Another Office Xmas Party

Every December on the blog I feature Xmas scenes and Xmas books – I never seem to run out, but am still open to ideas and suggestions.

If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.

 The earlier entry on getting ready for the staff party (from Norman Collins’s Bond Street Story) was so popular that I have dug up another one. I first blogged on this book back in 2012, early days of the blog, and am self-plagiarizing the party entry because I always loved it so much.

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe

published 1958 chapter 12

Office Xmas Party 1

[Fabian Publications Christmas party happens at the end of a normal working day, so the employees come in ready for the event]

‘This is not to be missed’ April said, taking Caroline’s hand and leading her out into the [typing pool].

There was Brenda at her desk, resplendent in gold lame, very tight, with a bow right under where she sat. She wore spike-heeled bronze kid pumps and a great many strings of fake beads. She was drinking her morning coffee out of a paper container, leaving a semicircle of lipstick on the rim, and there was a stack of letters at her elbow, although no-one would do much filing today.

office Xmas party 3

‘Call girl after a hard night,’ Caroline whispered.

‘Do you think she wore that on the subway this morning?’ April whispered back, gulping in her laughter…

Some of the other girls in the pool were more conservatively dressed in black velvet skirts and white beaded sweaters, or plain taffeta with swishing crinolines. The teletype operator was married and thought the whole Christmas party would be a waste of time without her husband, so she had compromised by wearing an ordinary tweed office dress with a spray of tinselled Christmas baubles pinned to the shoulder.

Office Xmas Party 2

commentary: The scenes with the works party – so specific to NY there and then, yet so recognizable to anyone who has ever worked in an office – is one of my favourite sections of this book: it is a hilarious classic, and surely still true to life, at least in spirit. Caroline and April are the book’s heroines, and are wearing sophisticated upmarket dresses in beige and black wool, so the rather crass Mary Agnes says to them: ‘Gee aren’t you two going to get dressed up for the Christmas party?’ Of course Caroline says ‘we are dressed up’ and Mary Agnes looks blank and shrugs. (Jaffe is not one to resist an obvious moment, but it all adds to the joy of the book.) At half-past three the girls from the pool will start heading for the washroom to redo their hair and make-up…

Love the fact that taffeta over a crinoline is not very dressy, and absolutely adore the fashion tip of adding a corsage of baubles to make your tweed dress Christmassy.

The book, which started a whole genre of books following young women’s lives in the city, was a huge bestseller in its day, and was made into a very enjoyable film. Watching the film makes you realize where the makers of Mad Men got many of their ideas…

Bond Street Story came out in 1959, a year after Jaffe’s blissful book, and the books share some ideas, though with significant differences: department store versus publishing, and the Jaffe book concentrates much more on the female POV. And of course every difference between the US and the UK at the time comes up once you start comparing them.

But both books are an absolute delight on the clothes choices and problems of young women going out to work: and both show honest admiration for the way the young women solve those problems on tiny budgets.

Here’s more of the Bond Street Story version of getting ready for the party:
There were pretty girls practically everywhere you looked. But that is the way it is with all staff dances. The transformation is sudden and complete. Generations of employers have been amazed because of it. It is always hard to believe that even the plainest girls can leave the office at five-thirty, dim and colourless and with hair all anyhow, and re-emerge two hours later looking like sleek professional beauties who would faint clean away at the mere thought of having to earn their own living. And Rammell’s, remember, had at least more than averagely presentable ones to start with.

**** There was a very interesting article in the New York Times recently on women's clothes choices for parties and other events - thanks very much to valued reader George Jansen for pointing it out to me.


  1. Oh, this was a great choice, Moira! What an interesting look at the customs and culture of the time and place, too. Hmm....taffeta and crinoline? Nope - I don't think I'd wear that. It's interesting to me how we've changed what just seems 'expected,' if that makes any sense.

    1. Yes, what makes the book so good is the things that are so different now, and those that are just the same. It is a most enjoyable read, and this is one of my favourite bits.

    2. I made my First Communion in white taffeta and a crinoline. All I remember was how it crackled whenever I moved - it was like sitting on a pile of paper grocery bags.

    3. You must have looked a picture. But church clothes that rustle are the worst. I remember arriving late to church in clompy boots and a PVC jacket, and feeling that I was making a terrific amount of noise as I tried to discreetly make my way in.

  2. Well, personally I wouldn't mind a nice, swishing, sweeping, rustling black taffeta skirt with a cashmere sweater (preferably beaded, but I wouldn't make a fuss if it wasn't) in a beautiful colour to go with it! I think it would make a lovely Christmas outfit. But "The Best of Everything" is really a rather sad book, isn't it?

    1. Yes, I think that sounds like a very good look, I would wear that, though not perhaps to the office.
      The prospects for the women were not great, and the book reflects that, so yes it doesn't have a tied up happy ending. I think I always felt it was a lot more cheering than Valley of the Dolls, so I think of it as more of an enjoyable saga read. But you are right.

  3. It was such hard work being a woman in those days! But perhaps it is always hard work being young and worrying about what to wear . . . I must read this.

    1. If you are going on a journey or on holiday it would be the perfect doorstopper to try out... But I hope you will dress like a 50s office Girl Friday while you read it...

  4. I don't like office parties, but I do enjoy reading about them.

    Glen has a favorite Christmas office photo from 1925 that they post at Shorpy's every year:

    1. That's an amazing picture Tracy, thanks so much for sharing. I kept staring and staring at it, enjoying every detail... There are plots for whole novels and films there....


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