Taste, by Letitia Baldridge

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Taste: Acquiring what money can't buy, by Letitia Baldridge

This book could have been alternatively been subtitled: "Taste: Did I mention I worked for Jackie Kennedy? and Tiffany's? and I went to Vassar?" It also could have been subtitled "Taste: Acquiring what money can't buy, although it certainly doesn't hurt". It started out well enough, with a tasteful (of course) and intriguing cover, and a thoughtful introduction about the nature and definition of "taste." The author is certainly experienced on the subject. Here is her bio from the book jacket:

Letitia Baldridge was born to a prominent family and educated at Vassar. She was chief of staff to Jacqueline Kennedy during the White House years. She has advised four other First Ladies, written two dozen books, and runs a consulting business. Letitia Baldridge lives in Washington, DC.

She certainly has seen and experienced enough to validate her self-proclaimed expertise in the subject, but the book read more like her memoirs with meandering stories and gratuitous name-dropping. I think a broader subject, or a firmer editor, could have improved the book, although it was unintentionally humorous. Take this example concerning menswear from the chapter, "Good Taste in Fashion":

...Today a well-dressed, savvy Frenchman, Italian, or Spaniard dresses like any English duke or Irish castle owner, in beautiful tweeds, cashmeres, brogues and laced oxfords, fine shirts, pure silk ties and pocket hankerchiefs, except of course, when the young, as in the United States, are demonstrating or attending a rock concert. (p. 120)

And here is my favorite quote of the book (p. 122): "But from this writer's point of view, 'tasteful jeans' is an oxymoron."

For me, as a middle-class housewife in a rural area, it would be in poor taste if I took Mrs. Baldridge's advice literally. That would mean wearing a little black dress frequently, gorgeous dinner parties, frequent visits to world-class museums to 'educate my eye', taking decorating inspiration from Versailles and the White House, and emulating Jackie Kennedy as much as possible. I believe it is more appropriate for me to ensure I'm not overdressed (so as to not limit my daily physical activity or make people around me feel uncomfortable), entertain frequently but humbly (inviting my neighbor over for coffee instead of multi-course dinners), and making our house welcoming and comfortable. And sorry for the cliche, but I choose to emulate Jesus Christ, not politicians, socialites, or taste makers (although, I'm sure in Mrs. Baldridge's opinion, Jesus wasn't a very good dresser).


Nathan Garrett said...

Somehow, I doubt that she had a baby or toddler to take care of on a daily basis. The occasional splash of baby food (mm: carrots) plays havoc with nice clothing. Don't worry though, you're still the most stylish of your siblings, beating out the computer programmer/grad student and the peace corp volunteer. Woho!

Barbara said...

I read this book and had EXACTLY the same reaction; can you say "name-dropper?" And, really, it THAT in good taste?!?!?

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