A Sparkling Vintage Life

Charm School

What is style?


Style is not applying make-up in public, indulging in a passion for ornament, or rushing out to purchase the latest design in a fashion product. Nor is style the ignoring of social conventions, such as going without a hat or gloves on city streets or other places good taste indicates they should be worn. Style is not wearing slacks or shorts, or head scarves, or going without hose on these same city streets. Style is not wearing our evening finery during working hours. Style is not wearing hair curlers and unattractive garments among family members so that one can be a ravishing beauty for strangers.” (Grace Margaret Morton, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, 1943)

Some days I think thank goodness those days are over. Who wants to feel they have to wear hose to be decently dressed? Other days I think how far we have fallen. It will come as no surprise to readers of A Sparkling VIntage Life that much of modern life grates on my last nerve. I think tight yoga pants worn outside of the yoga studio without something draped over top are pretty much an abomination on most human shapes. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to vintage-style clothing and attitudes. And yet, my own wardrobe too often contains the drab, the unflattering, and the shabby, because I’m “too busy” to think about clothes or “too comfortable” to rouse myself to put on something with a proper zipper.

What are we saying out ourselves as a society when we not only give our own selves a pass on slovenliness, but admire it in others as some sort of virtue signaling?

I don’t have the answer. Just a question that’s been banging around in my head recently. Feel free to weigh in.

J is for “Joie de vivre”

Some people have a natural joie de vivre. My mom was one of them.

Have you ever experienced joie de vivre? It means “joy of life” in French–that sheer thrill of being alive. Maybe you’ve felt it while sharing a good laugh with friends, or watching your child play, or catching sight of a particularly beautiful rainbow or sunset. You might feel it upon completing a looming task or responsibility, or achieving some other goal, large or small–maybe one that matters only to you. Joie de vivre can be fleeting, or it can be an attitude with which some upbeat souls approach life every day.

Synonyms for joie de vivre include joyfulness, cheerfulness, cheeriness, lightheartedness, happiness, joy, gaiety, high spirits, elan, joviality, exuberance, ebullience, liveliness, vivacity, verve, effervescence, buoyancy, and zest.

What can you today to add to your joie de vivre?

G is for Genteel

From the dusty archive of antique descriptions we don’t hear much anymore:

Genteel (jen-teel)/adj. From the Middle French gentil = gentle. a: Having an aristocratic quality or flavor; stylish. b: of or relating to the gentry or upper class  c: elegant or graceful in manner, appearance, or shape

It all sounds very Downton Abbey. Is “genteel” a word you ever find occasion to use? Do you know anyone personally who fits the description?

 

F is for Facials

Do you ever get professional facial treatments? I don’t because my sensitive skin hasn’t reacted well to them in the past, but I understand that for some people they can be relaxing and rejuvenating.

From Personality Unlimited by Veronica Dengel (1943):

“Expensive skin treatments are a pleasant luxury if you can afford them, but not at all necessary to insure a beautiful skin. You can do everything required at home, inexpensively, effectively, provided you really do it. … Protect your hair with a band of gauze. Apply your cleansing cream with smooth, upward strokes. … Now with a cleansing tissue in each hand, begin at the base of the throat and remove the cleansing cream with upward strokes. When you have removed the cream, wash with warm water and soap. … Your skin is now ready for the toning step. Take a square of cotton and pat the tonic in upward movements. Apply your lubricating cream. Follow the same routine as used for cleansing. Do not apply great ‘gobs’ of your lubricant, you are only wasting it. There is no need to go to bed ‘gooey’ with grease. It isn’t good for your linens or nightie, and certainly not for your appearance!”

With the right lipstick, who needs a time-travel machine?

I don’t do a lot of product reviews on this blog (well, except for books, lol) but I feel compelled to share something that has gladdened my vintage-loving heart, and I thought some of you might get a kick out of it, too.

It’s a cosmetics company called Bésame, out of California. Founded by artist and cosmetic historian Gabriela Hernandez, Bésame produces cosmetics that replicate shades and formulas from the early- to mid-twentieth century (updated to today’s product-safety standards, and all products are cruelty-free and paraben-free).

I’d heard about Bésame a while back, but held off purchasing because the prices seemed a little high for my admittedly modest make-up budget. But I joined the mailing list, and it turns out they offer some great deals now and then that let me try some products without straining the piggy bank. I suppose I should mention here that I have no connection to the company, and any product I review, I purchased with my own money.

