Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Work

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)

Fall Housecleaning (31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 2)

cleaning mirrorYou thought spring cleaning was over? Welcome to fall cleaning! According to Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Housekeeping by Miriam Lukken, here’s what the diligent housekeeper takes care of in the fall:

Clean and clear out cellar and attic.
Wash all blankets and sun the heavy quilts.Clean, mend, and put by furs, thick clothes, winter hats, and winter bedding.
Replace summer curtains with winter drapes.
Remove, clean, and store summer slipcovers.
Wax the furniture.
Clean lamps and shades.
Hang carpets for a good beating and then sun them for a day.
Sun and air mattresses and pillows.
Turn mattresses.

Cheryl Mendelson, in her housekeeping tome Home Comforts, adds these tasks:

Wash mirrors.
Clean the oven.
Wax floors.
Wash or wax woodwork.
Organize used drawers, cabinets, closets.
Dust blinds and shades, door tops, and other hard-to-reach areas where dust may collect.
Wash windows, storm windows, and screens.
Clean blades of ceiling fans.
Remove out-of-season clothing from closet, clean and store it, replace with seasonal clothing.
Clean and polish gems, jewelry, silver, brass, copper.
Have the piano tuned.
Vacuum books.
Move and clean underneath heavy appliances and furniture.

Mendelson writes, “Fall cleaning is an excellent way to usher in the holiday season with its extra entertaining. You can do a fall cleaning instead of or in addition to a spring cleaning. Or you can do an additional fall cleaning in some years and not in others. . . . Fall cleaning should be done . . . typically in September and, at least in the cooler climates, no later than mid-October.” She adds that, during a full seasonal cleaning, “you should plan on having no guests and doing only light cooking.”

 

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.

 

Down to Business: Are you the Executive Type (circa 1943)?

lord&taylor4

WHO IS SHE That woman always seen lunching at smart restaurants–charmingly unaware of the interest she excites. She’s the woman who has traveled, whose leisure allows her wide cultural activities. She throws her time and energy into drives for her favorite charities, she encourages the opera, the ballet, the symphony, art exhibits. She’s the influence behind the fashions that have carried our designers’ names around the world. SHE’S SO AMERICAN (Lord & Taylor ad from the 1940s, reflecting patriotism of the war years)

From “Personality Plus” by Veronica Dengel:

“The executive type is the brisk, energetic, matter-of-fact woman, entirely capable of handling any situation, Purposeful in every movement and thought, there is no ‘nonsense’ about her. …

In the office, make yourself the girl who is trimmest, neatest, smartest in appearance. You can do it by choosing dark colors, accented with fresh neckwear, simple suits with soft blouses. Two or three basic dresses will see you through several seasons, but vary their appearance. . . . If you are going out socially direct from the office, either bring other clothes with you or else accessories that will dress up your office frock. But do not come to business all dressed up in a cocktail-time dress with the excuse, ‘I’m going to a party.’ You will be out of palce and ill at ease all day, and besides, your employer won’t like it.”

Here are Miss Dengel’s clothing suggestions for the ‘executive type’:

Colors: Clear, cool colors. Black or other dark shades.

Fabrics: Hard surfaces. Heavy “knobby” fabrics in crepes or wools. No chiffons or transparent fabrics.

Necklines: Tailored neckline, high or low. Pique, linen, or hard-surfaced silks.

Underwear: Fine tailored pajamas, initialed. Combination of silk and satin trimmed underwear, or bit of lace.

Shoes: Heavy leathers for daytime; fabric or suede for dress. Medium or low heels.

Hose: Two or three thread. neutral to darker tones.

Sports clothes: Slack suits, matching jacket. Cotton dresses.

Daytime clothes: Fine tweeds, man-tailored suits, severe blouses in broadcloth or silk. Plain, smart wool or crepe dresses.

Dress clothes: Thin wool or crepe ‘dinner dress.’ Preferably black or navy. Occasional pastel wool, tailored.

Coats: Fitted or semi-fitted; dark colors for dress. Fine ‘travel type’ in blended tweeds for sports.

Hats: Extreme; smart lines; very little, if any, trimming. Small, bright colored hat with veil for dress.

Gloves: Suede, leather in dark color. Pigskin or heavy calf for sports.

