A Guide to Elegance
Join Jennifer Leo as she considers the elegant dress and deportment of the traveler of yesteryear, while contemplating her own upcoming encounter with the blood sport that is modern air travel.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for the transcript.
Turns out there’s a World Tiddlywinks Championship. Who knew?
A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux
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Episode 11 Transcript: The Well-Dressed Vintage Traveler
Today’s topic is Travel. I’m about to embark on a trip to the Chicago area to visit my father for Easter. In preparation, I thought it would be fun to look at travel from years past in comparison to today’s rather inelegant proceedings.
It’s been a quiet week here in northern Idaho. I’ve been working on the audiobook edition of Songbird and Other Stories. I know that there is some debate as to whether authors should record their own audiobooks, or should hire voiceover talent to do it. I think that in fiction the author’s personal voice is important, so I’ve chosen to record this one myself. My publisher did hire a reader to record the audiobook of You’re the Cream in My Coffee a couple of years ago, and I thought she did a competent job. But I’d like to try recording this one myself, and so I am. That’s one of the advantages of independent publishing, that I can maintain control and make these sorts of decisions for myself, for better or for worse. If in the end I don’t like the results, I can try something else. If you listen to audiobooks, do you have an opinion whether you prefer books read by the author or read by a professional voice artist? It probably depends on whether the author is a competent reader. I suppose that just because a person can write, doesn’t mean they can do a good job reading aloud. But I think I’ll do okay. Anyway, that’s my plan. The audiobook version of Songbird should be out in early May. The cover design is already done and we’re just waiting for me to finish recording the stories. Otherwise, since I’ll be traveling this week, I probably won’t get much writing done, although sometimes planes and airports turn out to be good incubators for creative activity. I’ll be prepared with my writing materials, just in case.
And now on to today’s topic. It’s no secret that while travel has grown in speed, efficiency, and affordability, it has declined in grace and charm and, in some cases, even basic civility. As I set off on my trip I’m not looking forward to the government-sanctioned assault on my person that is the TSA pat-down, or the cattle-car atmosphere of the airline cabin. I don’t appreciate being nickled-and-dimed for every convenience, from checking a bag to having enough room to move my legs. But I will appreciate getting from Idaho to Illinois in hours versus the days that it would take by train or car. In preparation I thought it would be fun to look at some travel advice from long ago to see how travel back then compares to today’s experience.
Writing for teenagers in 1948, Eleanor Boykin had this to say about travel: “There are so many ways to travel now that no one need remain always on home base. … Don’t start even a bus trip to Uncle David’s, though, unless you can bear up under an engine breakdown or a fidgety seatmate. People who cannot adjust to the unexpected and unwanted had better play tiddlywinks by the fire. But if your disposition is elastic, if you keep your eyes, ears, and mind open–not your mouth–travel will rub off some of your prejudices and will make you a more interesting person. It will not only broaden our tolerance as travelers but also enlarge our goodwill to the stranger within our gates.”
Well, that’s still true, isn’t it, as a general rule, that travel exposes us to different types of people and ways of living, which in turn makes us more interesting to talk to? Although I wonder how many listeners will understand the reference to tiddlywinks or remember playing it. Tiddlywinks is a game that involves flipping little discs into a central container some kind.
Miss Boykin goes on to say, “When traveling, ask the man in uniform–the station guard, policeman, or other person authorized to give information. Don’t ask advice or aid of strangers, except in serious emergencies. A girl traveling alone should be especially reserved with members of the opposite sex. If not, her attitude may be misunderstood, and she may find herself in a situation she will not enjoy. The best advice that can be given inexperienced travelers of either sex is to be very discreet in the matter of acquaintances.” That’s good advice in any decade, don’t you think? As to plane travel, Miss Boykin writes, “You may find yourself on the verge of taking a trip by air. You know that you must travel light. The aviation companies suggest that you let it be known when you are making your first trip by plane, in order that special attention may be given to your comfort. Meals which are substantial enough under the conditions will be served you without charge. You can feel free to call on the stewardess for information or advice. On most lines, there is a policy of no tipping. At your journey’s end, it will not be out of place for you to express appreciation for their good services to either pilot or hostess.”