The items came packaged with a fun faux-“newspaper,” the Bésame Bugle, that describes not only the products and how to use them, but other newsy tidbits. For example, an article introducing their 1937 “Snow White” collection explains how the color palette was chosen based on the original animated film. Another article tells about Adriana Caselotti, the teenage Italian-American opera singer who voiced Snow White (described as “the perfect mix of child-like innocence with a strong operatic singing voice”). There’s even a word-search puzzle that had me hunting for “Evil Queen” and “True Loves Kiss”! Be still, my heart. These “newspapers” are a great example of how a company can promote its products and philosophy without being sales-y.

Back to the products. First off, the packaging is lovely–burgundy and gold in an Art Nouveau floral motif. Just looking at them on my shelf makes me happy. Two shades of lipstick I’ve tried are Victory Red (a vivid patriotic red–I believe it was a special edition, as I no longer find it on the website) and American Beauty (a softer berry red). The formula is more matte than glossy, which is good for me because gloss never seems to last too long on my lips. The instructions explain how to apply with the angled tip and blot with a tissue, which is exactly how I remember my mother applying her lipstick, back in the day.

I also remember my mom using cake mascara before the advent of the applicator-in-a-tube. Hers came in a little red box from Maybelline and was applied with a tiny brush that looked like something a doll would use. Bésame’s comes in a red-and-gold tin containing a cake of mascara and its own tiny brush. So far I’ve been a little too clumsy with the brush to make a success of it on my lashes, but I’ve found that I love using it as eye liner. I wet a narrow brush with water, brush it over the cake, and apply a thin line right next to my lashes. Works great!

Next I tried Cashmere Foundation in True Beige. It comes in stick form and takes a bit of blending, but I like how well it covers the redness in my face. I tend not to apply it all over, just in the areas where it’s needed, and I blend, blend, blend (sponge or fingers work well). Then I set it with Vanilla Brightening Powder, which comes with it’s own darling little puff. although I prefer a fluffy brush. It’s a finely-milled powder in a light, translucent color with a delicate vanilla scent. There are, of course, multiple shades to choose from, even color-correcting rose and violet. There are several cream and powder rouges available, too, but I usually skip rouge because of the aforementioned redness.

Finally, I picked up a sample set called “Decades of Fragrance.” The set contains six sample-size vials of colognes named–get this, vintage lovers–1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, and 1960! According to the company website, each scent “uses familiar ingredients from each period to create an impression of a decade of time.” (Note: The vials came packaged in a small cardboard box, not in the red velvet bag shown in the photo above. The bag is my own–but what a cute way to package them for Christmas, dontcha think?)

To wrap up, I feel like this company really “gets” me, as a customer and a fellow lover of all things vintage. I’m eager to try other products as needs arise and the coffers allow. Even if I’d just bought one lipstick, I would have enjoyed feeling transported back to the grace and elegance of an earlier era, connected somehow to generations of ladies who came before us. If that sounds like your kind of travel, visit Bésame and check out what they have to offer.

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Sparkling Vintage Health: Getting Better All the Time

Hello, Sparklers. I’ve been laying low following a recent operation. But I’ve not forgotten you! I’m doing well on the proverbial road to recovery.

While I’m resting up, I thought I’d treat you to what some people of the past had to say about convalescence. The state of convalescence itself is a rather old-fashioned idea in this era of minimal hospital stays and up-and-at-’em pressures toward returning to productive work. Gone are the days of a lengthy recuperation, preferably in the sea air or desert sun, such as the Victorians might have enjoyed.

I was especially tickled by this advice from 1877: “Sickroom visits should be very short, and the conversation should not be very serious, for in convalescence, a cheerful face on the caller is more welcome than a face that looks like the dividing line between the grave and the patient.”

A 1913 writer had this to say: “The convalescent takes such abnormally keen delight in being remembered, that it is obligatory upon the rest of the family and his friends not to forget him. Kindly messages should be frequent.”

And this little gem from none other than George Washington: “In visiting the sick do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.”

Of course, the patient is not entirely off the hook. In 1912 Dr. A. J. Sanderson wrote, “In the maintenance of health and the cure of disease, cheerfulness is a most important factor. Cheerfulness brightens the eye, makes ruddy the countenance, brings elasticity to the step, and promotes all the inner forces by which life is sustained. The blood circulates more freely, the oxygen comes to its home in the tissues, health is promoted, and disease is banished.”

