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Valentine’s Day Lessons from Hal Rubenstein

The fashion and lifestyle authority, whose book, The Looks of Love, turns one this year, reminds us how to love—in style

Judging the book The Looks of Love by its cover, you might think it was a style guide for your dating life. After all, its author is Hal Rubenstein, a veteran tastemaker who has served as InStyle’s Fashion Director for nearly two decades. But modern dating dress codes have a sordid history, often having little to do with style: At early 20th century debutante balls, the women on display only wore white, signifying their purity and virginity. On this season’s premiere of The Bachelor, no one wore white, 12 contestants wore red, and one wore a shark costume.

Mercifully, Rubenstein’s 2016 tome is not a guide to dressing to impress your dates, but rather a deep visual and historical dive into the relationships that have most influenced our culture. While the book does break down certain courtships by the clothes that defined them, it’s equally focused on the less tangible aspects of these relationships, from Bonny and Clyde’s mutual disregard for the law to Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s bubble-gum domesticity captured on early reality TV.

Released last year, the book’s iconic romances induce even more hardcore nostalgia now, given our nation’s post-election divisions. But as Rubenstein told DuJour, when warm and fuzzy feelings are in short supply is the exact time to practice kindness. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we asked Rubenstein for five tips, not just for the oft-dismissed romantic holiday, but for sparkling people skills all year round.

The Looks of Love by Hal Rubenstein

Don’t overthink it

“People think cooking dinner is corny. You want to know something? It’s not. It’s pretty damn great. I’ve entertained 70 to 80 people. For our [recent] anniversary, my husband and I invited 40 people and took over Peasant, my favorite restaurant in New York City. But when David’s feeling crappy, I cook. I will make pot roast or meatloaf or chicken soup. Why? It’s a simple gesture. And all it means is that you’ve been paying attention.

If you’re going to buy anyone clothing, it always has to be soft—cashmere or mink, unless you’re anti-fur. If you’re going to give flowers, they have to have a scent. Flowers that have no scent like carnations, gladiolas or hydrangeas aren’t romantic. Give them something that sparkles. Nobody has ever turned their nose up at a bottle of champagne. I know these things sound corny, but it’s really not hard to do the right thing.”

It doesn’t have to be just between you and your significant other

“We actually spend every Valentine’s Day with another couple. As a birthday gift several years ago, two good friends of ours gave us a gift certificate to Per Se. Then we found out that they had never been, so we said, “Why don’t you come with us?” We had such a great time that we made it a tradition and every Valentine’s Day the four of us have a double date together.” 

Think outside the box…

“The weird thing is, New York City doesn’t have a lot of romantic restaurants, but there are some terrific, fun, and really romantic restaurants in New Jersey. We have a house upstate and there are loads of restaurants around there: Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills or Bartlett House in Ghent, for example. Do a little research and find something that’s a little bit off the beaten path, because New York City has cool restaurants that are hip, that are young, but not a lot that are romantic.” 

…Or give the gift of a puppy in a box

“I absolutely would [give someone a puppy] but make sure you, number one, live together, and number two, understand that a dog’s a lot of work—especially a puppy. They have to be walked five times a day and not by a dog walker, necessarily. Dogs are unconditional love machines. All they care about is you and you being with them and enjoying their company. Our mini Goldendoodle, Murray, is sleeping at my feet right now. But loving anything is a lot of work. Loving your children, loving your partner. Loving your parents. Loving your friends. Loving a dog. It’s a lot of work.” 

Fruit and chocolate don’t mix.

“I love chocolate, but I think chocolate covered strawberries are one of the stupidest things in the world to eat. Food is so romantic, but don’t try to make it look like a flower arrangement. If someone gave me an Edible Arrangement, that would just make me laugh. I’m sorry, there’s nothing sexy about cantaloupe spears. You want a cantaloupe, go by a cantaloupe and slice it and eat it.”