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.
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.ReplyDelete
Yes, that's most certainly true Margot. And just comparing what is similar and what is different nowadays makes this a good read.Delete
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!ReplyDelete
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.Delete
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 . . .ReplyDelete
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?)Delete
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.ReplyDelete
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.Delete
Yes, the story I'd heard was that she committed suicide because Sexy Rexy wouldn't divorce his wife for her.Delete
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.
Ooh that's one for me to look out for: I don't know it, sounds great.Delete
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!ReplyDelete
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.Delete
I think we'd have quite the membership here...Delete
Birgitta your belated credit is now above!
As much as I'd like the book ($9.99 for Kindle), I'd like to get my hands on that pattern even more.ReplyDelete
Yes I knew you would be someone who could run up a fancy little item. It is a remarkably good picture, those bedjackets shimmer...Delete
I don't know that I would ever read this, but it does sound like fun.ReplyDelete
Just enjoy the blogposts, Tracy, I'm probably going to do another one...Delete
Nice pair of pins in the photo, I'll be passing on this one (again)!ReplyDelete
Raising the tone as ever, Col. But she is very glam. And you most certainly don't have to read this one.Delete
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.ReplyDelete
Yes, all I want from my nightwear is warmth and cosiness, and that seems to come with older much-loved favourites.Delete
And aging, I'm afraid. Comfort rules!ReplyDelete
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!ReplyDelete
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.Delete
Well, this is a little late -- but this interview popped up on one my feeds this morning.ReplyDelete
Cool! I bought this book shortly after Moira wrote about it, but only just read it about a week ago. It was very fast, easy reading and rather fascinating. This interview was quite good, too. I like her comment that the unspoken reason for these "extra" women was the astoundingly high (particularly in the UK) death rate from WWI -- something that I also was thinking about when I read it.Delete
Also, a sidebar quote from the NY Times says Hillis was "anglicizing" her book for English readers, so I'm wondering which version Moira read.
And she mentions something she heard of when it was too late to include in her book: a "live-alone" negligee was actually marketed at the time. The book was a serious cultural phenomenon.
Oh fascinating Paula - I think I read an American version: it is now being republished in the UK I believe. And wouldn't it be fab to find a pic of that negligee!Delete
Yes -- I shall have to try my google-fu on it!Delete
Sadly, the first entry was your blog! With the new book out, there were a lot of mention of that, but I couldn't find that negligée. Wa waaaa. But I did find a 40s designer I'd never heard of that I really like -- Elizabeth Hawes. She had some lobster lounging pajamas that were pretty cool.Delete
I'm sure we'll find it somehow, Paula. And for Elizabeth Hawes - see blog entries! https://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Elizabeth+Hawes Two on her own book, which I LOVED, and apparently is available free, and a couple where her designs are illustrating...Delete
How did I miss this??? Of course, you'd know her. :-) Her book sounds fascinating.Delete
I LOVED her book as you'll have seen, and I'm pretty sure you would too...Delete
I ran across Marjorie several years ago and have read all her advice books. I admit it- I love them. They are very much of their time, but the overarching principles are very good. If you're not willing to treat yourself well, no one else will. Marjorie's brisk tones were really helpful last year when I was ill and suffering from situational depression. I used this one to get myself moving again, even when I didn't want to.ReplyDelete
Oh that's good to know. There is a warm-heartedness and a charm about her that I can see would help....Delete
It was like having a good friend who could give you advice without being pushy, and who objectively had your best interests at heart.Delete
Just to take one example, her discussion of being a tourist in your own city was really good, and helped me enormously when I was recovering. I have lived in large cities and small since I read her books, and am more likely to go and do the touristy things that you put off because you live there (it's amazing how many people live around Washington, D.C., and almost never visit the Smithsonian museums, for example.) When I lived in a smaller city, I went to the Tourist Office and found out about several things I'd never have seen otherwise. I also got much better about sampling new restaurants instead of sticking to the tried and true, and planning little excursions to nearby areas. If you live near DC, you could go to Old Town Alexandria, or Kensington Park's Antique's Row, or take a trip to Baltimore for the day. And all of these can be done on public transportation.
I think Marjorie assumed that women who had survived the Great Depression were grownups who had Seen Some Things, and just needed a little encouragement to get their lives on track.
I really liked this part:
“…Think of the things that you, all alone, don’t have to do. You don’t have to turn out your light when you want to read, because someone else wants to sleep. You don’t have to have the light on when you want to sleep, because somebody else wants to read. You don’t have to get up in the night to fix somebody else’s hot water bottle, or lie awake listening to snores, or be vivacious when you’re tired, or cheerful when you’re blue, or sympathetic when you’re bored. You probably have your own bathroom all to yourself, too, which is unquestionably one of Life’s Great Blessings.”
She might say that her book isn't a brief in favor of living alone, but she's got no problem pointing out the advantages!
Honestly, I could gush about Marjorie all day, but I'll spare your inbox! :)
You have done a lovely job of praising her, and encouraging people to read her! She has such great perceptions, along with those nice social details of the time.Delete