Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Monthly Archives: April 2015

Down to Business: Top Secret Rosies and some random thoughts on work/life balance

top secret rosiesMy husband and I watched a fascinating documentary last night via Netflix. Top Secret Rosies tells the story of the highly talented and dedicated women who worked as “computers” for the U. S. government during World War II (at the time, the term “computer” referred not to the machine, but to the person doing the computing). Civilians all, these women used their well-educated mathematical minds in ballistics research for the military to increase the accuracy of weapons’  trajectories–in other words, to increase the likelihood that the torpedo or rocket would hit its target, no matter what weather or other atmospheric conditions prevailed.

This was fascinating stuff. I will set aside (temporarily) my personal feelings about things like carpet bombing and Hiroshima. I will also set aside (temporarily) my complete and utter awe of people who function easily in the world of higher mathematics, when the simplest calculations make my brain fog over like London in a Dickens novel. My focus here is on the women and the work the did, and the fact that they did it.

As I trawl around the blogosphere, I find a couple of common fallacies about women and work. Depending on the blogger’s personal and political ideology, it usually goes something like this:

“Before 1965, women were chained within their kitchens. The rare woman who sought a career outside the home was treated as a social pariah and blocked at every turn as she bravely trampled down barriers so that future generations of women would not be chained to their kitchens.”

or, at the other extreme,

“Before 1965, women sang joyfully within their kitchens. The rare woman who was forced by circumstances to work outside the home was an object of pity. If she worked because she (gasp) liked it, her family suffered for her selfishness, or she had to forgo family life altogether and return every night to a lonely supper of crackers and canned soup, which is exactly what she deserved.”

The first group attacks the second group by questioning their values. mocking all things domestic and calling women who pursue them all sorts of ugly names.

The second group attacks the first group by questioning their values, mocking all things industrial, and calling women who pursue them all sorts of ugly names.

Ladies, can we stop all this? Just stop.

Now, there will always be exceptional women like those portrayed in Top Secret Rosies. No one’s suggesting that their lives are typical of every woman. After all, if they weren’t extraordinary, why would someone make a documentary about them? In Top Secret Rosies, most of the “women computers” eventually married and had children. Mind you, not necessarily during wartime, when they were working ’round-the-clock on secret government projects. But within their lifetimes, there was room for both public and domestic lives. Let’s just say they did their part to contribute to the postwar Baby Boom. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

The point of this post is that most women’s lives are, and always have been, an ebb and flow of varying responsibilities, even in the “bad old days” when they were “forbidden” to work, or in the “good old days” when they were “protected” from it.

When I worked full-time away from home, I was still a homemaker, in that I had a home to care for and a mouth to feed, even when it was just my own. Now that I’m at home most of the time, I’m still a businesswoman in that I have clients to serve, meetings to attend, and [sometimes infuriating] software to master. This is the case with most women I know. So why do we feel we have to choose a side and dig in our heels about it?

Just this morning I was reading in the Bible about Lydia, the “seller of purple cloth” who supported the apostle Paul’s ministry out of her abundant resources. Lydia may have been exceptional for her time. She may have been a single woman without children, or a widow with grown children (for everything there is a season), which would explain the freedom to travel around that was unusual for a female in her culture. But in the end, the important thing was not whether she was a businesswoman or a homemaker, or a bit of both. The important thing was that she followed Jesus Christ. That’s what she’s remembered for.

No matter what else I may or may not do in life, no matter what “season” I find myself, I hope the same will be said about me.

 

My Journey to Vintage, part II: DNA edition

patricia el stationMost of what I know about style, I learned from my mother. She did not wear vintage clothing (although what she wore eventually became vintage, to my generation) but she had a classic, ladylike style that I’ve always admired very much. She was never a slave to fashion, choosing carefully from each season’s offerings the styles that looked well on her. She chose her outfits carefully, never outrageous or extravagant, and always immaculately groomed. If I could be half as nicely turned out as she was I would be a happy woman.

patricia on stairs

*I remember feeling quite grown up as we met a few of her friends for lunch at the tony Oak Brook Mall. We wore matching mother-daughter shifts that she’d sewn, sleeveless for summer, in a cool blue and sea-green printed polished cotton, looking and feeling as cool as the proverbial cucumbers on a scorching summer day.

