From Publishers Weekly
Baldrige, who served from 1961 to 1963 as Jackie Kennedy's social secretary and chief of staff, was labeled America's leading arbiter of manners by Time in 1978. Her 20-plus books include Legendary Brides and the 736-page New Manners for New Times. The premise of this volume was suggested by her editor-publisher, Truman Mac Talley, who listened with aplomb to my shocking tales of what is happening today in social mores. Probing the history and nature of taste, Baldrige examines the role taste plays in the average person's life and explains how to educate your eye. She surveys celebrated tastemakers, from British art dealer Lord Duveen to Coco Chanel, with chapters on interior design and entertaining: The best dinner parties are those without any ulterior motive. They're rare but wonderful. The core of the book covers taste in fashion (where even the fabric is snob-important for some), encompassing such topics as wigs, jewelry, jeans, the application of lipstick in public, influential designers and shoe fetishism in Louis XIV's court. Throughout, she interweaves her own experiences with Diana Vreeland, Babe Paley and others. This patina of personal memories and anecdotes adds to the sheen of her polished prose. The vulgarians may be at the gates, but Baldrige is doing all she can to keep them away.
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The eternal question of what is taste isn't directly answered by guru Baldrige. Instead, she quotes a designer, doyenne, or well-known wit--such as Coco Chanel, who opined that taste was the opposite of vulgarity. And she weaves enchanting tales of the Camelot White House (Baldrige was chief of staff for Jacqueline Kennedy); of postwar Parisian entertaining; of the elegant couture houses, such as Jean Patou and Vionnet; of Parish-Hadley and other designers extraordinaire. This narrative is more about her life than about taste per se; it is through her stories that the themes are developed. One theme is the absolute necessity of training the eye through museums and show houses and nature's visuals--not through the wallet. The second is paying attention to even the smallest detail, whether that be unchipped nail polish or correct silverware. And the third is the embracing of a sense of humor and kindness, two traits that define a real tastemaker. She says it best this way: "I believe that happiness comes from looking around us and finding the good and the beautiful in our own culture, and choosing to live with that taste." Barbara JacobsCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved