Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Charm School

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.”


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.





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)


Public outrage: It’s getting outrageous.

couple arguingThis post from Brooke McAlary at Slow Your Home resonated with me this morning.

I’m not sure exactly when the societal shift took place, but nowadays it no longer seems possible to discuss opposing ideas without red-faced rage, acrimony, and ad hominem attacks. Ashamedly capable of a good rant myself, I’m trying to discipline myself not to feed the beast. In the quest of being “informed,” I found myself reading way too much news, listening to way too many snarky podcasts, and visiting way too many inflammatory blogs.

I scaled back. A lot. Now I hope to remain informed enough so that my head is neither filled with air nor stuck in the sand, but not so “informed” that I am absorbing negativity and vitriol through every pore. This is a tough balance to maintain.

In The Modern Handbook for Girls (1933),  Olive Richards Landers writes, “[One] thing that helps give us emotional balance is to let our admirations govern us, rather than our disgusts. Some girls seem to think it gives them distinction and an air of discrimination to ‘loathe’ this and ‘despise’ that. It is in better taste, and shows a finer spirit, to dismiss from thoughts and conversation what is loathsome and despicable, displacing it with what you can admire.”

I’ll leave you with some wise words written by that doyenne of charm, Margery Wilson, back in 1928:

“The best explanation of your standards is your own life. The way you live and conduct yourself bespeaks your opinions more loudly than anything you can say. If you are fine you can afford to be charitable toward those who are not. One can always say, ‘Perhaps we do not know all the facts.’ Or, ‘There may be extenuating circumstances.’ . . . A good blanket remark that covers all inharmonious gossip or discord without offense to either side is, ‘It is certainly most unfortunate.’ And you will have spoken the truth. It is not only unfortunate that human beings should err, but even more unfortunate that other human beings cannot be more kind.

“A woman astonished me the other day by saying that she did a great deal of good in the world by telling people exactly what she thought of them. Her mouth was a thin, indignant line. Her movements were jerky little stabs of outraged righteousness. I have no doubt that she does some good, but her method is so faulty as to make the effect on others temporary to the point of hypocrisy. And just see what she is doing to herself! The lasting influence of a constructive approach to the problems and faults of others makes it the only logical one.”

You be constructive out there!


Students: Is Your School Etiquette Up to Snuff?

girl in schoolFor most students, the school year is well underway. Here’s hoping your experience measures up to the standards set by Eleanor Boykin in This Way Please (1940):

“In schools all over the country, students have formed etiquette or good-form clubs.” [Ed. note: How’s your school’s etiquette club going? Thought so.] “It looks as if a new era of courtesy has started with better school manners. Dan Rough-and-Ready, who thinks it funny to poke fellow students on their way to class, to guffaw loudly when someone slips on the assembly platform, and to shuffle noisily into the classroom, will soon be out of the picture.

“Be proud of the ‘front’ your school puts up to the community. This means keeping the grounds free of rubbish. The janitor cannot always be behind you to pick up fruit peelings, lunch wrappers, and the like. You can easily acquire the habit of taking them to a container. Your conduct on entering and leaving the grounds also reflects on the school. Leave for hoodlums the shouting from one block to the next and pushing one another into people’s yards.

“If you rush pell-mell out of a classroom and go bumping down the corridors, you will have to stop several times to apologize for jolts you administer, so what good has violent hurry done you? You have merely advertised the fact that you are lacking in poise.

“It is nearly always the same people who make a last-minute dash for assembly and come in breathlessly to find a seat. This habit of being late grows upon one and is likely to become a social handicap when school days are over. . . . Squirming, whispering, and foot-scraping are labels of the underbred. Try to be interested in the program for your own sake. People who are easily bored and close their minds to ideas and happenings are painfully likely to become boring themselves. Even if you are not entertained, you can at least appear attentive and not disturb those who may be enjoying the proceedings. An outside speaker deserves all the courtesy you can show him, because he is your guest.

“Some of your teachers you will like more than others; but respect yourself enough to respect the position of all of them. An insolent attitude or one of trying to ‘get ahead of teacher’ shows a churlish nature. A teacher may sometimes seem unfair. Be grown-up about it, and ask for a chance to talk it over. Being surly or ‘talking back’ is childish. Calling out ‘Teacher!’ is uncouth. Address any instructor by name, ‘Mr. Sanborn’ or ‘Miss Swain.’ Wild handwaving to attract attention would be sensible if you were stranded on a desert island and saw a boat in the distance, but in the classroom it makes you look rather foolish.

“Ways to make yourself unpopular: Walk about with a superior air as if only a few people were worth your notice. Borrow books, pencils and other articles and never return them. Boast of your grades. Start tales on other students. Be quick to pick a quarrel. Try to run everything you are connected with. Bully your schoolmates, particularly the smaller ones. Break into another’s story with ‘I know what it is’ or ‘You’re wrong.’ Try to get others to do your work for you. Humiliate others by laughing at their mistakes.

“Playing practical jokes is dynamite to popularity. Who can feel at ease with one who is likely to get him to sit on a thumbtack or slip a dead snake in his pocket?

