Perhaps it is true that you can't judge a book by its cover, but I believe that you can judge a gift by its packaging. In fact, I have to admit that, whether giving or receiving, I often care just as much about the box, the tissue, the ribbons, or string as I do about what is inside all that delicious concealment.
Just think of the Varga girl, those World War II-era pin-ups painted by Alberto Vargas. They were all the more enticing because of the satin and pearls and chiffon in which the artist draped them. Part of the power of the 1940s pinup lay in what was barely hidden, what was anticipated; the fabric or flowers or ribbons revealed the form of the woman without giving away everything. There was room for imagination, lust, and even a sense of humor. After all, what's sex without humor?
So it is with most things in life: the form of a well-written poem is satisfying to the eye and ear; the shape of a well-made coffee mug is pleasing to the hand; how we contain things matters. My favorite buttons housed in a plastic baggie appear a little sad. Slip them into a vintage teacup or a wooden bowl and they are as luscious as candy.
My craving for pretty parcels was deeply satisfied today when my husband and I visited two of our favorite shops in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Red Chair Antiques and Bowerbird and Friends, where we bought vintage labels, bottles, drawer pulls, and thread in vivid shades of plum and blue and red. We spent only a few dollars in each shop, but the women who sold us the items wrapped them with care in paper adorned with ribbons at Bowerbird and vintage stamps at Red Chair. Once home with our small bundles, we had the pleasure of discovery all over again as we undressed them to reveal the treasures within.