The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
published 1958 chapters 1 & 2 set in New York
You see them every morning at a quarter to nine, rushing out of the maw of the subway tunnel, filing out of Grand Central Station… the hundreds and hundreds of girls…. They carry the morning newspapers and overstuffed handbags. Some of them are wearing pink or chartreuse fuzzy overcoats and five-year-old ankle-strap shoes and have their hair up in pin curls underneath kerchiefs. Some of them are wearing chic black suits (maybe last year’s but who can tell?) and kid goves…
Caroline Bender… was wearing a grey tweed suit which had been her dress-up suit in college, and was carrying a small attaché case, which contained a wallet with five dollars in it, a book of commuter tickets, some makeup, and three magazines…
[The next day, April Morrison is going to work:] As she emerged into the street she caught sight of her reflection in the window of a delicatessen next door to her apartment house. Her coat was too short – or was it? She remembered the girl in the tweed suit with the racoon collar who had been working at the desk next to hers yesterday afternoon at Fabian. What a sophisticated-looking girl! Something about her looked - right. Was it the leather gloves?
observations: April is going to start copying Caroline’s style, and they will become friends: aspiring actress Gregg will complete the trio, and they will live out their New York years together, in a predictable but enjoyable romp through love affairs, career decisions, and the inevitable illegal abortion for one of them.
The Best of Everything was a massive bestseller in its day, and is reputed to be one of the inspirations for the TV show Mad Men. It is set in publishing rather than advertising, and doesn’t have the advantage of hindsight – but there is a sumptuous film of the book, and if you can get hold of a copy you would not doubt for one second that the makers of Mad Men had been watching it closely for the office design (nor would you doubt that Joan Crawford is a world treasure, and whatever she was paid wasn’t enough, and she should have had more scenes).
Links up with: All the girls in their big-city apartments (or rooming houses, or hostels) making their way – Valley of the Dolls, The Town in Bloom, Experiment in Love (“women who live together share clothes”), The Bell Jar , The Country Girls. Why is there no parallel genre featuring men sharing apartments together in their 20s?
The picture is from the German Federal Archive, a collection of pictures which they have made available on Wikimedia Commons.