Arbitrix Elegantiarum

"I saw Edweena and Henry almost every day. They were engaged to be married as soon as Mr. Wills in far-off London had drunk himself to death on the allowance his wife continued to send him. I loved Edweena and I loved Henry and I'm proud to say they loved me. Never for a moment, in company or alone, did Edweena and I make any reference to having met previously. Even Mrs. Cranston, whom little escaped, had no inkling of it. Edweena had prospered. Her shops, first in New York, then in Newport, were a great success. She had selected and trained assistants and presently handed the management over to the them, because a more satisfying and even more remunerative career opened up for her. No name could be found for it, but she was delighted when (from my fund of 'twelve languages') I offered and explained to her the words arbitrix elegantiarum, 'The woman who dispenses the laws of good taste,' as Petronius Arbiter did at the Emperor Nero's court. She continued to insist that she was a lady's maid, but she turned down all invitations to serve as a maid to any one lady; how far that designation falls short of the role she played in New York and Newport.

One of the first to be called a "stylist,"
Tobé (née Taube Coller) gives advice in the Delineator, 1937. From here.
No ball, no dinner of great occasion was imaginable without Edweena's presence in the boudoir reserved for the ladies. Many guests brought in their own maid with them, but no guest was completely sure of her presented self until Edweena had approved of it. It was her sternly upheld doctrine of nothing too much that had changed the modes of dress. She proffered counsel only when she was asked for it; many a dame, supremely sure of herself in Chicago or Cleveland or even in New York, would start down the great staircase like a galleon in full sail, only to discover that confidence was ebbing step by step, and would remount the stairs. Insecurity as to how one looks can be a torment, particularly in a time of transition; the baroque was passing into the classic. Edweena had not created the new; she had felt the shifting tide 'in her bones' and rode the wave." (354-355)

Wilder, Thornton. Theophilus North. New York: Perennial, 2003 [1973].

Too bad we only call them "stylists" today. But arbitrix elegantiarum sounds so much more turn-of-the-century anyway. A great description of arbiters, also: not creators, necessarily, but those who know how to "ride the wave."