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
[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.
‘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.
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.