Dress Down Sunday: Clothes in Books is Back....



After a very enjoyable holiday/vacation, Clothes in Books is back on the  beat. One of the places I visited was New York, so another post on this book seemed appropriate - although the advice applies to all women everywhere, the picture painted is very much one of New York life...



Live Alone and Like It Marjorie Hillis

published 1936


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



Live Alone CC


Question: Is it permissible for a youngish unchaperoned woman living alone to wear pajamas when a gentleman calls?

Answer: Assuming that she knows one pajama from another, it is entirely permissible. There are, however, sleeping pajamas, beach pajamas, lounging pajamas, and hostess pajamas. The first two are not designed to wear when receiving anybody, masculine or feminine. The last type is correct for wear when your most conservative beau calls, even though he belongs to the old school and winces when a lady smokes. The third variety comes in all sorts of shadings, from an almost-sleeping type to a practically hostess pajama. Those with a leaning towards the bed are suitable only for feminine guests, while the others would not shock Bishop Manning.



Live Alone 2 Pajamas 3


commentary: I’ve already done a post on this book, but there was just too much material in it for one visit. Blogfriend Birgitta put me on to this book (some time ago), and again I owe her my grateful thanks. 

Hillis is talking about the single life for women in the USA in the 1930s, and the attitudes to men, sex and affairs are particularly interesting and worth reading. She asks and answers questions about how much of a sexlife her theoretical single woman might have. She says firmly
Certainly, affairs should not even be thought of before you are 30. Once you have reached this age, if you will not hurt any third person and can take all that you will have to take – take it silently with dignity, with a little humour, and without any weeping or wailing or gnashing of teeth – perhaps the experience will be worth it to you. Or perhaps it won’t. The sad truth is that whatever you decide, you’ll think you regret it.
I found that interesting and surprising, though I suspect that her Bishop Manning - Episcopal bishop of New York City, 1921–1946, and strong supporter of marriage and of his morals - would not have agreed with her. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such ideas laid out in a straightforward way in the 1930s: whatever people were doing in private, it is unusual to read something so generous-minded and with a real aim to be helpful. Especially given that she is extremely judgemental about all kinds of other things, things that you might think less important: eating at the kitchen table and not having enough bedjackets, for example. (See earlier post. The correct minimum number is 4, by the way.)

I mentioned before the ‘case studies’ at the end of each chapter. Via poor Miss D she warns against not having a nice enough apartment:


Since she cannot ask her men friends to her house, she is getting to be a little too ready to go to their apartments. We fear that Miss D will come to no good end.Live Alone 2 Pajamas
Her views on drinking are also interesting – this is a couple of years after Prohibition ended. She is busy telling the single ladies what a great idea it is to have a cocktail party, and then stressing that there is no need to offer a huge range of drinks, a well-thought-out offering is quite good enough. I was nodding away at this, as it reflects my own ideas of drinks for parties, when she revealed that this modest drink list requires only seven different kinds of alcohol. I didn’t think anyone but cocktail bars had quite so much on offer… sherry, gin, Scotch, rye, French and Italian vermouth, bitters. And not a drop of wine mentioned…

Marjorie is keen on ladies filling their time with self-improvement and hobbies, and has one quite splendid idea: she says if you learn some form of fortune-telling, you will always be popular and invited to parties to show off your astrology, numerology, or reading the cards. In addition you will have to be one-to-one with men as you fascinatingly discover wonderful things to happen to them. Any fortune-teller is a real asset, she points out.

By the end of the book you can imagine just what Marjorie (as I said before, I feel on first-name terms with her) is like: bossy, opinionated, forever saying ‘My dear!’, but good-hearted and warm. I like her stressing that women should make themselves happy, treat themselves well. Still applies, even though 80 years have passed.


















Comments

  1. Hope yoy enjoyed your holidays, Moira. Nice to see you back.

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    1. Thanks, Jose Ignacio: I had a great time, and feel very refreshed...

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  2. So glad to see you back, Moira. And I just absolutely love this look at the mores and social expectations of the times. It's really fascinating. And I can see how you might end up feeling on a first-name basis with Marjorie Hillis, too.

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    1. It's a great book because full of historical detail, but also plenty of modern common sense.

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  3. Interesting, and by coincidence we're planning a trip to NYC for later this fall.

