Book Review: Glamour by Carol Dyhouse

One sunny morning I was walking past Readings in Carlton and a book in the window caught my eye – I immediately had to run in and buy it.

Now, I consider Circa to be first and foremost a “lifestyle choice” and one of the big personal benefits is that it’s actually my job to read wonderful books like this! My enormous library bulges under the weight of thirty four years of buying books on fashion, clothing and textiles but being a modern woman, it also includes many works on serious topics like gender and philosophy. This book combines all.

I’ve always loved clothes, always taken them very seriously: in fact much of my life is dedicated to the cause through collecting, studying, researching, buying, selling, restoring, presenting, displaying, discussing and promoting fashion of many kinds and all eras – and yet people have said to me that I’m wasting my time. That I should find a serious mission, something worthy of my efforts and attention. That I should have gone to university and studied Arts or Literature not costume design at a mere technical college….that I should get a real job (I could go on).

Why do I do this? It’s not sensible or wise…I used to have a “real job” and yes, it paid a decent wage and it gave me stability and security and even status, but ultimately – there are more important things than money. I believe that – and I believe in what I do.

We live in a world that likes to see fashion as silly, frivolous and not worthy of serious consideration. We are judged by our appearance, and yet we are judged too, for paying it any attention or spending time and energy in making more of what nature has endowed us with. We can’t win!

There is no doubt that life is better for those who are more attractive, better presented and yet so many of us prefer to look as if we’ve simply chucked on whatever was sitting on the bedroom floor when we got up. Is it so awful to care what you wear? To care how you look? I like to dress well and appropriately because it helps me be more effective in the world and achieve my goals.

Our grandmothers in the past showed the way: a simple cotton day dress would take them every where from a picnic to the supermarket and they looked and felt good in it. It was easily bought or made, for not much money and it served them well. When modern versions are available cheaply from Target (and even better, op shops) there’s no reason to dress in tracky daks unless you’re actually exercising.

Hmm, I seem to have got a bit sidetracked….back to Carol Dyhouse’s book “Glamour – Women, History, Feminism”. Dyhouse is a woman after my own heart: she’s a historian, focusing on gender and she’s written a book that perhaps I could have written if I had gone to uni and not TAFE.

She provides a history of glamour through the twentieth century, referencing film, fashion, cosmetics, perfume and music. As she’s British, she writes from a UK perspective which is refreshing in how she focuses on the class elements of glamour – class isn’t as much of an issue in Australia or the US but it’s still easy to see how, even when glamour is out of fashion (as it was in the ’60s and ’90s), it’s still important for working class ladies who make good, or successful ladies of colour. It explains why Motown singers like Diana Ross like their sparkle, because bling is an obvious element of wealth.

Whilst much of what Dyhouse talks about it is not new to me (I’m familiar with the bulk of her long list of reference materials – more than 60 pages of notes and index), I found it illuminating to see such a perceived unimportant subject matter given serious treatment. Not surprisingly, she comes down decisively on the side of Glamour being a power for good – as she puts it “a celebration of the human condition”.

Highly Recommended.


  1. A brilliant post Nicole and wonderful that you are so immersed in something you love, ignore the ‘nay-sayers’ I often wonder if it is jealousy that makes them say what they do? I have just begun uni at age 40 doing a teaching degree (Australian history major) and am amazed at how many people express their thoughts on why I’m studying as it is an 8 year part time degree and I’ll be ‘old’ when I finally begin teaching!

    I connected with your comments, particularly with those regarding our grandmothers who ‘mended and made do’ yet looked so stylish. I am currently writing an essay on those women who were on the homefront volunteering as well as working to keep the country going. It is amazing what they achieved when they had so little and under such trying circumstances.

    I enjoy your blog, would love to visit your store in Melbourne and hope to see you again in Sydney next weekend.

    Kind regards

  2. Hi Michelle,
    thank you for your comments: I’d love to meet you when I’m there next week! 48 is a long way from old, and teachers just get better as they age anyway: it’s hardly a profession where youth is the focus. Some of my best teachers have been in their 60s.

    Good for you for embarking on a career change – my impending 40th birthday was what made me re-evaluate the direction my life was going too.

  3. Hi Nicole, Like you I studied fashion design at univerity and have been buying vintage clothes from when I was teen so that I didnt look like everyone else. Many people Ive met over the years told me that I should be doing somthing serious with my life rather than playig dress ups, hovever I have sucsessfully been selling vintage clothes seriously for the past tenish years and working for my self and loving it. The trackie dacks wearers of the world are never going to get what we do and its there loss. Thanks Nicole for your blog and others like it as sometimes when the road gets tough its nice to know theres like minded people out there.Regards Lyn

  4. My Mother always used to say “dress for where you want to go in life, not where you have been”. And I try to stick to that mantra. If I dress like a professional, people will treat me as such and ditto for dressing like a slob.

    I also love that scene from “devil wears prada” where the Anne Hathaway character says that fashion is stupid and then the Meryl Streep character gives her a lecture on the foundations of the colour of her jumper. Priceless.

    Great review ..

  5. So totally agrree about the tracky dacs and dont care mantra I see everywhere these days.I loved the fact that back in the day women dressed like women and men like men.Now its often hard to tell which is which.I dont even own a pair of the trackys I hate them that much and do trty to dress up a bit when I go anywhere actualy I do the same even when at home (you never know who will come knocking on the door)
    Great post again
    PS I hope to one day to sell vintage also.I have some great gear but cant seem to let go yet lol.

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