Furs: Mink, beaver, seal, Persian lamb. Scarves of stone or baum marten [Editor’s note: I had to look this up. “Stone marten” and “baum marten” (another name for “Pine marten“) are WAY too cute to kill and wear. As are most animals, IMO. Just not a fan of fur, I guess]. Silver fox if tall.

Bags: Large envelope type in leather. Pigskin, calf or grained.

What about you? Are you the ‘executive type’? I’m afraid I’m not…but never fear, we’ll be discussion some other ‘types’ in the near future.

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?

Fall cleaning the way Grandma used to do it

housekeeping2Most homemakers are familiar with spring cleaning, but what about fall cleaning? I think fall is a great time to do a thorough cleaning. In our rural northern climate, the house has been open all summer, and fresh breezes blowing through open windows and doors carry dust, and dirt has been tracked in from the garden and hiking trails. And just like during the rest of the year, various gimcracks and trinkets and papers have continued to accumulate and need sorting out. Cold-weather clothes need a good going-over, and now’s the time to change out a few summery decor items for more autumn-ish things.

Here are a few more suggestions for fall cleaning, gleaned from Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping:

Clean and clear out cellar and attic.
Wash all blankets and sun the heavy quilts.
Clean, mend, and put by furs, thick clothes, winter hats, and winter bedding.
Replace summer curtains with winter drapes.
Remove, clean, and store summer slipcovers.
Wax the furniture.
Clean lamps and shades.
Hang carpets for a good beating and then sun them for a day.
Sun and air mattresses and pillows.
Turn mattresses.

As for what to wear while scrubbing, heed this advice from Veronica Dengel l(1943):

“[Work clothes] can be flattering and still serve their purpose. There is no excuse for going round in ‘any old thing’ just because you are doing housework, or have come in from the office and removed your business clothes. If you can sew, you can make lovely, washable house dresses with an individual touch; but they cost very little even if you have to buy them.” She added, “Need I remind the housewife that she should be clean and fresh and pretty when her family comes home? Men dislike women to be messy and unkempt and crying about how much work they did during the day. Even children notice their mother’s appearance more than may be realized, so be sure their childhood memories of you are what you want them to be.”

31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Summer, Day 22: Preserve summer’s bounty

canning adPerhaps you took to heart my farmer’s market post, got a little carried away, and are now wondering what to do with the abundant yield now overflowing from your fridge and counters. Or your garden is putting forth fabulous food faster than you and your family can eat it. If so, consider doing some home canning, that time-honored method of food preservation.

I didn’t learn how to can until quite recently. I never saw my mother or grandmothers do any canning. In fact–city women all–they seemed rather relieved that, in this day and age, they didn’t have to. Moving to a rural area and tasting the delights of home-canned fruits and vegetables made me interested in learning the process, and so not long ago a friend took me under her wing and showed me the basics.

If you’re new to canning, the Internet is filled with tutorial help. I like the information put out by Ball (suppliers of that most basic canning supply, the Mason jar, who mason jarpresumably know what they’re talking about). If you’re an experienced canner from way back, give us novices your best tips in the comments.

Try it. All it takes is some time and know-how and a little practice. And come winter, when you can pull that jar of pickled green beans or spiced apples off the shelf and place a bowl of summer sunshine on your dining table, with the satisfaction of knowing everything that went into it, you’ll be glad you did.

Down to Business: The independent woman of 1934

The-Kitty-Foyle-Dress-lgoIn The Complete Book of Etiquette, published in 1934, Hallie Erminie Rives reflected the changes wrought on society by the modern businesswoman of the day, and the image she might have projected to younger women:

“With the financial independence of woman has come a new social independence which finds expression in separate homes, self-decided lives, and far greater freedom of behavior (freedom that is not to be confused with license) in many of the smaller social forms which once were considered as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and the Persians.

“Until women began widely to earn and dispose of their own money, they did not appreciate the extent to which social conventions were built upon financial dependence. A man’s womenfolk–his wife, his daughters, perhaps his mother, an elderly aunt or maiden sisters–lived under his roof and regarded him as the patriarchal head of the family. Maiden aunts indeed often bitterly earned their keep by acting as housekeepers, errand runners, nursemaids, and caretakers, and were grateful for such pin money as was occasionally bestowed upon them.