Going back further, to 1938, the more worldly-wise Marianne Meade disagrees with Miss Boykin about advertising the fact that it’s your first plane trip. She says, “When you are taking your first airplane trip, do not advertise the fact that it is your first trip, and expect the hostess and fellow passengers to be sympathetic with your nervousness or thrilled with excitement as you probably are. If they are novices themselves they won’t be interested in your story, and if they are experienced air travelers they will be bored. Maintain your poise, do what is expected of the seasoned air traveler, and enjoy the trip as much as possible.” It doesn’t sound as if Miss Meade was a big fan of airline travel, does it? She continues, “Adjust in your ears the plugs of cotton which the hostess will give you. Chewing gum may also be distributed. Both items are to prevent your ears’ being affected at high altitudes. Most passengers remove their coats, and a woman may remove her hat if she wishes. It is permissible to chat if your neighbors if they seem so inclined. Many passengers prefer to sleep or read a book throughout the trip, and under such circumstances you should not insist on carrying on a conversation.”
Here’s a totally outdated concept: “Before lighting a cigarette, it is courteous to ask your neighbor if the smoke will annoy him and then ask the copilot if smoking is permitted. In some planes a notice is posted in the front of the salon when smoking is permitted, but at other times and on other planes smoking is strictly forbidden.
“Do not wear heavy perfume in the confined space of a plane, and when your corsage wilts, have it disposed of to avoid nauseating the other passengers. Do not try to talk to the pilot or explore any of the compartments not open to passengers, and don’t take it upon yourself to open the plane door when you land.”
Some of these inappropriate behaviors would get you arrested today!
I was surprised to find tips for plane travel going that far back, to the 1930s. For some reason I thought airplane travel only became commonplace for the general public after World War II, as opposed to just the military personnel. But clearly enough people were flying before the war to make such etiquette rules necessary.
Writing in 1934, Hallie Ermenie Rives sounded a little more enthusiastic about air travel in her book on etiquette. She says, “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, his baggage is 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, the stewardess 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, and at various intervals refreshments are served by the stewardess. Reclining chairs, individual ventilating systems and in some planes motion pictures all provide for the traveler’s comfort.”
If you were wondering what to wear on your travels in 1934, Hallie Rives would have come to your rescue. “A woman for traveling should select a simple, unostentatious dress. Dark colors are preferable to light, as they are less conspicuous and more serviceable from the standpoint of dust. The traveling clothes of the well-dressed woman are admirable in their severity 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.”
In the 1940s, Veronica Dengel agreed. “Take clothes that won’t crush easily. On your trip, wear tweed or cloth suits or wool frocks with heavy coats, rather than dressy silk things.”
A couple of decades later, in 1964, Genevieve Antoine Dariaux had even more to say on the topic. In her book A Guide to Elegance, she writes, “If you consider that when you are far away from home and surrounded by strangers, you are judged entirely on the strength of your external appearance, perhaps you will realize the importance of being flawlessly well dressed whenever you travel. Which means that your clothes should be perfectly adapted to your role of traveler and not give the impression that you are on your way to a wedding with a veiled hat and fur stole, or at the opposite extreme, toward the conquest of Annapurna with a knapsack on your back. On the excuse that travel so often leads to a holiday resort, there is a dismaying tendency today to set forth already dressed for that first sun bath.” She say, “In trains, planes or cars, if you are traveling from one city to another, you should wear a city outfit. With this basic ensemble you will need really very little in your suitcase if your accessories have been carefully planned. In the winter your black pumps, black purse, and coat will be just as appropriate for all your evening wear. In the summer your bag and shoes might be beige. A lightweight coat and a dressier stole in a neutral color will combine attractively with the two or three little dresses in your luggage. During three seasons out of four, a suit is the mainstay of your wardrobe. It can be warmed up by a blouse or sweater or it can be worn alone when the weather is mild.”
How does that description stack up next to the apparel sported by passengers on your most recent flight?