And finally, “Don’t make yourself the butt of jokes around school by a too apparent devotion to a Certain Person. Romance loses some of its charm–like the banana in the refrigerator-under the cool gaze of unromantic observers.”

How does your school (or your child’s school) compare to this 1940s ideal? Better? Worse? Or just different?

31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Summer, Day 5: Linger in the Bath

ivory soapA quick daily shower–or two– is a summertime basic. But after a hot afternoon spent under the blistering sun at the beach or in the garden, or a grueling commute over blistering highways, a long, cool bath will revive your spirits and restore your good humor. As Veronica Dengel wrote in 1943, “The good old days, when the family reserved Saturday night for the weekly bath, are now as dead as the dodo.” Thank goodness for that!

She offers this detailed advice for dedicated bathers:

“Before you begin your bath, check your preparations. Everything you need should be at hand, no rushing hither and  yon for something forgotten. Washcloth, bath brush, soap, bath salts, or bath oil; a big, coarse-textured towel,; bath powder, cologne. If your curls need freshening, dampen them with cologne and pin them in place. Put a protective band around the hairline and cover your entire head with a net. Remove your make-up and apply your lubricating cream on the face and throat. It is not necessary to use expensive soaps; these are a luxury in which you may indulge if you choose, although a good grade of Castile or other bland pure soap is most satisfactory.

“Fine-grained bath salts soften the water. Another softening agent is the oatmeal or bran bag. This is made by tying a few tablespoonfuls of either bran or oatmeal in a piece of cheesecloth and dropping it into the tub.

“Relax in the water for a minute, lying back and letting the water lap around you. Just ‘let go.’ Try to feel that you could float if you wanted to. Then start scrubbing. A long-handled brush is splendid for your back. Employ a hand brush for your elbows knees, heels, and soles of the feet. If you have calluses, rub them gently every day with a pumice stone. Put plenty of soap on your brush and on your washcloth, which is gentler for the chest, abdomen, and hips. I like to scrub briskly from head to foot, because this improves the circulation and thoroughly cleans the skin channels. Splash around in the water to rinse, or you may prefer to finish off with a cool shower.

“Step out of the tub and give your body a friction rub with a coarse towel until the skin is pink and glowing, except on very warm days. A brisk rubdown when the thermometer is high tends only to increase the body heat an increases perspiration. In such weather, pat the body dry; do not rub. Try this for the few excessively hot days in each summer. Pat off the excess moisture, spray with cologne, and lie down on the bed until the skin dries. The air and moisture will cool the temperature of the skin, and you will feel fresh for hours.

“You will feel warm and relaxed, ready for a refreshing eight hours of sleep. When you are thoroughly dry, pat on your favorite bath powder, if you bathe at night. However, if you prefer your cleansing bath in the morning, use only cologne sprayed directly on the skin. Doing so will save you from those troublesome streaks of powder that show up when you have put on a dark dress, an annoyance which always holds you up when you are in the greatest hurry!”

Mrs. Dengel offered the following suggestions for special cases:

  • When you are overtired and nervous: Take your tub bath a bit hotter than usual, about 101 degrees Farenheit, and add to it two handfuls of sea salt. This is soothing and will help you to relax more easily. But do not stay in the water longer than ten minutes at the most.
  • When you feel “stuffy” in the head or tense: Try pine essence or pine oil in your bug; a few drops will give you a sense of freer breathing. Pine oil or verbena is my favorite scent for baths.
  • “When you feel “dopey,” or let down: Remember that hot or cold water is stimulating and will wake you up. Therefore either temperature is good when you want a quick pick-up. But very hot or cold baths should be used sparingly, and you should stay only a moment or so in the water.
  • Enlarged joints in the hands may be benefited marvelously by the use of the Epsom salts bath. Massage the joints while they are immersed in the water, working the flesh and bone between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand.

Now go fill the tub and relax!

31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Summer, Day 4: Take a Trip

train travelWhether for a day, a weekend, or longer, summer has long been a season for short jaunts and longer journeys.  Getting out of your daily environment and experiencing new places, people, sights, sounds, smells, and flavors can be very refreshing. If time is short, plan a day trip to a nearby town and go exploring, or plan a “staycation” in your hometown, viewing familiar sights through a visitor’s eyes. Forego your usual haunts and check out the parks and museums as a visitor would, maybe even trying a restaurant or shop you’ve never set foot in before. Journey to the past by visiting a history museum or browsing antique shops.

Train travel especially carries a feeling of yesteryear, so hop a train if you get the chance. In a 1934 article titled “The Woman Who Travels Alone,” author Janet Church makes these observations concerning train travel:

“Times have changed considerably since the days when mother was a girl. In those days a woman could not take a trip, stop at a hotel overnight, or even enjoy an evening at the theater without an escort or suitable chaperone. Today, women travel all over the country on political, professional and business enterprises as well as for pleasure, without escort or companion. Any woman of voting age is perfectly safe in traveling anywhere in the United States by boat or train, provided of course, that she knows how to behave when she is at home, and is not seeking adventure.”

