In Manila, over the holidays, I was reunited with one of my favorite books of all time: A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. It was just gathering dust in a bookshelf in my old room, and I thought it was time that we spent time together, as we often did before.
I brought it back with me to Singapore and as I was reading it, I thought I'd share with you the author's thoughts on what is chic. Especially now that the term is being used so loosely these days, I am afraid it may lose its true meaning.
The essence of casual refinement, chic is a little less studied than elegance and a little more intellectual. It is an inborn quality of certain individuals, who are sometime unaware that they possess it. Chic is only perceptible to those who have already acquired a certain degree of civilization and culture and who have in addition both the leisure time to devote to improving their appearance and the desire to be part of a particular kind of elite, which might be called the "aristocracy of external appearance". It is a gift of the gods and has no relationship to beauty nor to wealth. One baby in its crib may have chic, while another doesn't.
Perhaps the best way to describe this quality is by giving some examples:
The Kennedy family had chic; but the Truman family didn't.
The late Princess Diana had chic; but Princess Margaret didn't.
Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo had chic; but Rita Hayworh and Elizabeth Taylor, in spite of their beauty, their sumptuous clothes and jewels, did not.
In order to increase your chances of acquiring chic when it is lacking, the first requirement is to be aware that you do not possess it. You can then entrust to experienced specialists the responsibility if changing your silhoutte, coiffure, make-up, gestures, and wardrobe. Know at least your general type: sporty and casual, or doll-like and exquisite. Study all the fashion magazines. Try to find in real life a woman who is a good example of the same type as you, and whose chic is widely recognized; carefully analyze her manner of dress and behavior in order to retain what can be copied. This is perhaps not an infallible formula for acquiring chic, but it is still the best I know.
Besides, if you are aware of your lack of chic, the battle is half won, because the only really hopeless case is the woman who hasn't the faintest idea of what is chic and what is not.