gotten along beautifully. Even though my mother was the daughter of a Pennsylvania coal miner and Loretta the child of a boarding house landlady, they both learned from their wise mothers how high a true lady’s standards should be and how those standards could be expressed in ever-courteous femininity and rock-solid faith.
Happy New Year, darlings!
This compilation blog post is proudly part of the Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon 2016. Thanks to the organizers for allowing me to gush about my forever muse.