LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[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.
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.