Melanie Jarrell has come to champion, not to chasten.
In a suit and red heels, she is the personification of what she writes, even in new braces.
“I’m learning how to be elegant in them,” she said with a smile.
"Refinement of Manner: Manners, Etiquette & Elegance for the Twenty-First Century Woman" is Jarrell’s first book. In her day job as CEO of Environmental Strategies, she responds to oil spills, writes plans and helps companies stay in compliance with the rules. So perhaps it’s only natural she’d want to help others adhere to society’s edicts.
“It’s a mentorship,” she said. “I was mentored by women ahead of me, and I want to do the same.”
"Refinement of Manner" begins from the ground up in a comprehensive, 269-page guide to everything: courtesy, clothes closets, brunches, boardrooms, conversation and crystal. But it's more than just an etiquette guide. Jarrell has written an enormously detailed guide to life and the legacy one leaves behind. Mantras and mission statements are an important facet of her philosophy, as is discipline mixed with humor and a lighthearted approach.
“Anyone who has strategy, tactics and objectives will get things done,” she said. “These women all deserve a richer, fuller life, not spending a life texting and Twittering.
“This generation just doesn’t know.”
When not traveling for work, Jarrell lives in Lafayette and calls herself a child of the ’70s.
“I was born after my time,” she said. “The ’30s and ’40s had some of the most elegant women. I relate more to those decades than today.”
Formerly shy, Jarrell realized that guidelines — finding out the right things to do — helped. She also discovered no one else was doing them and that she could help women get ahead more easily.
"Refinement of Manner" began as a “Dear Kathryn” letter to the daughter of a friend.
“It unfolded, and I realized it needed to be broader — not about the fork and knife and where they needed to be placed,” she said.
The book took a summer in Paris to outline and a year to write. Jarrell incorporated all of her personal hacks, developed the structure and self-published it. The grass-roots approach is intentional as is sharing her personal journey. Jarrell now has her own publishing company, Blue Ox.
According to the author, the one chapter to take away is “First Impressions.”
“It gets you anywhere, an instant win,” she said. “How you sit, work and entertain. Appropriate look, posture, behavior and demeanor. That’s the biggest takeaway from the book. You never know who’s looking, who’s watching.”
Jarrell found this out personally in Paris while descending a staircase. Some unexpected glare from the sun temporarily blinded her, and she had no choice but to gracefully don her sunglasses or risk tripping. She subsequently observed everyone was looking at her as if she was a person of import.
“The key to the whole book is first impressions,” she said.
Jarrell defines refinement as “a small change that improves something” in addition to being a state beyond demeanor and simple etiquette. It’s an art that’s not achieved through surface means but through the development of certain personal qualities. Jarrell’s own mission statement is three words: kindness, mercy and truth.
“Truth is a short word. It needs to be protected,” she said. “If you live by this, you won’t put yourself above or below others, and, in business, this means having integrity.”
And although social media interactions may have dulled our sense of truth and what’s acceptable, Jarrell says society is poised for the pendulum to swing back the other way.
“I think we’re getting ready to have a backlash,” she said. “The next generation will be called on to make a decision. There will be other ways of socializing. This book is a guide to that. And focusing.”
As for millennials, she thinks they’re going to get it.
“I wrote it not to fuss at them but because they’ll lead the next generation. People will turn away and not trust social media. They’ll stop feeding themselves like that. It’s cyclical.”
And for those who fear the world is already the worse for social media, Jarrell offers encouragement. Society’s mores are not so easily overturned nor are they malleable.
“A standard is a standard, and then there’s sub-standard," she says. "If you choose it, you will always be subservient to the standard. I know civility is an old word, but read a letter from George Washington.
“You will never be the same.”
Refinement of Manner
Available at: NK Boutique, and Queen Bee in Baton Rouge; Pieces of Eight and Dolci Modi in Lafayette. Also available for Kindle.
Cost: $38, hardcover