A Sparkling Vintage Life

Marshall Field

Pull Here In Case of Grinch-iness

Readers are calling this short story, “A lovely reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.” I hope it will be a blessing to you, too.

(For those of you who’ve read You’re the Cream in My Coffee and Ain’t Misbehavin, “The Christmas Robe”  features our beloved Marshall Field’s clerk, Marjorie Corrigan.)

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ now available for preorder

Look what’s available for preorder on Amazon!

In Jazz Age Chicago, Dot Rodgers sells hats at Marshall Field while struggling to get her singing career off the ground. Independent and feisty, she’s the life of the party. But underneath the glitter, she doesn’t believe she’s worth the love of a good man. Why would a strong, upstanding man want to build a future with a shallow, good-time girl like her?

Small-town businessman Charlie Corrigan carries scars from the Great War. After all he’s been through, he wants nothing more than to marry and start a family. But the woman he loves is a flamboyant flapper with no intention of settling down. She’s used to a more glamorous life than he can offer. As his fortunes climb with the stock market, it seems he’s finally going to win her love. But what happens when it all comes crashing down?

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is coming out in March, but you can preorder your copy today and it will automatically appear in your e-reader or ship to your home without your giving it another thought.

Marshall Field’s Ornament Giveaway!


Update 12/19/2016: We have a winner! Slayton.amitchell, I’ll be contacting you for your mailing address, and this little soldier will be on its way to you pronto. Thanks to everyone who participated!

“Say the word ‘Christmastime’ and most people think of manger scenes and jingle bells, the glow of colored lights and the flutter of angels’ wings. But at the great Marshall Field & Company, Chicago’s premier department store, Christmastime meant all that and more, along with enough crowds, clanging, and clatter to shatter a sales clerk’s nerves. I know this because that clerk was me.” (Marjorie Corrigan in  The Christmas Robe)


Readers of You’re the Cream in My Coffee and The Christmas Robe know that the heroine, Marjorie, works at Chicago’s world-class department store, Marshall Field & Co., in the 1920s. While this sweet toy-soldier ornament does not date back to the 1920s (alas!), it is a genuine Marshall Field’s commemorative ornament, complete with the original gift box. It’s in excellent condition, gold-finish metal filigree with a silky cord, about 4 inches tall. And I’m giving him away to a Sparkling Vintage community member! To enter the drawing, do one of two things:

  1. If you’re not already signed up to receive my e-newsletter, sign up by entering your e-mail in the box at right. All new sign-ups between now and December 18 will be automatically entered in the drawing.
  2. If you’re already part of the e-newsletter community and you’d like a chance to win, say so in the comment section below, or drop me a line on  Facebook and I’ll add you to the drawing.

That’s it! A winner will be chosen at random on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 18, and the ornament mailed out to the winner on Dec. 19 (U.S. and Canada only, please.)

Merry Christmas!









Shifting Gears: The New American Woman Hits the Road

motoring1I’ll confess it now . . . I’m not a big fan of driving. My feelings about life behind the steering wheel range from neutral (on fine days) to negative (on snowy, icy days). I’d say I never truly love driving–not the way a real enthusiast does.

I’d also say, it appears I’m missing out on something adored by many ladies of yore.

The first decade of the 1900s saw a tremendous rise in the popularity of the new “horseless carriages” being churned out by Ford, Chrysler, and Oldsmobile. In addition to the home-grown variety, about 60,000 automobiles were imported from Europe in 1906. The market was hot.

Women as well as men hopped on the new craze for “motoring,” as it was called. “The ‘New American Woman’ was the rage of 1907,” explained Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan in their book Give the Lady What She Wants! The Story of Marshall Field & Company, about Chicago’s premier department store. “She was celebrated in song, famous artists idealized her for the popular publications, newspapers devoted entire sections to her interests, her exploits, her escapades. . . . “The papers were packed with feminine style news, household hints, profiles of society leaders, professional women, girl athletes . . . She had taken up the bicycle craze and golf and roller skating and lawn tennis–and she demanded the outfits for these sports. Grimly, in tight-necked ulsters [overcoats] and goggles, she was learning to drive automobiles. She was healthier, more athletic, taller, stronger, self-assured and, most important for those who sought her patronage, she had the right, opportunity, and ability to earn her own money.”motoring2

With all due respect to Messrs. Wendt and Kogan, I don’t know that I’d use the word “grimly” to describe a woman’s early efforts to drive. Sounds to me like she had a lot of fun. The motoring craze even gave rise to songs like “My Merry Oldsmobile,” the refrain of which goes:

Come away with me, Lucille,
In my merry Oldsmobile
Down the road of life we’ll fly
Automo-bubbling, you and I

To the church we’ll swiftly steal
Then our wedding bells will peal
You can go as far as you like with me
In my merry Oldsmobile.

