Beauty is as Beauty Does: a Review of The Thoughtful Girl’s Guide to Fashion, Communication, and Friendship
Mary Sheehan Warren begins her excellent book, The Thoughtful Girl’s Guide, by telling me to get lost. “This is a book for women,” she writes. “None of its material is relevant to men.”
So why am I writing an endorsement? I wanted to find the latest advice for my daughters in these “progressive” times. Technology is leading a revolution in manners. I want to know: What does the godly model of a young woman look like today?
Ancient Wisdom Marketed Modernly
My colleague at Catholic University of America’s business school, Warren brings the mix of Faith and Reason to this work of advice for young women. The book includes advice on finding true love. And to keep it relevant to her Say Yes to the Dress-trained target audience, there’s also a section on the five fundamentals for choosing a wedding dress.
The focus of her work is applying her expertise in marketing to fashion for young women. But the real strength of the book is her focus on the deeper concerns of character and integrity. Those virtues that undergird developing into a truly “Thoughtful Girl.” She doesn’t use the old cliché, “beauty is as beauty does,” but the ethos of the book hearkens back this and other timeless truths.
Warren writes to prepare young women for life. And for an audience saturated with the words and images of “social media influencers,” she includes references to better role models. Throughout the book, she features short side-bar vignettes of the lives of truly praise-worthy women. Reading her book I was reminded of the story of Abraham’s search for a wife for his son Isaac. He finds Rebekah, a woman of industry and virtue, and though Warren doesn’t reference this story, her own advice to young women echoes that story.
Industrious, for example. Abraham sent his servant, Eliezer, on a mission to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer needed a sign from heaven and decided that a hard-working woman would be what his boss’s family would want. After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels (Genesis 24:19-20). The young woman did not shirk from watering 10 thirsty camels. Isaac would have a match for life.
Self-Examination of Communication
Thoughtful Girl encourages more than the exertions of manual labor. For example, Warren writes on the need for feedback on communication — this self-examination takes work and courage. “What did I actually say? Did I forget to say something I was supposed to say?”
Warren pushes the intellectual labor for the “capacity to understand” others around us. She includes simple, basic workbooks, that take, well, work to fill out — but this introspection requires effort to understand the relationships in a young woman’s life.
“When to put on your best cursive” emphasizing the “work” and effort of life events that demand a hand-written note: congratulations, sympathy, a thank-you, invitations, encouragement, and a love letter. This is industry over email.
Warren also writes of the practical importance of preparation and punctuality for job interviews. A job candidate should observe carefully to match her skills with the needs and preferences of the hiring manager.
Virtue, Social Graces, and Fashion
Virtuous. Warren argues that a Thoughtful Girl, like Rebekah, will also be virtuous. The chapter on Virtues and Manners resurrects the timeless group of excellences called “social graces,” which Warren says includes kindness, warmth, discretion and inspiration. This chapter on virtue includes a whole section on “dressing for success” with an accompanying illustration of what a basic 8-piece starter wardrobe looks like. What does wardrobe have to do with virtue? The answer to that is infused with the author’s expertise in marketing, which is what gives this book both its unique angle and its charm. She argues that “there’s virtue in our manners,” and that how we present ourselves in our era of curating our own images on social media has never been more important.
Additionally, throughout the book Warren has put together a number of matrix/templates to guide young women in making virtue a subtle fashion statement. For example, a what-to-wear chart has the headings: Where/Attitude/Type of Fashion/Examples from My Closet.
Our daughters are getting a lot of competing messages these days about what it means to become a successful adult. Most of them are created by marketers driven to sell their own products. The value of this book is that rather than rejecting marketing and retreating to a cloistered view of virtue, Warren owns and harnesses the principles of marketing. She trains young women to think — to become Thoughtful Girls — equipped to live wisely in these troubled times.
Jack Yoest is Assistant Professor of Leadership and Management at The Catholic University of America in The Busch School of Business, in Washington, DC. He is the author of the book The Memo: How the Classified Military Document That Helped the U.S. Win WWII Can Help You Succeed in Business.