On what to wear while traveling: “The traveling outfit should be inconspicuous. A dark cloth or silk dress with a long coat, or a tailored suit with a dark blouse, a close hat, plain shoes and hose, a capacious leather or dark satin handbag are always in good taste. No jewelry except a watch and a small pin should be worn.”

On packing for a trip: “Traveling light is a sign of experience. Hand luggage should be reduced to a minimum of pieces, and these should be packed so that it is not necessary to dig into the lowest layer for articles that may be needed at the start of a journey. A woman can do very well with a suitcase of reasonable size if the lid is well fitted with toilet articles. On the tray she will have her robe, slippers and other articles needed for sleeping in a berth. In the lower part may be such clothing as she needs to make herself look fresh and well-groomed on leaving the train.”

On good manners while traveling: “The well-bred woman traveler shows consideration for others. She does not make a long elaborate sleeping-toilet in the dressing room, but makes the most of her preparations in her berth and then, wearing a Pullman robe*, and carrying her hand-bag filled with toilet articles, she will go to the dressing room to wash and do her hair. All valuables such as money and jewelry should be worn around the neck in a bag, and never left in a berth. The experienced traveler knows how to make a quick toilet, and the considerate traveler does not monopolize basin and mirror for an indefinite program of make-up and hair-dressing.”

On socializing with fellow passengers: “While it is permissible to speak to fellow passengers, a woman, especially a young girl, should be especially careful not to accept attentions or favors from strange men or women. In an emergency any service she requires will be rendered by train attendants. A woman traveler should never take the advice of a fellow passenger about a hotel. If there is no hotel guide on the train, she may consult the Travelers’ Aid Society in the railway station. On long journeys passengers may exchange morning greetings, comment on the weather or the day’s news. And a woman of tact may accept the acquaintance of her fellow traveler to the extent of joining in a game of cards, or walking the station platform in time of delay. In traveling alone a woman must remember that a very careful distinction must be observed in accepting any attention from one’s fellow travelers, meaning especially that one is to pay one’s own way under all circumstances from the purchase of a daily paper to the check in the dining car. There are men who still have the traditions of the past generation when the man paid the bill, and who invite a woman to dine or lunch simply for the pleasure of her company to break the monotony of the day’s journey. It is never correct to accept such invitations from strangers.”

*From an etiquette column penned by an anonymous writer called “The Dowager”:
Q: Is it permissible for a lady to wear a negligee when she goes from her berth in a sleeping car to the dressing room?
A: A lady wears a Pullman robe from berth to dressing room. This should be inconspicuous in cut and color, and may be either silk or wool.


Bon voyage, even if only for one day!


Charm School: Table Manners for Young People, circa 1846

family dinner“Did it ever occur to you to inquire why civilized people have their food prepared at particular hours, and all the family sit together? Why not have the food prepared and placed where everyone can go and eat, whenever he pleases, by himself? One great advantage of having a whole family sit together, and partake of their meals at the same time, is that it brings them together in a social way, every day. But for this, and the assembling of the family at prayers, they might not all meet at once for a long time. But eating together is a mark of friendship; it tends to promote social feeling. In a well-regulated family, also, it is a means of great improvement, both of mind and manners. Your behavior at table should always be regulated by the rules of propriety. If you acquire vulgar habits here, or practice rudeness, you will find it difficult to overcome them; and they will make you appear to great disadvantage.

First of all, be not tardy in taking your place at the table. In a well-regulated family, the master of the family waits till all are seated before he asks a blessing. When called to a meal, never wait to finish what you are doing, but promptly leave it, and proceed to your place. Above all, do not delay till after the blessing, and so sit down to your food like a heathen.

The younger members of the family should leave it for the parents (and guests, if there are any) to take the lead in conversation. It does not appear well for a very young person to be forward and talkative at table. You should generally wait till you are spoken to; or if you wish to make an inquiry or a remark, do it in a modest, unassuming way, not raising your voice, nor spinning out a story. Be especially careful not to interrupt a person. Sensible people will get a very unfavorable impression concerning you, if they see you bold and talkative at table. Yet you should never appear inattentive to what others are saying.

To be very particular in the choice of food is not agreeable to good breeding. Never ask for what is not on the table. Do not make remarks respecting the food, and avoid expressing your likes and dislikes of particular articles. Show your praise of the food set before you, by the good nature and relish with which you partake of it; but do not eat so fast as to appear voracious. Never put on sour looks, nor turn up your nose at your food. this is unmannerly and a serious affront to the mistress of the table. Be careful to use your knife and fork as other people do, and to know when to lay them down. Be careful not to drop your food, nor to spill liquids on the cloth. Do ynot leave the table before the family withdraws from it, unless  it is necessary; and then, ask to be excused.”

(from How to Be a Lady: Useful Hints on the Formation of Womanly Character, published in 1846. written by Harvey Newcomb, an American clergyman who was active in the American Sunday School Union and had a heart for young people.)