Taste: Acquiring What Money Can't Buy

Overview

"'Good taste' is synonymous with success in all fields of life. It's not a question of money, but of a trained eye."

Taste is proportion. Taste is civility. Taste is the mot juste. Taste is in play wherever educated people gather. Taste treats men and women, friends and strangers considerately.

Taste cannot be bought, but only learned and practiced. In our modern times, the elegance and taste that characterized and defined such contemporary figures as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis ...

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Overview

"'Good taste' is synonymous with success in all fields of life. It's not a question of money, but of a trained eye."

Taste is proportion. Taste is civility. Taste is the mot juste. Taste is in play wherever educated people gather. Taste treats men and women, friends and strangers considerately.

Taste cannot be bought, but only learned and practiced. In our modern times, the elegance and taste that characterized and defined such contemporary figures as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis has been overshadowed by gaudy wealth. But Tish Baldrige reminds us of the hallmarks of taste and its continued importance today.

Taste is a book that, today, has its perfect author and proponent in Letitia "Tish" Baldrige, a Taste and Manners Icon for at least 50 years. Her appearances on TV talk shows have steadily increased, most recently (in August) on "Good Morning, America."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312351731
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

LETITIA BALDRIGE was born to a prominent family in Iowa, educated at Vassar, Letitia "Tish" Baldrige was chief of staff to Jacqueline Kennedy during and beyond the First Lady's White House years. She has written some dozen books, many on coping with today's more relaxed manners. Tish Baldrige lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Robert Hollanstiner.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A person acquires taste not by accident, but by spending years training his or her eye and learning how to make good judgments. It used to be easy to be labeled a Òperson of taste.Ó All you had to do was be born into an old family, receive a good education at the institutions where your parents and grandparents had studied, become considered a reputable member of society, and realize that life is a product of making goodÑor badÑchoices.

Today, it is no longer easy to achieve this plateau. We are a society in which instant celebrity rules, rather than accomplishment and standards of excellence. This means that our current role models may not be paragons of taste. At the same time, we have broken free of many traditions and customs of the past, and we are left to find our own way, often guided by dubious examples. Take, for instance, the wedding, the celebrity wedding in particular.

One always used to find taste in a great wedding because sacred, tried-and-true traditions kept the bride and groom and their families and guests from making mistakes. It was all there, in the fine print, ever since the time of Queen VictoriaÕs wedding to Prince Albert. The first-time bride wears all white, with a chapel veil and cathedral train. Those traditions have been shattered: the bride now can wear red, kelly green, or a stripperÕs costume if she wishes. An enormous industry of bridal consultants with no training has sprung up to oversee the taste and pageantry of the costly event. The bride may be on her third wedding, but the customs of the long, sweeping, lacy virginal veil and the saucy garter toss to the groomsmen can still prevail. If a film star in her fifties, married a few times before, walks up the aisle this time in what can only be described as a short, filmy, pleated, transparent beige nightgown, Empire style, hold the presses. Stock the bridal stores across the country with hundreds of copies based on this design. ItÕs an overnight sensationÑthe new, acceptable, ÒchicÓ style in bridal wear. The nightgown! Somewhere along the way the attribute of taste has simply vanished.

But there are still some real taste advocates out thereÑof all races, colors, and distinctions. Their voices will still be heard, and their influence can only become more effective as people in our society grow tired of the super hype, the loud, the garish, and the ugly. The young people in this countryÑthose in their twenties and thirtiesÑwill make the difference. Let us put our faith in them. They are traveling and absorbing history and new ideas with their cell phones and BlackBerries turned off. They are training their eyes. And as they step into their roles as the future tastemakers of America, they would do well to cast a glance back in time and consider the contributions made by prominent tastemakers of the past, most notably Jacqueline Kennedy. We will focus this chapter on her story, for she was the person of taste throughout her lifetime, and her influence lingers on. As you read about her and in later chapters about other smart, stylish doyennes of taste, consider the lessons that you can draw from their lives and apply to your own.

