Suzanne Fields

Stamping out slovenliness in a culture so tolerant of slobs is probably a hopeless task even for a government that can win wars on two oceans at once, tame big rivers and send a man to the moon and back. Though the tips and suggestions were the kind of advice savvy mothers once offered to their daughters, and attendance was voluntary, after all, it's true that our grandmothers could never have imagined that giving such advice is a task for someone from the government, even a volunteer.

Nevertheless, vanity is not a stranger in the boudoir. Americans -- mostly, but not all of them, women -- spend billions of dollars every year on cosmetics and other beauty aids. The Commerce Department put the figure at $33 billion for one recent year.

Corsets, bustles, push-up bras, control-top pantyhose and other intimate lingerie are meant to tone and burnish women's bodies. Women's fashions have changed since Scarlett O'Hara was laced up with a 17-inch waist, for which all women give thanks, but anyone who pages through almost any magazine can see there's an enormous market for keeping women well-armed for war duty. Spanx is the provocative name for the popular, postmodern "shapewear."

Women in the intelligence services should be the last to be offended by the suggestion that looking good is bad. Mata Hari, the glamorous Dutch spy who died before a French firing squad for service to the Germans in 1917, was faithful to the end to the fashion tradition expected of women in her craft.

When her executioners called for her at dawn for her date with the bullet, she kept them waiting while she dressed carefully, in a long black velvet cloak thrown over a silk kimono, filmy silk stockings and high-heeled slippers tied with silk ribbons about her ankles.

At last, she pulled on long, black kid gloves, and only then told her executioners: "I am ready." She knew how to dress for success.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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