Mandarin’s Jade – 1937 short story
Farewell my lovely – 1940 novel
from guest blogger Veronica Horwell
When Raymond Chandler cannibalised his short stories in 1930s pulp magazines to construct his novels, he updated the fashion. Not for the bit parts – some guys didn’t even get to change their sock suspenders -- nor for the dangerous dames, much. Chandler knew that dressing for seductiveness is often incompatible with fashion, and had his fantasy self Philip Marlowe wriggle out of describing a vamp in Farewell My Lovely, 1940, with “I didn’t pay much attention to her clothes. They were what the guy designed for her and she would go to the right man.” But when Chandler, through his hero, evaluated a rare female ally, they got the full Vogue caption.
There were only a few such women and they earned a fair part of their own living. The best-dressed is Carol Pride in the Dime Detective 1937 short story, Mandarin’s Jade, who became the Celtic redhead Anne Riordan when Chandler lengthened the story into Farewell, My Lovely; both Carol and Anne save the private eye’s neck through independent competence. Carol/Anne inherited their cool head and steady hand from their dead, honest-cop, dad; he had been suckered into buying a little land that produced oil and pumped out a small income, which subsidised their feature-writing -- Carol/Anne are both journalists, with their own bungalows and fussless décor of Navajo rugs, desks, hand-woven curtains. Their clothes mark a period of fast transition for woman in employment: Carol visits the detective’s office in a speckled tweed suit, with “mannish shirt and tie”. Later she wears a plaid overcoat with suede collar, and a “funny little octagonal hat that had a red button”. Her outfits blend borrowed masculinity – the tweeds and tie go back to the serious, educated woman of Chandler’s English Edwardian youth -- and what he elsewhere called “ditziness” – the surreal sculptural shapes Schiaparelli introduced into fashion in the 1930s. They don’t quite mix, and Carol’s clothes lack a certain ease and maybe sexual confidence; Chandler keeps her “nice” to contrast with the femme fatale.
Best of all, when Anne meets Marlowe over a dead body in a lonely canyon, she puts “her hands down into the pockets of a long rough coat with flaring shoulders”. (In which she packs cigarettes and pistol, although she isn’t responsible for the corpse: she carries a flashlight, too.) Flaring shoulders might mean the jutting, padded shoulders of 1940, but sound more like the cut of a swagger coat, which as a flared-shape long jacket, or knee-length wrap, was the outer garment of the 1940s, its looseness allowing layers of workwomanlike separates, and those patch pockets (or sometimes slit pockets, like a pea-jacket) intended for hard use. It’s not a garment for nice girls who wait and hope to be kissed. It encourages an elbows out, hands and everything else in pockets, 24 hours: it’s all the time we’ve got, can-do attitude. “Don’t you know there’s (soon to be, in the US) a war on?”
With thanks to Veronica (again – see her previous guest blogs here and here) who says the clothes described in the works above sound just like her own wardrobe…
Ladies styles in topcoats is from the NY Public Library collection - the two models to the left of the picture are described as swagger coats. The swagger jacket is from the same source – the sketch came in two lengths: coat or jacket. The woman in a slack suit, also NYPL, was part of the World’s Fair fashion show.