Tasteful Interiors

Jacqueline KennedyÕs brilliant gift for fashion was rivaled only by her flair for interior decoration, seen in the White House restorations. In a stroke of genius, she formed the Fine Arts Committee of the White House, consisting of prominent preservationists and millionaires. Henry du Pont, of the Winterthur estate near Wilmington, Delaware, became chairman, a curator was chosen, and the committee members were soon busy at work, overseeing the restoration and placing suitable antiques in all the public rooms.

Jackie knew the program, in order to survive, much less thrive, needed an official blessing from on high. She therefore managed to bring a most renowned figure, the doyen of the National Gallery, David Finley, onto and under the prestigious umbrella of the newly formed committee. With a man of FinleyÕs expertise, the White House restoration projects now had the most important imprimatur they could have. Finley was a minute figure of a man with a powerhouse of a reputation, which was formed from the time he became the young assistant to the philanthropist and former secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, overseeing the construction of the National Gallery of ArtÕs great marble building and its superb collection of art. He became the guardian of WashingtonÕs cultural and historic landmarks, and was the number-one scholar of all periods of the White House. JackieÕs exchange of letters with him shows the power of a womanÕs flattery in making an important man continue to support her project without hesitation. Feminine wiles. They are extremely useful, and one wonders if the women leaders of today, maneuvering around in the pond of our nationÕs capital, have ever used such a feminine tool to their advantage.

Jackie knew how to put the White House Historical Association together, with the help and legal advice from a host of government officials, past and present. She also knew the necessity of money, and the group therefore included a number of millionaires (billionaires by todayÕs semantics). They felt honored to even sit in the presence of a man like David Finley, such a far cry from their Wall Street and corporate environments.

There was a public appeal for funds, but the greatly desired big-ticket items, such as the exquisite antique Aubusson rug now in the Red Room, were paid for from checkbooks the Fine Arts Committee members pulled out of their pockets on the spot when money was needed. (ItÕs the only kind of nonprofit committee roster to have!)

The committeeÕs adviser, StŽphane Boudin, of the famed House of Jansen in Paris, already knew all of the committee members. Many of them were customers of his chic establishment in Paris. He was an expert on nineteenth-century furnishings and the decorative arts in general. Congress was not happy at seeing a dapper Frenchman in charge of this very American White House restoration program, but Boudin managed to remain out of the headlines and quietly do his job to perfection. He ignored the jealousies of the various design consultants attached to the project, which was the only way to handle the situation. He simply was ÒunavailableÓ when they and the press were hunting him down.

The Kennedys had a strong sense of history, which made it fascinating to watch the meticulous, authentic restoration of the public rooms of the White House. A deft touch was required to remove the ugliness of past history from those historic walls and to make the rooms lighter and brighter without sacrificing the stylistic principles of the period. The depressingly dark green, lifeless state dining room metamorphosed into a lovely space painted in three different colors of white. A famous German painter who specialized in marbleizing (he could paint any surface so that the observer could not possibly tell it was not marble) worked in the White House for weeks on end. One morning I saw that the president, on his early-morning trip over to his West Wing office, had stopped for a chat with the painter, who was up on a very tall ladder, working on the wall moldings. What began as a routine question about what the painter was doing turned into a twenty-minute conversation. JFK was a curious man, interested in everyoneÕs life and occupation. As expected, each object of his scrutinyÑparticularly the everyday workers he would questionÑwere flattered beyond belief by the presidential attention.

The president knew that JackieÕs taste was expensive, and he complained about her personal bills with regularity, which made her a typical housewife, at least in that way. (Probably in no other way.) More important than her overspending, however, was the fact that her husband basked in the attention and praise she attracted, even from AmericaÕs cultural intellectuals. He was smart enough never to be jealous of her popularity because a lot of it rubbed off on him, too.

