A Sparkling Vintage Life

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Fashionable Friday: What does “modest swimwear” mean?


Photo source: Jantzen.com

Swimsuit season is upon us! I love to swim, but navigating swimwear is always a hassle. In recent years I’ve worn a black skirted swimsuit. On good days, I think it looks charmingly retro. On bad days I think I look like an elderly Greek widow, minus sensible black lace-up shoes and a matching veil. Recently I’ve shaken things up by wearing a black-and-white polka-dotted top with the black skirt. Clearly I am a wild one.

But I’ll take this Greek-widow swimsuit ANY day over the hot pink bikini I wore as a teenager. At the time, I thought it looked cute. Now I can’t even look at photos from that time without wanting to throw a gigantic beach blanket over my Kodachrome self. Back then, wearing little insubstantial triangles of fabric seemed the thing to do–indeed, I was dressed no differently from my friends. These days, all a bikini says to me is Too Much Flesh and Too Little Dignity. Never mind that I no longer have that teenage figure, either–that’s beside the point. Even the very nicest body shape does not need to be put on display to the whole world–not if its owner has an eye toward good taste and modesty.

I enjoyed stumbling across this video by a designer who has an eye toward modest swimwear. I find her outlook refreshing. Don’t misunderstand–I don’t pine for the days of the “bathing machine,” and I’m extremely grateful for modern fabrics so that I don’t have to dogpaddle in wet wool! But IMO things have gone too far.

Don’t misunderstand–I don’t pine for the days of the “bathing machine,” and I’m extremely grateful for modern fabrics so that I don’t have to splash around in wet wool! But things have gone too far.

What do you and your daughters (and sons!) prefer to wear to the beach or pool?


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?


Retro Recipe Wednesday: Hawaiian Pineapple Pie


I stumbled across this summery-sounding recipe for pineapple pie in the June 1938 issue of Good Housekeeping, in an article titled “Dining in Hawaii.”  In that year Hawaii had not yet become a state, and air travel was not as widely practiced as it would later become, although of course cruise ships plied the Pacific waters.  The article even predates the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Americans who’d never given a thought to Hawaii would reach for the nearest atlas for a frantic geography lesson. In any case, I found it interesting that Hawaiian-themed cuisine would be featured in a mainstream women’s magazine as early as 1938.

royal hawaiian2Starring Hawaii’s most famous export (besides Don Ho),  this recipe for pineapple pie is said to have originated at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a grande dame of island resorts. The 1927  hotel was built in the Spanish style that must have been all the rage then (in Sandpoint, Idaho, near my home, the Panida Theater and the old Federal Building are other examples of this style, also dating to 1927).

Situated on Waikiki Beach, the Royal Hawaiian boasts of having “ushered in a new era of luxurious resort travel to Hawaii,” hosting many luminaries over the years. During the war it served the U. S. Navy as a rest  and recreation center. Completely restored in 2008, the Royal Hawaiian remains a landmark destination.

Here, then, is their celebrated dessert as it appeared in Good Housekeeping, which suggested accompanying it with “coconut milk with its thin, strange, attenuated sweetness, and coffee from the Kona coast–coffee never to be forgotten with its wild, rich flavor.”


4 eggs (ed. note: separated)
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 drained, crushed pineapple
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1/2 c. hot pineapple juice
4 Tbs. lemon-flavored gelatin dessert
1 10-in. pastry shell, baked

Combine the egg yolks, 1/2 c. of the sugar, the salt, 1/4 c. of the crushed pineapple, lemon juice and rind in a double boiler. Cook over hot water, while stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened. Heat 1/2 cup pineapple juice that has been drained from the crushed pineapple. Add the lemon-flavored gelatin dessert, and stir until dissolved. Add to the egg-yolk mixture, while stirring, and chill until beginning to thicken. Then fold in the egg whites, which have been beaten stiff, with the remaining 1/2 c. of sugar. Pour into the pastry shell, and chill until set. Just before serving garnish with 1/2 c. well-drained crushed pineapple. Serves 8.



Farewell, Famous-Barr!


Famous-Barr’s main floor in the late 1950s. Note how shoppers dressed in those days!

To be honest, the name on the plaque hasn’t read “Famous-Barr” for quite a while. Technically it’s Macy’s, the same way my beloved Marshall Field’s became Macy’s before closing its elegant revolving doors. But the landmark St. Louis department store will always be “Famous-Barr” to those who remember it fondly, just as Field’s remained Field’s to its fans. So I was sympathetic to the feelings expressed in a recent post on The Thinking Housewife, in which a reader named Alan writes with a tone of regret:

“The last remaining department store in downtown St. Louis has announced it will close this summer.”

He continues, “That came as no surprise to me. Only the willfully blind could imagine downtown is not dying. A man who opened a restaurant downtown in 1968 was calling it “done-town” by the time he retired in 2005. I knew he was right because I, too, had watched it decline, year after year.

“The department store is Macy’s but it was known for most of its life as Famous-Barr, a May Company store with ten floors of merchandise in a beautiful building called the Railway Exchange Building in the heart of downtown. One of my uncles worked there in the Katy Railroad office from the 1920s to the 1950s.

“How well I remember walking into the store through its brass revolving doors and riding the escalators to the upper floors. My father and I spent many hours browsing in the large book department on the sixth floor. Mannequins in a display window of the soon-to-close department store now wear backward baseball caps – a splendid example of trickle-up stupidity that Diana West could include in an updated edition of The Death of The Grown-Up. It symbolizes what happened between 1959 and now: A department store run by grown-ups was surrendered to people who take their cues from adolescents.”

You can read the full post here, and more about the store closing here.

What do you think caused the “death of the department store”? How about the “death of downtown”? What would it take to see a revival of both–and is that even something you’d like to see happen?

I know I would.


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