Monday, March 5, 2012

Charm offensive

Years ago a political candidate got much mileage out of asking "Where's the beef?" Lately I have been asking myself a similar query, but with a more society-as-a-whole focus: "Where's the charm?"

Which then leads to the need to identify what "charm" actually is. When I was growing up, there was a great deal of store set by the charm factor. I was raised to be charming, by people who were also raised to be charming, by other charming people. Not in a false or ingratiating way, but in an authentic, natural-extension-of-your-personality sort of way. I always assumed (without actually thinking about it, and that is important), that it was the way to be, not to act.

By definition that would translate to possessing the quality of pleasing, fascinating, or attracting people, or delighting them greatly. This, as opposed to "casting a magical spell" over them, is what I am referencing.

To me, the charm recipe has been equal parts a healthy desire to please, lovely manners which strive to put others at ease and at comfort, along with a dab of that X-factor of "personality."

I am fortunate to have many friends who are from the South, and I can attest to the perceived fact that there is something to the expression "Southern charm." Both men and women from Virginia, the Carolinas and their neighboring states seem to ooze charm, confidently, effortlessly, with nary a self-conscious bone in their well-clad bodies. Is it innate in the DNA of those who hail from south of the Mason-Dixon? Is it a cultural inheritance, reinforced by modeled behavior and communities? Is it valued more in educational setting and families...including sororities whose sisterhoods claim charm as a Greek point of character?

Or is charm now an anachronism, headed the way of the classic charm bracelet? (And I'm not talking about those Italian charm bracelets or Pandoras here.)

I still wear my charm bracelets, the favorite of which was handed down to me by a relative whose husband was a romantic with a direct line to Caldwell's jeweler ( a now-defunct but long-heralded citadel of style here in Philadelphia).

The bracelet, circa 1950's...

Uncle Dick's love for Aunt Betty is evident....not in the abundance of charms (because he thought too many was "gaudy"), but in the superlative quality and size of the charms themselves (most measured 1 1/2" to 2" in length, all in 18k, with sapphires, diamonds and rubies). There was the horse shoe studded with rubies, reminiscent of their stable, Uncle Dick's Navy Cross, the now-out-of-favor St. Christopher's medal with sapphires, a working whistle--a tribute to Lauren Bacall's famous "You know how to whistle, don't you?" line to Bogie. Each charm was engraved "Dick to Betty" along with the date of the occasion.

The "lovebirds" charm...

When I wear this bracelet, the tinkle of the charms transports me to my childhood, reviving the chic presence of Aunt Betty in her pale blue cashmere cardigan, silk blouse and matching pale blue swing skirt...her black hair in a simple chignon, the nascent whiff of Caron's Bellodgia...

Most of all, the bracelet is a tactile and tacit reminder of the charm of its first owner, her roots deep in Maryland history: her soft drawl, her sweet laugh, her lively eyes, her flawless manners that somehow were not stiff and formal, but borne out of an organic ability to make everything more beautiful in her relationships and her surroundings. There was a small sadness to her charm as well; she was childless, and she and Dick treasured me as their "borrowed" child.

In this modern day of short time, short attention spans and tempers, I pause to reflect...

Charmed, I'm sure,


Mrs. Z said...

Lovely post Anne! I love charm bracelets - so many wonderful stories in every one!

sle said...

My charm bracelet is one of my most treasured possessions because each tinkling noise reminds me of special times and people in my life. My grandmother very quickly sized people up and if you were labeled as charming or precious you were good enough to pass muster. Pandora may be around now but I agree that true charm bracelets will always stand the test of time. And you, Anne Lake, are quite charming!

Kathie Truitt said...

Lovely post, Anne....and welcome back! I've missed you.

marie said...

It was so welcome to again see you posting.
This post reminds me of my desire to give my daughter her grandmother's bracelet. It is so much more personal than the Pandora bracelets that are everywhere.

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Living well is the best revenge...and a choice we make every day. Join me as I celebrate the bounty of beauty in all its forms: fashion, homestyle, accessories and everyday I juggle the roles of Mommy, wife, daughter, dog mommy, creative director, Zumba instructor, volunteer...all with more than a passing glance backward to an old-school, classic time when style was a way of life