The First Lady realized that the tourists tramping through the public rooms of the White House did not have a clue about American history or nineteenth-century design, so she helped start the White House Historical Association and pushed the members to publish the first official guidebook for the White House. Each administration from then on updated it and added an explanation of their own changes and gifts to the house. The sale of the guidebook has helped cover the enormous cost of the upkeep of the house.

Jackie further instructed the public on White House history when she hosted a CBS televised tour of the newly refurbished and restored building. Working without a script, she wandered from room to room, telling the history of the furniture, paint colors, portraits, and great paintings on loan from various museums. It was seen over and over by millions of people. A trip to Washington to see the White House very quickly became the number-one travel destination of the American public.

Copyright &169; 2007 by Letitia Baldrige. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

A person acquires taste not by accident, but by spending years training his or her eye and learning how to make good judgments. It used to be easy to be labeled a Òperson of taste.Ó All you had to do was be born into an old family, receive a good education at the institutions where your parents and grandparents had studied, become considered a reputable member of society, and realize that life is a product of making goodÑor badÑchoices.

Today, it is no longer easy to achieve this plateau. We are a society in which instant celebrity rules, rather than accomplishment and standards of excellence. This means that our current role models may not be paragons of taste. At the same time, we have broken free of many traditions and customs of the past, and we are left to find our own way, often guided by dubious examples. Take, for instance, the wedding, the celebrity wedding in particular.

One always used to find taste in a great wedding because sacred, tried-and-true traditions kept the bride and groom and their families and guests from making mistakes. It was all there, in the fine print, ever since the time of Queen VictoriaÕs wedding to Prince Albert. The first-time bride wears all white, with a chapel veil and cathedral train. Those traditions have been shattered: the bride now can wear red, kelly green, or a stripperÕs costume if she wishes. An enormous industry of bridal consultants with no training has sprung up to oversee the taste and pageantry of the costly event. The bride may be on her third wedding, but the customs of the long, sweeping, lacy virginal veil and the saucy garter toss to the groomsmen can still prevail. If a film star in her fifties, married a few times before, walks up the aisle this time in what can only be described as a short, filmy, pleated, transparent beige nightgown, Empire style, hold the presses. Stock the bridal stores across the country with hundreds of copies based on this design. ItÕs an overnight sensationÑthe new, acceptable, ÒchicÓ style in bridal wear. The nightgown! Somewhere along the way the attribute of taste has simply vanished.

But there are still some real taste advocates out thereÑof all races, colors, and distinctions. Their voices will still be heard, and their influence can only become more effective as people in our society grow tired of the super hype, the loud, the garish, and the ugly. The young people in this countryÑthose in their twenties and thirtiesÑwill make the difference. Let us put our faith in them. They are traveling and absorbing history and new ideas with their cell phones and BlackBerries turned off. They are training their eyes. And as they step into their roles as the future tastemakers of America, they would do well to cast a glance back in time and consider the contributions made by prominent tastemakers of the past, most notably Jacqueline Kennedy. We will focus this chapter on her story, for she was the person of taste throughout her lifetime, and her influence lingers on. As you read about her and in later chapters about other smart, stylish doyennes of taste, consider the lessons that you can draw from their lives and apply to your own.

Tasteful Interiors

Jacqueline KennedyÕs brilliant gift for fashion was rivaled only by her flair for interior decoration, seen in the White House restorations. In a stroke of genius, she formed the Fine Arts Committee of the White House, consisting of prominent preservationists and millionaires. Henry du Pont, of the Winterthur estate near Wilmington, Delaware, became chairman, a curator was chosen, and the committee members were soon busy at work, overseeing the restoration and placing suitable antiques in all the public rooms.