As the lyrics imply, automobiles offered unprecedented mobility and privacy to courting couples, far away from the confines of the family parlor, a development that did not necessarily please their elders.

And of course, a new activity called for a new outfit! “Field’s motoring gear, in itself, made possession of an automobile seem desirable,” wrote Wendt and Kogan. “There were richly embroidered suits, thick fur muffs, Siberian pony-skin coats, cute linen dusters and capes, caps or poke bonnets with veils, gauntlet gloves, and goggles. For the young motorist and sportswoman Field’s offered a padded, three-quarter jacket of silk or satin, gaily colored in red, green, or blue, and a muffler cap and gloves to match–excellent for automobiling, cycling, skating, or riding when worn with a thick wool skirt, divided or not, warm wool stockings, and cloth-top, high-button shoes.”

Perhaps my attitude toward driving could be significantly improved with the right duster, hat, veil, gloves, and a fetching pair of goggles.

Your turn–do you enjoy driving? Why or why not?

Down to Business: Life on the Sales Floor–Swell Dames and Other Hazards

salesclerkI’ve been talking lately about the Marshall Field & Company department store in the 1920s–what it was like to work there both behind the scenes (Emily) and on the sales floor (Marjorie). So I thought you might get a kick out of this excerpt from a 1931 textbook, The Elements of Business Training, about how to be a good salesperson:

“Standing behind a counter and waiting on customers may be real salesmanship or it may be mere order-taking. Almost anybody can wrap up two bars of soap, a can of corn, and five pounds of sugar–all articles that have been definitely asked for. . . . A true sales person endeavors to make sales that will benefit the buyer as well as the seller. Such a sales person bends his energies toward selling an article which will so please the customer that he will wish to return to the same store or do business with the same establishment. A business can have no better advertisers than the customers who are pleased.

“The girl who sells handkerchiefs, or the woman at the stationery counter, or the shoe clerk, or even the soda clerk, has an opportunity to do some real selling. The soda clerk who suggests to a hesitating customer, ‘We have a tasty sundae that we call Chocolate Delight. It is made of vanilla cream with chocolate sirup, ground nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry. It is very popular,’ is showing some real sales ability. . . .

“The girl who chews gum as if that were her real occupation and waiting on customers were a mere incident, is not likely to be singled out by discriminating buyers. Carrying on a conversation with another clerk while waiting on a customer also displays very bad  manners. A lady trying to decide just what draperies are best suited to her rooms is not interested in such conversation as ‘Wherejago lassnight? Oh, dijja? Hooja gowith?’

“Sales people should never comment unfavorably on customers in the presence of other customers. Expressions like the following are always out of place: ‘Did you glimpse the swell dame that was just here? You’d think she owned the whole joint. All she bought was a yard of ribbon.’ The impression the listener obtains is ‘She will be saying the same sort of thing about me when I am out of hearing.'”

Seems to me that this advice applies just as well in 2013 as in 1931. Don’t let the swell dames get you down. And now I’m off to find me some of that Chocolate Delight!

If you could give one piece of advice to a sales clerk, what would it be?


Fashion Friday: Emily’s Job Interview, Part II

kimbrough costumeRecently I shared an excerpt from Emily Kimbrough’s enchanting memoir Through Charley’s Door, about the remarkable outfit Emily selected for her job interview at Marshall Field’s department store in 1925. As promised, here is a continuation of thestory, as recalled by Emily in her memoir. (Read Part I.)

Background: A family friend has arranged an interview for Emily with Miss Gardner in the Advertising Department. Fresh from college, Emily has zero business experience and only a vague idea of what sort of work she’d like to do. The story picks up as she’s driving to the interview in her family’s car.

