May 14, 2011

Why Don't You?

Ever get a suggestion and wonder whether it's meant constructively? Perhaps it wears a white hat, so to speak, but is it really an insult in disguise, or a slight of some kind? The statement "Why don't you..." conjures up many connotations, and depending on its implied meaning could be helpful or vexing. In the context of a fashion magazine, suggestions are everywhere, and in the history of fashion magazines, one suggestion list stands out as the queen of condescending suggestions.

Diana Vreeland wrote a regular column for Harper's Bazaar on this very idea, literally titled "Why Don't You...?". Most of the statements were fashion-oriented, such as "Why don't you hide your hips under an accordion-pleated jacket?". From Vreeland's perspective, the suggestions were "all very tried and true ideas", but from today's perspective, its suggestions parallel only Marie Antoinette in its misplaced statement-making.

Vreeland didn't try to claim that the peasants should eat cake, but she very nearly did. Her first column of "Why Don't You...?" appeared in 1936, and over the years, the suggestions ranged from outlandish to nigh-impossible.

I can't remember when or why I picked up this book that chronicles Vreeland's "Why Don't You...?" columns, but it's rather contagious to read. Here are a few of the most outlandish.

Why Don't You...

  • turn your old ermine coat into a bathrobe?
  • wear three enormous diamond starts arranged in your hair in front?
  • order Schiaparelli's cellophane belt with your name and telephone number on it?
  • wear violet velvet mittens with everything?
  • tie black tulle bows on your wrists?
  • have an elk-hide trunk for the back of your car? Hermes of Paris will make this.
As you can see, depending on the status of the reader, the column was either a bit of whimsy, or outrageously silly, or simply misunderstood. It's an odd and fascinating bit of fashion history, and a rarified picture of the fashionable woman of the 1930s.

Resources:

Esten, John, and Diana Vreeland. Diana Vreeland Bazaar Years: including 100 Audacious Why Don't Yous--? New York, NY: Universe Pub., 2001.

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