Jackie knew the program, in order to survive, much less thrive, needed an official blessing from on high. She therefore managed to bring a most renowned figure, the doyen of the National Gallery, David Finley, onto and under the prestigious umbrella of the newly formed committee. With a man of FinleyÕs expertise, the White House restoration projects now had the most important imprimatur they could have. Finley was a minute figure of a man with a powerhouse of a reputation, which was formed from the time he became the young assistant to the philanthropist and former secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, overseeing the construction of the National Gallery of ArtÕs great marble building and its superb collection of art. He became the guardian of WashingtonÕs cultural and historic landmarks, and was the number-one scholar of all periods of the White House. JackieÕs exchange of letters with him shows the power of a womanÕs flattery in making an important man continue to support her project without hesitation. Feminine wiles. They are extremely useful, and one wonders if the women leaders of today, maneuvering around in the pond of our nationÕs capital, have ever used such a feminine tool to their advantage.

Jackie knew how to put the White House Historical Association together, with the help and legal advice from a host of government officials, past and present. She also knew the necessity of money, and the group therefore included a number of millionaires (billionaires by todayÕs semantics). They felt honored to even sit in the presence of a man like David Finley, such a far cry from their Wall Street and corporate environments.

There was a public appeal for funds, but the greatly desired big-ticket items, such as the exquisite antique Aubusson rug now in the Red Room, were paid for from checkbooks the Fine Arts Committee members pulled out of their pockets on the spot when money was needed. (ItÕs the only kind of nonprofit committee roster to have!)

The committeeÕs adviser, StŽphane Boudin, of the famed House of Jansen in Paris, already knew all of the committee members. Many of them were customers of his chic establishment in Paris. He was an expert on nineteenth-century furnishings and the decorative arts in general. Congress was not happy at seeing a dapper Frenchman in charge of this very American White House restoration program, but Boudin managed to remain out of the headlines and quietly do his job to perfection. He ignored the jealousies of the various design consultants attached to the project, which was the only way to handle the situation. He simply was ÒunavailableÓ when they and the press were hunting him down.

The Kennedys had a strong sense of history, which made it fascinating to watch the meticulous, authentic restoration of the public rooms of the White House. A deft touch was required to remove the ugliness of past history from those historic walls and to make the rooms lighter and brighter without sacrificing the stylistic principles of the period. The depressingly dark green, lifeless state dining room metamorphosed into a lovely space painted in three different colors of white. A famous German painter who specialized in marbleizing (he could paint any surface so that the observer could not possibly tell it was not marble) worked in the White House for weeks on end. One morning I saw that the president, on his early-morning trip over to his West Wing office, had stopped for a chat with the painter, who was up on a very tall ladder, working on the wall moldings. What began as a routine question about what the painter was doing turned into a twenty-minute conversation. JFK was a curious man, interested in everyoneÕs life and occupation. As expected, each object of his scrutinyÑparticularly the everyday workers he would questionÑwere flattered beyond belief by the presidential attention.

The president knew that JackieÕs taste was expensive, and he complained about her personal bills with regularity, which made her a typical housewife, at least in that way. (Probably in no other way.) More important than her overspending, however, was the fact that her husband basked in the attention and praise she attracted, even from AmericaÕs cultural intellectuals. He was smart enough never to be jealous of her popularity because a lot of it rubbed off on him, too.

The First Lady realized that the tourists tramping through the public rooms of the White House did not have a clue about American history or nineteenth-century design, so she helped start the White House Historical Association and pushed the members to publish the first official guidebook for the White House. Each administration from then on updated it and added an explanation of their own changes and gifts to the house. The sale of the guidebook has helped cover the enormous cost of the upkeep of the house.

Jackie further instructed the public on White House history when she hosted a CBS televised tour of the newly refurbished and restored building. Working without a script, she wandered from room to room, telling the history of the furniture, paint colors, portraits, and great paintings on loan from various museums. It was seen over and over by millions of people. A trip to Washington to see the White House very quickly became the number-one travel destination of the American public.

Copyright &169; 2007 by Letitia Baldrige. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents


Introduction     1
Just Who Is This Person of Taste?     15
Good Taste in Fashion     27
Go, See, and Educate Your Eye     127
The Taste for Entertaining     163
Tasteful Surrounds     203
Afterthought     221
Index     228
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