Is Brainy The New Sexy ...?

Waists are back in.

Toe cleavage is out.

I'm willing to bet money that half the fashion magazines next spring will be running pieces on "naval fashion" just as they are currently running pieces heralding "x colour as the new black" and advising women on how to add a touch of leopard to their 'look' in such a way that avoids making them look like a reality TV 'star' ...

Men are 'allowed' to spend money on 'masculine' pursuits such as motorbikes without being condescended to, but women who chose to spend their own - often hard earned money - on clothes can be mocked. Yes it's a double standard. Some of the brightest women I know work in fashion. But ...

Too often I see women who've clearly put huge amounts of time and money into their outward physical appearance to attract men - for example the push-up bikini and groomed to within an inch of agony bodies on the beach ... but oddly they don't put the same amount of effort into their minds, as is clear from the lack of thought that goes into their reading material, as one male friend pointed out. Those women don't have style: they're fashion victims - the sorts of women who do strange things such as put silicone sacks into their bodies, and think that when people say "it's what's underneath that matters" they're talking about racy lingerie.

Olympia Le-Tan produces a selection of minaudières shaped like books each season. Yes, sometimes I've cattily wondered if the women I see clutching them at parties have read them, let alone can hold a conversation about them ... and the answer is that the woman I tested my theory on could. I was guilty of stereotyping women who put effort into fashion as being shallow, but the truth is that women fought for our right to earn out own livings, and surely part of feminism should be accepting that women also have the right to spend their money as they wish.

Some of Olympia Le-Tan's clutches are prettier, but if I earned enough money to buy one I'd go for this one as it's both the most versatile and the wittiest.* (Please ignore the horrific styling in the photo).

£1044 at Luisa Via Roma (A selection of different book designs is available at Net-A-Porter.)

I might have experience of British Seamen, but I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't admit to not having read the book. (For those interested in the actual book, it's available at Amazon UK and Amazon US etc - the author, David Mathew, was a Roman Catholic bishop as well as an historian).

To return to the original question, for many men brainy has always been sexy. And accessories have long provided the opportunity to express wit. Fashion comes, fashion goes - but intelligence is always in style.

Sometimes men seem to think with their little heads rather than their big heads, but not always. Take the Duke of Devonshire and his infamous menage a trois which featured in Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Kindle UK; Amazon US). Although it sounds as if the Duke was thinking with his small head in taking a mistress ... Georgiana was a rather silly girl. She wasn't involved in politics; she slept with a politician. Her love life may have been exciting, but she was not particularly interesting - certainly not according to her husband. Far more interesting was Lady Elizabeth Foster nee Hervey, the much-maligned mistress whom the Duke of Devonshire married after Georgiana's death. Thanks to Foreman's biography, Elizabeth is now universally derided.

Elizabeth was certainly a physically attractive woman, as we can see in portraits: this one by Angelica Kauffman is now in Ickworth House. But for a man as powerful as the Duke of Devonshire to keep her by his side from 1782 until his death in 1811, and for him to marry her in 1809 when not only did he not 'have' to, but she was 50 and had probably lost much of her youthful bloom ...

Although Elizabeth's role as anything other than a bedroom distraction is glossed over in Foreman's biography ... my guess is that what kept the Duke interested in her was her brain and their common interests. Georgiana may have been 'fun' and had a nice selection of hats, but Elizabeth was educated and intelligent.

Edward Gibbon - of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire fame - was a huge fan of hers. She funded a translation of Horace into Italian by Molajoni. And she corrected it before publication where she thought it was inaccurate. The Iter ad Brundusium and the Aeneid were also illustrated and published thanks to her.

She was a patron of the arts as well as a great Classicist. She arranged for the Vatican to have casts of the Parthenon frieze soon after Lord Elgin brought it to London. She got involved in the post-Napoleon repatriation of works of art to Italy. And ...

This is what the Roman Forum looked liked in 1760; a higher resolution version of this engraving by Piranesi is here.

By the time Elizabeth visited after her husband's death, the arch had been cleared of the accumulation of topsoil, but much of the Forum was still buried and used as pasture for cows.

Cardinal Ercole Consalvi helped her get a permit, and in December 1816 Elizabeth started to excavate, beginning with the Column of Phocas - seen here in the left foreground. Then she dug around the area, down to the Roman travertine paving. Some of her finds can be seen in the Capitoline museum, such as the porphyry column shafts.

I've heard a lot of women apologize for Georgiana, saying she was a 'product' of her age - but so was Elizabeth, and a much more interesting one (or so the Duke thought!).

Books that do sell well to the silicone sex-pots these days are often ones on how to capture a husband. Many of them seem to advise pretending to be a certain way to 'snag' a man but these days marriage is not for life ... and surely the men will divorce them as soon as they realise the fraudulence of their pretense? As a wise contemporary Hervey Lady recently reminded me: it's easy to convince a man to marry one, far harder to keep him interested enough to stay married. Lady Elisabeth Hervey clearly knew the secret to a long term relationship - engaging a man's brains. Witty beats pretty, and I suspect the very clever as well as beautiful Dr Amanda Foreman would agree.


* = Instead, Ellie has this Kikkerland lead, as she's a hot dog ...  £15.44 at Amazon UK