*I remember her “Julmiddag dress,” worn to several Christmas dinners at the Swedish Club of Chicago. It had a red velvet ballet-neck top and white silk damask skirt. For a few years there in the late 1960s and early 1970s, heaven help her if she dared wear anything else. “Mommy, you HAVE to wear it!”  “But people will think I only own one dress!” “Who cares? It’s tradition!”

*I remember a pale blue one-piece swimsuit, demure and fetching at the same time, worn with oversize sunglasses and a floppy hat at our lake cottage in the summer.

*I remember a dark blue belted “White Stag” parka, very James-Bond-at-Chamonix, even if her only “mission” for the day was a trip to the Jewel for milk and bread.

*I remember the fresh-as-springtime floral print suit she wore to my May wedding.

patricia lake michigan*I remember the businesslike tweeds and sensible brogues worn to her job in the public library system’s audio-visual service.

*I remember white Keds sneakers, folded down at the heel so she could slip them on and off easily without untying the laces. Like mother, like daughter.

*I remember the shades-of-Laura-Petrie capri slacks and tops she wore around the house when I had not yet started kindergarten.

*I remember how she urged me to change out of my school dresses and into play clothes right after school, even though I begged to keep my dresses on “like the big girls do.” Clothing fell into categories of appropriateness: school clothes, play clothes, housework clothes, office clothes, dinner-date-with-Daddy clothes, church clothes.andy pat 1990

*I remember how, some years later, she had a dickens of a time getting me to wear anything but blue jeans.

*I remember hand-sewn special occasion dresses that I adored. A blue satin gown for the King of Hearts dance. A floral gown with sweetheart neckline for my first prom. A light-blue tiered gown for my last prom. It made me look like Little Bo-Beep, but I begged for it and adored it. A tea-length gown of palest pink silk damask for my wedding.

*I remember thinking she was, hands-down, the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on.

I still do.

Nighty-night, Mommy.

patricia in her 20s

Patricia Lamont, 1925-2015

 

Sparkling Vintage Musings: My Journey to Vintage

 

diana  haircut

The Princess Diana phase

When I have an idle hour, I love to troll vintage-themed blogs. One of my favorites is Jessica Cangiano’s Chronically Vintage. While dropping by one day, I was inspired by this guest post (by Seanna over at SeannaApproved) to think about why I am so strongly attracted to vintage clothing, decor, pop culture, and everything else. I’ve been mulling this question for quite some time without a clear answer, but a few thoughts have floated to mind.

winged victory

Winged Victory, circa 1978

During my lifetime I have cycled through the usual, often cringeworthy, fashion trends of A Woman My Age: Farrah Fawcett wings Aqua-Netted from here to Sunday; Princess Di haircut over a navy blue suit with a little foulard tie; ripped sweatshirts and legwarmers à la Flashdance, etc., etc. I came to love vintage rather late, but when I did, it felt like coming home.

That said, I should probably clarify (confess?) that I’m not all-vintage-all-the-time. I wish I were. But sometimes it’s hard to find flattering authentic vintage clothes to suit my, er, generous proportions (reproductions are another matter–those are easier to find in larger sizes). Some styles are hard to wear without looking too costumey. I lean toward vintage touches…a string of pearls here, a cameo there, a cheerful apron in the kitchen, a hat just for fun. So if you’re picturing me swathed head to toe in a Fortuny gown or an Edwardian riding habit (iwishiwishiwish!), I’m afraid I must puncture that little thought bubble. Still, if I dressed 100% true to what new-age gurus call my Authentic Self, there’d be a lot less grungewear in my closet and a lot more chiffon.

Okay, with all that out of the way, here’s what I’ve figured out so far. I LIKE VINTAGE BECAUSE:

*I love cotton–the kind of polished cotton that feels so heavenly and crisps right up under a hot iron. (Did you know that there is a perfume called Warm Cotton? Laugh if you want, but clearly it’s not just me.)

*I love darts. Modern clothing replaces darts (which are costlier to manufacture) with stretchy, clingy fabrics unkind to the mature figure. For a squiggly shape like mine, darts are the bee’s knees.