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    1. I hope you have as great a time as we did!

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  4. Welcome back, Moira! I have a feeling that I read this years ago (maybe when I was young and living alone and not liking it). I didn't follow the bed-jacket advice . . .

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    1. What? I am shocked! Marjorie says you can easily run up a bed-jacket from bits and pieces you know. I'll be expecting to hear that you have done this...

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  5. It sounds like a very entertaining book. And this quote - "The sad truth is that whatever you decide, you’ll think you regret it." - seems quite applicable, not just to matters of sex, but to far too many major decisions.
    But what if too many women took up the suggestion of fortune telling? Parties would be congested with tall, handsome strangers, travels across the water and an important person beginning with ‘E’ – or possibly ‘B’. Or ‘X’. Not to mention the disapproving looks as a guest begins rooting through their dinner, to read the entrails.

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    1. It is a telling quote isn't it, you know exactly what she means.
      The fortune-telling tip has to be kept among the elite, so that not everyone takes it up! There's reading the tealeaves too- no social event is safe.

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  6. Moira: Glad you are back. Do you think anyone has ever taken seriously advice books on how to live life? Fun to read but are they actually followed? Would a young woman of the 1930's or the 2110's have their lives guided by a book? It is clear I am skeptical. I would be interested in your thoughts.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean Bill. I think people read them for general encouragement - this one is full of slightly unconvincing stories where Jane did the right thing, and as a result her life improved. I can imagine (as a young woman) sitting in bed reading that and thinking 'oh yes that would definitely be me' - but not doing it.
      However, I once read a book called 'Cooking in a Bedsitter', a mixture of advice and recipes. One thing author Katherine Whitehorn gave us was 'order of work when you are entertaining and running late', and to this day I follow her practical advice! 1) lay the table so the guests know they have come on the right day 2) get yourself ready and 3) only then continue with the cooking. Her argument is that you can cook in front of your guests, but not tidy or primp. It is very sound!

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    2. Well Ms. Whitehorn is very practical though not as dramatic as Ms. Hillis. I can certainly see following Ms. Whitehorn's advice but surely you have never been "entertaining and running late"? I think of you as that supremely organized woman who gives sound advice to the less organized.

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    3. Umm, I'm not in court and under oath, right Bill? Well in that case - of course I am terribly well-organized. Terribly..... (Sometimes)

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  7. She's right about the fortune telling. I learned how to read palms in my early 20's and never regretted the chance of holding NH some good-looking mans hand while I found out more about him. Wish I could remember how to do it!

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    1. Oh how very smart of you! It clearly is a good idea. I bet you have some stories...

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  8. This sounds like it should be called Live Alone and Like It (If You Have Enough Money). But still, very entertaining and good advice to women to take control of their own lives.

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    1. You are right Tracy, though she does pay lip service to limited budgets. But much of her advice does revolve round a well-paid job. And, as you say, the underlying thought behind it is very proper.

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    2. She also wrote a book called "Orchids on Your Budget" (or "Live Smartly on What Have You") which is about how to live well on relatively little money. This was during The Great Depression and Marjorie had experienced economic misfortune herself and is as unsentimental and bracing about this as about everything else:

      "We can think of few things more futile than stewing because one hasn't enough money - or few things about which people do more stewing. Enough money for what? Ten chances to one, for a house like the Smiths' or a trip to the Mediterranean or a new evening wrap. We'd like them too, but we don't have to have them, and we'd feel no better in the larger house; the European trip would only start us planning trips to China; and the solid ermine wrap wouldn't make a hit unless we made one too."

      How true, still. The trick is (says Marjorie) never to be embarrassed and never to complain. And not to be sentimental. Better to move to a small, grubby flat in an undesirable neighbourhood and do it up prettily on the cheap and with an attitude than to hang on to the too expensive home that eats up your income because you cannot face admitting defeat or because you are attached to it. "The transfer may hurt your feelings, but it shouldn't hurt your pride."

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    3. Yes I had heard mention of another book, though knew nothing about it: it sounds most intriguing, I will try to find it. The bits you quote are very sensible and endearing.

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  9. After your first post about this book, I was able to find it on Open Library (on a waiting list...I suspect this was your doing!). Very interesting, funny, and in parts (from a modern point of view) quite sad.