The Bible says it best, and without wasting words: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

Cheers!

Sparkling Vintage Charm School: Telephone Manners

I don’t know if it’s due to the Age of Texting or what, but recently I’ve noticed a marked decline in telephone manners. So I thought it might be a good time for a refresher, circa 1938:

“If possible, the telephone should be placed so that one can have privacy and quiet while talking,” wrote Marianne Meade of the Junior League. “In many houses this is not possible, so the family must make up in courtesy what is lacking in convenience. [Once upon a time, families shared one telephone, or perhaps a main phone and one extension.] They must not consciously listen to what is being said, and they should also refrain from unnecessary noise or loud talking. This does not mean, however, that conversation should give way to a dead silence until the telephone call is completed, but rather that the family should continue to talk in low tones.

“While not in the best of taste, some member of the family may ask who it was that phoned, and he should receive a courteous answer. But the questioning should go no further unless the call concerns the entire family, or unless the person who received the call is inclined to give more details. Incidentally, it is not considerate to engage in prolonged telephone conversations, because you thereby prevent others from making and receiving calls which may be much more important than yours.” [Yes, children, entire households used to share not only one telephone, but one telephone line to the house. Some even shared the line with other households in the neighborhood, called a “party line.” Oh, the horror!]

Writing for teens, Eleanor Boykin added, “You can never be sure when you telephone a friend that you will not interrupt a visit or call him from a shower bath, but you can considerately void telephoning very early in the morning or late at night, or at the usual hours for meals.” [Do families even have set meal times anymore? Well, it’s a nice idea.]

On answering the telephone: Miss Boykin went on to say, “When you are on the answering end of the telephone, put a smile into your voice. As soon as you hear who your caller is, greet him as pleasantly as if he were at your front door. ‘Hello, Billy, how are you’ or ‘I’m glad to hear from you, Helen.” Don’t grunt”Yeah, what is it?” It is the caller’s place to bring the talk to a close.

On taking messages pre-voicemail: “Telephone messages for absent members of the family should be written down just as carefully and delivered just as faithfully as in an efficient office,” wrote Hallie Erminie Rives. “If a pad and pencil is kept beside the telephone, or better yet, fasted in place, there will be no excuse for not writing the message exactly as it is given. The message may then be put with the proper person’s mail, or left in a designated place, so that the individual can get it even if no one is around to tell him about it when he returns home.”

On using a public telephone: Miss Rives cautions, “Always note if someone is anxiously waiting to use it. Long gossipy chats while others wait should be taboo.”

In You’re the Cream in My Coffee, Marjorie runs into this situation when she stays at the YWCA and must share a public phone:

In the lobby, I tapped my foot and tried to catch the heavily shadowed eye of the bottle-blonde now hogging the sole telephone.

“‘So I says to him, I says, “Just how do you expect me to do that?” And he says to me–get this, Myra–he says, “I dunno, you figure it out, you’re supposed to be the smart one.” So I says to him–hold on a sec, Myra.’ The blonde placed her hand over the mouthpiece and glared at me. ‘You want something, sister?’

‘Yes, the telephone. Are you almost through?‘”

You can see the problem.

In her book of etiquette, Miss Rives says, “Certainly one should never use a coin box telephone for the ‘Guess-who-this-is’ type of all or for the continuation of the family argument started the night before. Men should not smoke in the tiny, airless cubicle.” [Note: Women were not to smoke at all. Elsewhere the author notes, “In the larger cities women now smoke so generally that it almost seems as though they are destined to use the weed wherever and whenever men do. As yet, however, women of breeding do not smoke on the street, or in a public conveyance.” ]

Yes, texting is convenient and carries its own set of rules. But it never hurts to brush up on the basics of actually talking to another person on the phone.

 

 

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Old-fashioned but modern? Hurray, I’m not the only one!

I often feel alone in my passion for all things vintage, and have trouble explaining to others exactly what fascinates me so much about life 70+ years ago. So I was thrilled to find a series of videos on YouTube by German vlogger Lilly Jarlsson, whose view on vintage vs.modern lifestyles frequently resonates with my own.