*I love antique slang like “the bee’s knees.” So much of the modern vernacular is vulgar and does violence to the ears and the heart.

*”Vulgar” is one of those words that’s fallen into disuse and should be dusted off now and then.

*Other dusty words that need to be pulled down from the attic and given a thorough airing: dignified, ladylike, modest.

Attempting a classical portrait while stifling a giggle.

Antithesis of a badass b*tch

*With vintage styles, it’s okay to have a mature figure, a rounded figure, a flat figure. Vintage fashion magazines recognize this fact. Modern fashion magazines declare “thin is in and stout is out,” full stop. Very disheartening.

*Vintage clothing manages to be feminine without being overtly sexy. Of course, there’s overtly sexy, too, if that’s your thing, but it’s not mine. So many modern clothes look either mannish or vampish. Makes a woman look tough, coarse, and jaded, somehow. World-weary. Whatever happened to just plain pretty?

*You may have realized by now that I am not a badass b*tch. In fact, I am the polar opposite of a badass b*tch. When I hear that term offered up as a compliment, and cheerfully accepted as such, I get the vapors.

*I love lace. Especially when it’s handmade, soft, and doesn’t itch.

*I love pearls. Looooooove pearls.

*And white gloves, cameos, and corsages.

*And please, thank you, excuse me, and you’re welcome.

Old_Letter*It breaks my heart to hear kids won’t be taught cursive writing anymore. How on earth will they write love letters? You can’t tie up texts with a satin ribbon and put them in a box with a lavender sachet, and pull them out on some rainy afternoon and reminisce.

*The place in my heart that breaks for the demise of cursive writing is the same place that sings for vintage.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. I’m sure more reasons will occur to me. I’ll try to get more precise. In the meantime,  what about you?

Are you a fan of vintage styles?

If so, why?

If not, why not?

 

 

Does this car match my lipstick?

car and driverI have stumbled upon the most amazing treasure–a book written in 1917 called Woman as Decoration by Emily Burbank, a visual artist’s point of view about how to complement one’s surroundings by what one puts on one’s body–what to wear while sitting in your sun-room, say, or walking in your garden, or ice skating, to form a pretty picture for anyone who happens to be looking. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I must confess, I’m having a hard time putting it down. I’m dying to share more tidbits from this book with you, and I will, but in the interest of time I will begin with this brief but delightful description of what to wear while motoring, to expand on my earlier post about the well-dressed motorist. Just something to keep in mind as you zip around town in your mini-van or Range Rover this weekend!

car and driver2

WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER MOTOR CAR

IT is not easy to be decorative in your automobile now that the manufacturers are going in for gay colour schemes both in upholstery and outside painting. A putty-coloured touring car lined with red leather is very stunning in itself, but the woman who would look well when sitting in it does not carelessly don any bright motor coat at hand. She knows very well that to show up to advantage against red, and be in harmony with the putty-colour paint, her tweed coat should blend with the car, also her furs. Black is smart with everything, but fancy how impossible mustard, cerise and some shades of green would look against that scarlet leather!

An orange car with black top, mud-guards and upholstery calls for a costume of white, black, brown, tawny grey, or, if one would be a poster, royal blue.

Some twenty-five years ago the writer watched the first automobile in her experience driven down the Champs Elysées. It seemed an uncanny, horseless carriage, built to carry four people and making a good deal of fuss about it.

A few days later, while lunching at the Café de Reservoir, Versailles, we were told that some men were starting back to Paris by automobile, and if we went to a window giving on to the court, we might see the astonishing vehicle make its start. It was as thrilling as the first near view of an aëroplane, and all-excitement we watched the two Frenchmen getting ready for the drive. Their elaborate preparation to face the current of air to be encountered en route was not unlike the preparation to-day for flying. It was Spring—June, at that—but those Frenchmen wearing very English tweeds and smoking English pipes, each drew on extra cloth trousers and coats and over these a complete outfit of leather! We saw them get into the things in the public courtyard, arrange huge goggles, draw down cloth caps, and set out at a speed of about fifteen miles an hour!