“I said aloud the speeches I was planning for the interview. ‘I think I would like to be in your Book Department. I like to read and I read very quickly. I would be delighted to write book reviews that you could print in your advertisements in the newspapers.’ This sounded competent, I decided. After practicing it several times with variations, my mind was at ease, though physically I seemed unable to quiet the trembling of my hand on the steering bar, or the thumping of my heart under the gold velour. . .

“At the checking desk on the first floor I asked the location of the Advertising Department from the girl who took my coat. I asked her while I was undoing the safety pin that had secured my belt, fastening the pin to the lining, adjusting my thumb through my belt to hold it in place, my hand on my hip, and then arranging my dog under that arm. [Ed. She has brought her little dog Gamin to the interview.] She evidently didn’t hear me. I had to ask twice, ‘Can you tell me where the Advertising Department is?’ Even then she only gave a stare and said, “Pardon?” looking at me very intently, at least at my belt and Gamin. I asked a third time; then she told me she didn’t know. This annoyed me a little but she pleased me almost immediately after, by asking if I were a foreigner.”

Emily finds her way to the Advertising Department, where she meets Miss Gardner.

“We came around then to talking about me and what I wanted to do. First we talked about Paris, because her friend and my sponsor, Miss Etheridge, had told her I had been there only a few months before. Miss Gardner had lived in Paris as a child and had gone to school there. She told me a little about that, but broke off to ask if I had got my clothes in Paris, adding she hoped I didn’t mind her asking since fashion was her business and my costume was one she hadn’t seen before. I assured her happily I didn’t mind in the least and that my clothes had come from Paris. I thought it unnecessary to elaborate that the dress had not come from any of the big houses but from the floor of my bedroom at the pension where I had cut it out.

“It had been apparent to me from the very outset of our interview that Miss Gardner was interested in my costume, could in fact scarcely take her eyes from it. I accepted with a glow of pleasure this endorsement of my selection. But when she said she supposed I wanted to write fashion copy, I was startled. In the first place I didn’t know what the word ‘copy’ meant. Furthermore, the idea of writing had not crossed my mind, except perhaps to do book reviews. When I told her this, she was surprised. She had supposed since I’d come to the Advertising Bureau I wanted a job in advertising.

“I rearranged in my mind my career while she said this, and assured her that advertising was what I had really wanted.”

The interview continues, with Miss Gardner doing most of the talking.

“I sat in rigid suspense like someone posing for a flashlight picture, but my mind was careening around and up a ladder of successful journalism until I was perched on the top rung, directing all the advertising in all the newspapers of Chicago, possibly of America. Gamin jumped on my lap, but I hadn’t noticed, until Miss Gardner stooped over and tickled him behind an ear. ‘I’m afraid,’ she said, ‘if you come here to work, Marshall Field & Company will not welcome a dog with you.’

“I came down the ladder rapidly, stammering that I always left Gamin behind. Today was an exception. If this gave Miss Gardner the impression that I was an old hand at holding jobs, with or without a dog, she gave no indication of it.”

Miss Gardner gives Emily a copywriting assignment as a test. Emily listens to the instructions.

“‘I understand,’ I told her. And that was as false a statement as I had ever made in my life. Miss Gardner stood up, and that this indicated the end of our interview was the only thing I had understood during the preceding five minutes.”

Nonetheless, with a great deal of trouble, Emily completes the assignment and asks her father’s secretary, Miss Dennis, to type it up. She turns it in, sure that she has failed miserably. The next day she gets a phone call:

“Some time around noon I was told Miss Gardner wanted to speak to me on the telephone. I would have given almost anything in the world to send word I was out, but since it was Mother who had answered the telephone and given me the message, this did not seem feasible. I sat at the instrument a little time before I said hello, hoping, as I said it, I would not bring up my breakfast.

“They would like to have me start to work on Monday, Miss Gardner said, though between my nausea and the roaring in my ears I could not be sure I was hearing correctly. They needed a copywriter badly and liked the work I’d done. I babbled something to the effect that indeed I could certainly be at work on Monday morning.