In this video Lilly explains what attracts her about the vintage lifestyle. Starting at around 7:35 on the video, she talks about modern manners vs. vintage manners, and manages to express a concept I’ve stumbled over:

“Politeness is a different thing from being good, being right and being able to determine right from wrong. So of course that was always a problem in every decade of our world, and since you’re a human being whenever you were born, you have a personal responsibility of deciding if you want to be good or bad. This is something that has nothing to do with the style or the decade or the political situation. I think that at one point a person has the possibility of deciding who and what you want to be. So this is definitely something I don’t want to sugar-coat too much, the times back then. I believe every time has its good and its bad sides as well as our world today.”

She also broaches the topic of people who make fun of those who are out of step with the modern world:

“This group of people will always find something, even if you’re “normal” in other people’s eyes, that they can take as a reason to bully you or mock you. If it’s not the vintage style, they’ll find something else that they don’t like and that they have to use as a reason against you. You don’t have to swallow everything. Of course life is cruel and people are cruel and there will always be mocking and ridicule, no matter how old you get, but I think it’s important to understand that you have a right to live, in a free society, where you decide who and what you want to be.”

If you enjoy vintage style, especially from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, check out Lilly Jarlsson’s YouTube channel for inspiration.

Down to Business: To rouge or not to rouge?

Photoplay-cover-flapper-applying-lipstick-1920s-221x300“To rouge or not to rouge–is it even a question nowadays? When the daughter of the most exclusive* family paints her face for her afternoon walk as did the soubrette** of former years to counteract the glare of strong footlights, one can hardly blame the business woman–often overtired and wan–for doing likewise. Yet the girl of office or shop who uses her rouge pot without conscience, her powder puff without mercy, and her charcoal pencil without discretion, and who plasters her lips with a vermilion cupid’s bow, is oftenest the one who is heard complaining because she ‘never gets a raise.’ The wise business woman will distrust the appeal of over-artificiality and if she coaxes a tinge of color into pale cheeks and touches a shiny nose with a film of powder, will know when to stop. Perhaps the best description of the competent business woman has been given by Fannie Heaslip Lea: ‘Neatly dressed, smoothly coiffed, closely hatted, as neutral as a mail-order catalogue, as harmless as her own clacking typewriter, as controlled as an electric bulb–and just about as warming.’ ” (From The Complete Book of Etiquette by Hallie Erminie Rives, 1934).

*”Exclusive” used to be a compliment in those pre-“everybody-must-be-the-same” days. Today, “inclusive” is the sought-after adjective. Interestingly, to be called “discriminating” in the olden days was also a compliment, meaning you had refined taste and good judgment. Today, the meaning of the word has shifted to something negative” “judgmental,” or worse, the ridiculous non-word that grates the ear: “judgy.”

**”Soubrette”: a coquettish maid or frivolous young women in comedies, or an actress who plays such a part (per Merriam-Webster)

Elegant Air Travel: Gone with the Windshear

PAN AM 1In what alternative universe was air travel ever like this?

“Today the great, luxurious airplane glides through the air as smoothly as the most perfectly equipped automobile takes to the road. The airlines plan everything for the passenger’s comfort. As soon as he enters the terminal of an airline, his baggage is checked and stowed away in the plane, to be forgotten about until it is claimed at the end of the trip.

Aboard the plane, the same efficiency and courtesy prevail. An attendant places the passenger’s belongings on a rack above his head. Just before the take-off, either the copilot or the stewardess (many of the large planes now provide this boon to mankind and womankind alike) hands him a package of chewing gum and some cotton for his ears.

The passenger remembers that he must not smoke until he is in the air; but once aloft, the stewardess passes cigarettes and points out the convenient ash tray.

The plane affords a generous assortment of magazines and newspapers of the city just visited, and at various intervals refreshments are served by the stewardess or “hostess.”

The traveling clothes of the well-dressed woman are admirable in their simplicity of cut and design. A close-fitting dark hat, preferably one with a flat back, so that one may lean back comfortably, a tailored dress and smart topcoat, little or no jewelry, and sensible footgear mark the experienced as well as the fashionable traveler.

Reclining chairs, individual ventilating systems, and, in some transport planes, motion pictures, all provide for the traveler’s comfort. But whether in plane, automobile, steamer, or train, the unfailing rule of courtesy always prevails.”

(Hallie Erminie Rives, 1934)

 

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