Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me:
A Guide To Living With Impeccable Grace & Style
If that title isn’t enough to make you want to consume this delectable piece of non-fiction by Lucia Van Der Post, I don’t know what will.
This book is a tome of womanly wisdom from a British lady in her experienced and sterling years. Lucia Van Der Post is a grandmother and a columnist for the Times of London. She’s traveled the world as a journalist and shopped/dined/vacationed in some of the most luxurious and exotic locations. She imparts her savvy knowledge on the art of womanhood with candor and poise. In short, she’s the grandmother all of us wish we had.
In her foreword, Lucia writes: “Since it seems a shame for all of us to have to learn everything from scratch, to make all the discoveries the hard way, and to reinvent, so the speak, the wheel, this book is an attempt to pass on some of the things I’ve learned in life.”
Van Der Post covers everything. Clothes (including how to wear black and an entire section on cashmere), hair and makeup, choosing a scent, marriage, an section entitled “On Being a Daughter”, working + still having a life, children, decorating and organizing your home, candles, entertaining (including glamorously simple recipes), giving presents, and good manners.
Sometimes putting your trust in an older woman – a lady who has been everywhere and seen it all – can be hugely helpful. So it was with this book. I appreciated the fact that her advice was seasoned with decades of experience and expertise. For example, she writes things such as…
You can easily buy a couple of tops for $50, which may not be a lot of money but if they’re badly chosen and never look good, it’s $50 down the drain. Do that several times and you’ve wasted the kind of sum that would have bought a really classy number.
Older faces where all lines have been eliminated by face-lifts, Botox, and their ilk look curiously unlived-in.
You don’t own the person you married. They are still entitled to some freedoms, to their own views and their own space. The best marriages provide a secure framework in which individuals can grow and flourish, not wither and diminish.
(On decorating the home) Choose things that you really, honestly love and somehow they’ll work together.
She suggests keeping flowers fresh by changing the water every day and adding a bit of sugar to it.
No hostess should take her own party so seriously that the guests end up being solemn about it as well. The best parties are gifts to your friends. The point of a party is to have fun.
However, some of her advice was just a bit too…pricey…for me. Many of her clothing/accessory/home decor advice came in the form of these sort of statements: “Oh, just hop on into Saks and they’ll look after you”, “Such-and-such lady at this extravagantly expensive boutique spa gives simply the best facials”, “Expect to pay upwards of $800 for a jacket from this Japanese designer”, “This caterer will absolutely look after you for your next intimate get-together” and, “When you’re in Florence, you simply must make an appointment to visit this particular perfume master who will make you a custom blend”.
While she did incorporate advice on thriftier options (Target, Ikea, H&M, Zara, Gap, Banana Republic, etc.), the majority of her expertise landed in the “elitist traveling woman with gobs of money” category. It made it a bit difficult to connect with the book at times, but it was still a fun and interesting read (I am now infinitely more educated about designer clothing and $900 facial creams) with gems of priceless wisdom along the way.
One of my favorite lines from the book is all the way in the back: “Good manners, in my book, real manners, the sort that are about an inner grace, have nothing to do with where you put the soup spoons or whether you say “toilet” or “loo.” Real manners are about considering other people…well-mannered people are never rude to others, or hurtful, and never do anything that makes other people feel awkward or small.”
And you can’t put a price tag on that.