“Nowadays Auntie is apt to turn to good advantage the executive ability once spent in waiting on other people and bringing up their children, by holding a well-paid position and living in her own apartment, with perhaps a maid to wait on her. Does she hesitate to venture forth, night or day, for any amusement they consider worth the pains? Not at all. Aunties after this pattern buy tickets to the show, go to a hotel for dinner, take taxis to and from the theater, and scoff at any tradition that tells them they must not.

“And what of Auntie’s eighteen or twenty-one year old niece–just out of high school or college, and hesitating, perhaps, as to what she will do until the inevitable Mr. Right comes along and settles her future in the proper way? Ah, there’s the rub! Miss Twenty-One sees Auntie’s propitious circumstances–the pretty clothes, the clever friends, the attractive apartment (with no rules other than those of her own making to trammel her) and the apparent complete independence of family precepts and conventions. Who can blame Miss Twenty-One (who may feel herself somewhat unappreciated at home) for rather fancying such ideal surroundings? For the girl who leaves her home for the city and the home table for a delicatessen diet in a small apartment which, for all its discomforts and inconveniences, she passionately defends, is in the grip of that age-old feminine desire, born into every woman whether it is her destiny to marry or remain single, for a home of her own. This was as strong in her aunt and in her great-aunt as it is in her, but in their day few women who did not marry found it possible of gratification.

“Let Miss Twenty-One take heart. As she grows older–should Mr. Right delay his appearance–she may emulate Auntie’s independence and no one will criticize her for it. But first, as her aunt did before her, she must earn the right to it, and that demands maturity of mind as well as of body.”
–(from The Complete Book of Etiquette by Hallie Erminie Rives)

I met my husband at age twenty-eight and married him at thirty. I well remember the longing for a place of my own in my earlier twenties, after I’d finished college and was working, with no Mr. Right in sight. My first apartment was a third-floor walk-up in a prewar building that was hot in summer, steam-heated by clanging old radiators  in winter, and came complete with ancient plumbing fixtures and hot and cold running water bugs. But it was a real charmer with wood floors, built-in glass-front cabinets, generous windows, and gorgeous woodwork. I didn’t appreciate it at the time and decamped for a more modern, anonymous, air-conditioned box after a couple of years. Ah, the folly of youth! Probably by now that old building, located in a desirable neighborhood near the commuter train, has been renovated, and I could no longer even afford to live there. But I’ll never forget the thrill of having my own four walls, my own kitchen, my own rooms to arrange and decorate the way I wanted. Heady freedom, indeed, and while I looked forward to eventually getting married, I cherished those years of singlehood, too.

Have you ever lived on your own, either temporarily or permanently? If so, did you like it? What do you remember about the very first place you called your own?

Down to Business: Homemaking at its Best

housekeeping2Here’s a bit of encouragement for homemakers, from A Sixpence in Her Shoe by Phyllis McGinley:

“A perceptive writer who has not always praised the modern women is the anthropologist Margaret Mead. Yet she, in a recent article discussing the results of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, has this to say concerning the home-centered career:

‘Through the ages, human beings have remained human because there were women whose duty it was to provide continuity in their lives–to be there when they went to sleep and when they woke up, to ease pain, to empathize with failure and rejoice at success, to listen to tales of broken hearts, to soothe and support and sustain and stimulate husbands and sons as they faced the vicissitudes of a hard outside world. . . . The young, the sick, the old, the unhappy and the triumphantly victorious have needed special individuals to share with them and care for them.’

“It is [Mead’s] conclusion that not too many but too few women keep their status as full-time housewives. Whether full-time or in part, however, the keeper of the home is the most important woman in the world. That willingness to “soothe and support and sustain,” to make at atmosphere in which the larger, if not the more vital, affairs of earth can get accomplished is singular to our sex. We should feel honored to have this dispensation in our hands. For both those who give it and those who take it, it is the soul’s chief nourishment.

“I have sung, then, and continue to sing the worth of a domestic career in an age when it is terribly needed. We crave light and warmth in this century. Only the mother, the wife, can supply it for the home. To be a housewife is not easy. Ours is a difficult, a wrenching, sometimes an ungrateful job if it is looked on only as a job. Regarded as a profession, it is the noblest as it is the most ancient of the catalog. Let none persuade us differently or the world is lost indeed.” –Phyllis McGinley, Sixpence in Her Shoe, 1960.

What do you think, homemakers? In what ways do you “soothe and support and sustain” and do all the other hard work of providing light and warmth where it’s most needed?

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