The above seems incredible, now that we have passed through the various stages of motor car improvements and motor clothes creations. The rapid development of the automobile, with its windshields, limousine tops, shock absorbers, perfected engines and springs, has brought us to the point where no more preparation is needed for a thousand-mile run across country with an average speed of thirty miles an hour, than if we were boarding a train. One dresses for a motor as one would for driving in a carriage and those dun-colored, lineless monstrosities invented for motor use have vanished from view. More than this, woman to-day considers her decorative value against the electric blue velvet or lovely chintz lining of her limousine, exactly as she does when planning clothes for her salon. And why not? The manufacturers of cars are taking seriously their interior decoration as well as outside painting; and many women interior decorators specialise along this line and devote their time to inventing colour schemes calculated to reflect the personality of the owner of the car.

Special orders have raised the standard of the entire industry, so that at the recent New York automobile show, many effects in cars were offered to the public. Besides the putty-coloured roadster lined with scarlet, black lined with russet yellow, orange lined with black; there were limousines painted a delicate custard colour, with top and rim of wheels, chassis and lamps of the same Nattier Blue as the velvet lining, cushions and curtains. A beautiful and luxurious background and how easy to be decorative against it to one who knows how!

Another popular colour scheme was a mauve body with top of canopy and rims of wheels white, the entire lining of mauve, like the body. Imagine your woman with a decorative instinct in this car. So obvious an opportunity would never escape her, and one can see the vision on a Summer day, as she appears in simple white, softest blue or pale pink, or better still, treating herself as a quaint nosegay of blush roses, forget-me-nots, lilies and mignonette, with her chiffons and silks or sheerest of lawns.

“But how about me?” one hears from the girl of the open car—a racer perhaps, which she drives herself. You are easiest of all, we assure you; to begin with, your car being a racer, is  painted and lined with durable dark colours—battleship grey, dust colour, or some shade which does not show dirt and wear. The consequence is, you will be decorative in any of the smart coats, close hats and scarfs in brilliant and lovely hues,—silk or wool.

(In case you thought I was kidding about the lipstick thing, here's an actual ad from the 1960s about that very thing.)

(In case you thought I was kidding about the lipstick thing, here’s an actual ad from the 1960s about that very thing.)

Bingo! A Vintage Game for Every Occasion

When I utter a phrase like “B-4 or “N-39,” does your heart start to pound? Do you look around wildly for a card filled with numbered squares and something to mark it with? Then you might be a bingo addict. Take heart–you are only the latest generation of long and venerable string of bingo devotees, including many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

When we think of classic games, there are none that have quite as big a following as the classic game of bingo. Finding its roots in the Italian game of Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that bingo really made it big in the US, but when it did, reception was overwhelmingly positive. Bingo halls popped up in places all over the country, and thousands flocked to them to play the game every night.

After the 60s, however, much of the popularity of bingo waned. Nowadays, you’d be forgiven for thinking that bingo is a game played only by geriatrics in retirement homes. However, advancements in technology mean that bingo has taken on many new forms. In the UK, the BBC  reports that online bingo is already “a full house”.

“There’s been a rapid growth of bingo websites. As recently as 2004 fewer than 20 such sites operated in the UK; now there are thought to be about 350,” they write. The game is growing at such a rapid pace that even sportsbooker Betfair has joined the fray, launching an online bingo portal in 2013.

But what makes the game so popular? In the past, it was popular because of how social it was. Imagine meeting up with your friends every night to play a few fast-paced, yet relaxing games of bingo. The same can be said of bingo today, and because the game is so versatile, it also means that it’s been adapted into various different themes. Nowadays, bingo is played everywhere from bridal showers to actual weddings, and it’s easy to adapt the game to fit whatever occasion you’re having soon. If you or your guests object to gambling, the historical “betting” aspect can be easily omitted. Just play for fun!

The first thing you need to do is make a list of the things you expect to see at the party or event you’re holding, and use an online bingo card generator to turn your list into a set of bingo cards. Print out the cards and distribute them to your guests, and have them cross off an item as soon as they spot it or experience it, with the first to complete a bingo pattern winning the game! There’s an online bingo generator on Print-Bingo.com that’s fairly straightforward, and all you’d need to do is add your own decorations and designs on the cards.

(This is a guest contribution.)

 

 

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