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    1. Oh, so glad you found it and liked it! Yes, interesting mixture of relevance and history. And you're right, a melancholic air at times...

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  10. Welcome back Moira! That top photo, with Claudette Colbert, can't really count as a pyjama, can it, with the shoulder pads and all? Looks damn uncomfortable! On the other hand: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/9c/ff/6f/9cff6f2942bc8c4185e21874d91de0e5.jpg

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    1. I might know you would catch me out on my film stills!However: the caption of the photo is:

      Claudette introduces one-piece pajamas for informal dinners at home. The pajamas are in black and gold metal cloth in a flattering but simple line. The outfit has been a flattering but simple line.
       
      The outfit has been glamorized by placing gold kid flowers at the neckline and across the front of the belt. Miss Colbert's sandals are of gold kid and mesh.

      --while not arguing for a moment that no-one would actually wear these as pajamas, nor (probably) for informal entertaining at home.

      I have actually used CC in the borrowed PJs of your chosen pic before now - it's one of my favourite clothes/film refs, it's The Palm Beach Story isn't it? I used a couple of shots on this entry, a book that I see you reviewed too! http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/dress-down-sunday-book-of-1932.html

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    2. Definitely PALM BEACH, though many, not as wise as we, might go for IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT :)

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    3. I know! It's a common mistake. But as you say, of course not one WE would make...

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  11. I bought a copy of this book when you last reviewed it, but I'll have to dig it out of my pile. Just finished Al Franken's "Giant of the Senate" and loved it.

    As for the cocktails, I think people rather overdid it as a reaction to Prohibition. In the recent documentary (was it a Ken Burns one?) about Prohibition, I think they said more people drank as a result of Prohibition than did before. Definitely a backfire!

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    1. Al Franken! I remember him from when we lived in the US, but he doesn't get much coverage in the UK.
      Interesting theory about (and argument against, as if we need another one) Prohibition.

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  12. Welcome back!

    Women have always been encouraged to hold themselves to higher standards. I can imagine a book asking men whether it is alright to allow a women into the house when you are unshaven and dressed in boxer shorts, tea-stained T-shirt, ratty dressing gown and moth-eaten slippers and getting a growly 'Yeah' in response...

    The stuff about the potential sex-life of the thirty-something female is fascinating, not least because there had been something of a crackdown on 'indecency' in the movies at the time because of worries about public morality. It's rather refreshing to think that someone was willing to admit that consenting adults could have sex with one another, and that a lady could enjoy herself without being a 'fallen' woman.

    The stuff about the right nummber of drinks to keep in the house is probably directly linked to the fact that prohibition had only just ended a few years before. If you look at the movies of the time, a lot of characters tend to hit the bottle as though it was going out of fashion. There's THE THIN MAN of course, but I can also remember a movie by James Whale called REMEMBER LAST NIGHT?, which was released a year before this book. A group of young socialites investigate the murder of one of their group who has been murdered. It's particularly hard because all of them were so drunk that none of them can remember anything about it. I suspect that nowadays the general public are probably far more hung-up about excessive drinking than about sex.

    I've always loved THE PALM BEACH STORY!

    ggary

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    1. Thanks!
      Yes the picture of life is unexpected in several ways. I always thought the strict purity of movies post-Hays Code might be misleading about real life. And drinking post-Prohibition taken very lightly. Love the sound of that film, I must try to find it. James Whale ... I remember also that wonderful 90s film about his final days, Gods and Monsters. Now there are 2 films I want to see straightaway. 3, including Palm Beach Story...

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  13. Thought you might like to know there is a new biography of Marjorie Hillis coming out. It's called "Extra Woman", by Joanna Scutts. Just seen a listing for it.

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    1. Oh, hooray! She wrote a very interesting article about Marjorie Hillis which I found on the Internet some time ago, and in it she mentioned that she was working on a biography, but I didn't know it was out. I'll order it as a Christmas present for myself - together with 10 or so other titles gleaned from this blog, which are also on my list of Christmas presents for myself. I always order a pile of books for myself for Christmas, and I am always very happy with my presents. :-)

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    2. Oh hooray from me too, thanks for the info. I will definitely want to read that.
      And Birgitta that is such a compliment, thank you!

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