Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dress Down Sunday: Live Alone and Like it by Marjorie Hillis


published 1936


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES




Live Alone bedjacket


[Instructions for life as a single woman]

We would also like to say a few words about your bedroom wardrobe.

[You need] a luscious pink satin nightgown, well-cut and trailing. Next of course you’ll need negligees – at least two, one warm and one thin, and as many more as you can afford. Have them tailored or chi-chi according to your type, but have them becoming. And don’t think that four bed-jackets are too many if you belong to the breakfast-in-bed school. A warm comfortable one for every-day use and a warm grand one for special occasions. A sheer cool one for summer mornings, and a lacy affair to dress up in. You can make the last two yourself out of remnants, in practically no time at all. For the others, have one of quilted silk or Shetland wool, and another of padded satin or velvet in the shade that makes you most beautiful.


Live Alone 1 negligee


Case Study: [Miss P is receiving a guest in her bedroom] She was propped against pillows wearing an opalescent white satin nightgown with Alencon lace and a shell-pink velvet bed-jacket. The blanket cover on her bed was shell-pink too, with strips of lace.


commentary: Each informative and educational chapter in this book is backed up with ‘case studies’: anecdotes of women who either have or haven’t followed the good advice on offer. In the case of Miss P, she is trying to make an old schoolfriend, visiting the big city, envious; and has worked out that saying she is ill and receiving her in bed will be much cheaper and more effective than taking her out and about to smart restaurants. ‘During tea, Miss P was twice called on the telephone by beaux.’ We don’t even need to be told that this has been pre-arranged with some ingenuity.

Live Alone is fascinating mostly for the picture it gives us of a bygone age: working women living in Manhattan and heading off to the office in suits and hats. Of course the book was for women everywhere, but I kept seeing it as New York, and in fact visualizing Claudette Colbert or Katherine Hepburn or Ginger Rogers. Whoever they are, Marjorie Hillis is telling them  very firmly that they can enjoy life if they do things her way: the title represents her tone very well, with that slight air of bossiness. She is one of those people who thinks her own views are Just Common Sense, and that life is that simple. She would have fitted in well in 1970s and 1980s Cosmopolitan magazine – as it was, she worked for Vogue for years.

Some things don’t change. Marjorie (I feel we are on first-name terms) is very keen on decluttering: ‘Clutter is confusing and wearing’ and on self-improvement – there’s a lot of mention of evening classes. And if you are eating alone in your apartment you should do it properly, not just grab something in the kitchen. These instructions could come from any modern self-help book. But the book really is a period piece, to be read for fun.

I consider myself to be queen of the bedjacket, with many a happy entry with splendid discussions in the comments. But I still think the instructions above are over the top, even in a different era. Mind you, I can't imagine running up a little bedjacket out of bits and pieces, with or without the patterns above, but I'm sure some of my readers can: comments and boasts below, please.

BELATED CREDIT: Blogfriend Birgitta put me on to this book (some time ago), and I owe her my grateful thanks. See her comment below. 

The second picture is of Carole Landis, actress, starlet and (I recently found out) a great friend  and possibly lover of Jacqueline Susann, the author of the seminal work and blog favourite  Valley of the Dolls. It has been suggested that the character of Jennifer in that book is partially based on her. 













26 comments:

  1. What a great look at life at another time, Moira. Those 'rules' may not apply any more, but I love the insights into the era. And de-cluttering is always a good idea, I think.

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    1. Yes, that's most certainly true Margot. And just comparing what is similar and what is different nowadays makes this a good read.

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  2. Decorate your window sill with cheap red glass vases from a bric-a-brac shop (but swap them when they start to look sad). And if you can't be pretty or beautiful, be CHIC!

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    1. Oh you could write this book Lucy. I did always love Katherine Whitehorn's Cooking in a Bedsitter, which didn't do décor and clothes but was still full of good advice.

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  3. What bliss, Moira . . . Oh to have one bed-jacket, let alone four. I love the idea of one for dressing up in - sounds a bit decadent . . .

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    1. Well I hope you'll be making your own Chrissie, running one up from odds and ends! The book is terrific fun, I'm sure you would enjoy it - though it might give you notions about endless meals in bed with the plumped up pillows and the best bedjacket. (Why does that sound so attractive?)

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  4. I must, must find this book! Although I like living alone very well, I never knew I needed a bed jacket or four. Although I will say that I have dreamt of a quilted satin comforter since I saw The Little Princess. Also, I believe Carole Landis also had an affair with Clark Gable around the time his wife, Carole Lombard, died.

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    1. Yes you must, Elizabeth, you will love it. Full of great moments. Apparently Carole Lomabard was Carole Landis's heroine, and she chose her name to be similar to her, which would make sense. Landis also had an affair with Rex Harrison, apparently.

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    2. Yes, the story I'd heard was that she committed suicide because Sexy Rexy wouldn't divorce his wife for her.

      I'll always think of a wonderful confection of a movie called Moon over Miami (whose plot was used in at least four movies to my knowledge). Full of romance, singing, dancing, bee-yoo-ti-ful clothes. So much fun.

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    3. Ooh that's one for me to look out for: I don't know it, sounds great.

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  5. I recommended this book some time ago and feel very flattered that you actually did get it and read it... though I have a sneaking suspicion that you didn't like it quite as much as I hoped. I love Marjorie's bracing no-nonsense tone as much as the 1930s atmosphere - and I do find much of her advice, or at least the general tone, timeless. It should be remembered that being single was still seen as a failure for a woman at the time, but Marjorie makes it quite clear that living alone is definitely preferable to living with the wrong person and that the single woman deserves nice clothes, delicious food, a pleasant home and general FUN. Don't wait for a man to begin your life; it is here and now. I read this book after my divorce and really found it inspiring. Oh, and I now own at least one bedjacket, a shell-pink 1930s quilted satin thing!

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    1. Oh thank you Birgitta, I keep terrible records and wasn't quite sure who it was, so am very grateful for the tipoff and glad to give you belated credit. And I did like it a lot, just with a faint feeling that it might not be as easy to sort everything out as she says. But no harm in trying... And well done you with the bedjacket. WE may have to have a bedjacket club here at Clothes in Books.

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    2. I think we'd have quite the membership here...
      Birgitta your belated credit is now above!

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  6. As much as I'd like the book ($9.99 for Kindle), I'd like to get my hands on that pattern even more.

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    1. Yes I knew you would be someone who could run up a fancy little item. It is a remarkably good picture, those bedjackets shimmer...

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  7. I don't know that I would ever read this, but it does sound like fun.

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    1. Just enjoy the blogposts, Tracy, I'm probably going to do another one...

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  8. Nice pair of pins in the photo, I'll be passing on this one (again)!

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    1. Raising the tone as ever, Col. But she is very glam. And you most certainly don't have to read this one.

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  9. No bed jackets for me. But I did own a rose satin nightgown many years ago. Oh...the old days. Different from baggy T-shirts and flannel bathrobes and warm socks.

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    1. Yes, all I want from my nightwear is warmth and cosiness, and that seems to come with older much-loved favourites.

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  10. And aging, I'm afraid. Comfort rules!

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  11. I loved this - the kind of person I want bossing me around, forcing me to buy bed jackets etc. I've yet to read her follow up though - Orchids on your budget. Feel perhaps I'll have to enact all the advice from Live Alone, but someone like Marjorie would even let me near volume 2!

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    1. I didn't know there was a second book! I am doing another post on the first book- there was just too much great detail in it, I had to follow through.

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