“She was particularly impressed, she said, by the expert typing. So few girls who were not trained stenographers knew how to type at all. She and the head of the Bureau, to whom she had shown the piece, thought that with some training I could fit into the Field standard of writing.  I hung up without telling her that probably Miss Dennis, my father’s secretary, was the person she wanted in the Advertising Bureau.”

fashions of the hour2Emily goes on to spend several years at Field’s, gradually working her way up to editing the store’s “Fashions of the Hour” publication (pictured at left), before moving to New York to become managing editor of Ladies Home Journal.

In a future post we’ll learn about Emily’s first day on the job. In the meantime, here are a few hints about job interviews you can pass along to the June grads in your life:

(1) Try to dress appropriately, but if you fail to do so, a confident attitude will carry you a long way.

(2) Don’t bring your dog to the interview, and

(3) Do your best to be well prepared. But sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

Do you remember your first job interview?


Down to Business: Dressing for a Job Interview in the 1920s

kimbrough costumeOne of the more enjoyable bits of research for my novel included a hilarious memoir written by Emily Kimbrough about her first job working at Marshall Field and Company, which I read to get a feel for what it was like to work at Field’s in the 1920s. Some of you  might remember Emily Kimbrough from Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, coauthored with Cornelia Otis Skinner, about their youthful adventures in Europe. That book was eventually made into a movie.

As Emily remembered it, “In November [1923] we were back in America, I in Chicago because I lived there, and she in Chicago because she had a part in a play. The play was called Bristol Glass and it was produced at the Blackstone Theater. Cornelia was an actress, and I, as far as I could see, was going to be nothing at all.”

With her parents’ support, Emily applied for a job at Field’s through a family friend. Completely untutored in the ways of business, here is Emily’s account of how she dressed for her job interview, from the memoir titled Through Charley’s Door:

“I had selected for my interview a dress I had made in Paris. I had made only one and it had turned out to be unusual. This was largely due to the fact that I had selected a material, for reasons not clear to myself, that was, I think, designed for a couch covering–heavy velour with a raised pattern, in dull gold. My intention had been to copy a model I’d bought at a sale of Jenny’s. I’d laid the Jenny dress on top of the material and sheared around it, but no one had ever explained about seams and making allowances for them. When the seams of my dress were sewn, I could get into the garment only easing it down over my figure, as if I were putting a case on an umbrella. The only adornment I’d permitted was a belt I’d bought at the Galeries Lafayette. It was of heavy metal representing silver, studded with large, very imitation turquoises. Since my shape at that time was very akin to that of an umbrella, it afforded no natural resting place for the belt. Loops had proved to be impractical because the weight of the belt sagging on them pulled out the seams at those points where the loops were sewn, and each restitching of the seams made the dress a little tighter. Left unsupported, the belt, without any warning, would coast rapidly to the ground, shackling me.

“I had learned to forestall this ignominy by inserting a thumb  under the belt and resting my hand on one hip. Since this was the position affected by the models I had seen parading in the Salon of a big dressmaker where I had been taken once by a stylish friend, I had quite a fancy for the stance, even unprompted by necessity. I told myself in the mirror that walking this way made me look very blase.

“I had not yet found an occasion ripe for displaying the walk nor the dress to my parents. But applying for a job at Marshall Field’s seemed to me a very ripe occasion.

“The dress had no sleeves, because I did not know how to make them, but I was happy in the addition to my costume of very short gloves. The combination of short or no sleeves and short gloves had just come into style in Paris. I hoped to surprise Marshall Field’s with it.

“The hat that accompanied this costume was of golden velvet with a dark brown ostrich plume curled round the crown. I’d bought it in Paris at a little shop not far from our pension and, encouraged by the proprietress, added a veil, cream color with large brown spots. I tied this very tight over my face, because it seemed to me that to have my eyelashes caught in its meshes was seductive. The end of my nose, however, caught the brunt of this pressure, and carried for some time after the veil was removed a conspicuously indented ring.

“Over this ensemble I was forced to wear to Field’s my old muskrat coat, but I planned to leave this at the checking counter immediately inside the Washington Street entrance to the store. It did not occur to me that Mother would not like the costume; I was only afraid she might consider it too dressy for 8:30 A.m., a point of view I held to be old-fashioned.”

More about Miss Kimbrough’s interview to come!