Finally, Hallie Rives offers us some advice for train or plane behavior that we’d do well to heed today. “It is just as objectionable to annoy others by loud talking or boisterous laughter or by other unnecessary noise when in a train or plane as when in a private home. To wander up and down the aisles, to open conversation with strangers, except as man to man, perhaps, in the freer atmosphere of the smoker, to call attention to oneself by eccentric behavior, are badges of ill-breeding or of the self-conscious and inexperienced traveler. A train or plane is not the place in which to hold forth upon one’s personal affairs. Neither is it courteous to discuss one’s fellow passengers or to point out peculiarities of appearance.”
Goodness. I can’t wait to see how well-behaved the general public will be on my upcoming flights. Maybe it’s time for the tide to turn and good manners to come back into fashion. But, I won’t hold my breath, lest I pass out and require smelling salts from the congenial air hostess.
A reminder from last week’s episode that there’s still time to enter the giveaway of a beautiful porcelain rose pin created by The 1928 Jewelry Company, visit jenniferlamontleo.com/podcast, click on Episode 11, and leave a comment that you’d like the pin. Or, even better, leave a review of the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you leave a review, please alert me by e-mail (email@example.com) and I’ll put your name in the drawing. Winner will be chosen at random on April 30, 2019. I’ll also post a photo of the pin in the show notes so you can see it. You can find the show notes at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 11.
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And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, one of the books I quoted above. Originally published in 1964, this book was reprinted 2004 and copies can still be obtained through Amazon. Some of the used copies available there are quite inexpensive, or see if your local library can obtain it. Madame Dariaux was a Frenchwoman who was considered quite the fashion guru back in 1964. She wrote A Guide to Elegance as a primer on being well dressed and developing grace and poise. It consists of 91 short articles arranged alphabetically, from Accessories to Zoology. The Zoology chapter covers using live animals as accessories, a trend which apparently was having a moment in 1964. Madame Dariaux writes, “Making a public appearance with a baby panther, a tame crocodile, or an orangutan, even a very intelligent one, should be reserved for starlets in need of publicity, for it creates a circus atmosphere that is quite incompatible with the discreet behavior of an elegant woman. However, the situation is quite different if one’s animal companion is our most faithful of friends, the dog.” That sounds like something worthy of a future episode.
I love to wear skirts. I think they’re so much more comfortable and flattering than jeans or slacks (on my admittedly zaftig shape). I like the way skirts swish around my legs in summer, creating their own breeze when I walk. I like tucking my legs up underneath for warmth when I sit (of course, it has to be the right kind of skirt for this kind of maneuver … a pencil skirt won’t do the trick).
Skirts are versatile. In 1964, Genevieve Dariaux wrote, “With several skirts, blouses, sweaters, and an assortment of belts it is possible to be very attractively dressed and even to create the impression of possessing a rather vast wardrobe, all for a minimum investment.”
But for a reason I can’t fathom, she goes on to say “a skirt can be worn with a sweater or blouse day in, day out, from one end of the year to the other, almost anywhere at all–except on a city street (unless it is covered by a coat). What? Why would a skirt be considered inappropriate on a city street in 1964? That makes no sense to me. If anyone knows the answer to that puzzling statement, please post it in the comments.
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it feels like the longest. Endless gray days punctuated by violent storms do little to lift my mood. Here are a few things I’ve found that are making the doldrums pass a little more quickly.
*Enjoying a lively discussion of A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux over at the Modern Retro Woman Reading Club. First published in 1964 and reissued in 2003, this little book is subtitled “For every woman who wants to be well and properly dressed on all occasions.” It makes me amused, happy, and sad at the same time, seeing how women’s sense of style has changed (yea, fallen) since the days of white gloves and girdles (although now we have Spanx to corral our avoirdupois, so maybe some things haven’t changed so much, after all).
*Getting my “granny” on! One thing I’ve been adoring this winter is this Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown from The Vermont Country Store. I got it for Christmas and it’s my go-to garment for comfort and warmth in on cold winter nights. Like wearing a hug!
*Loving the podcast What Should I Read Next by Anne Bogel, the avid bibliophile behind the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. Anne discusses books and makes recommendations for her guests. I keep a notebook nearby as I listen to jot down interesting-sounding titles.
*Finishing up one of my favorite books, Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, in The Sparkling Vintage Ladies Reading Circle. In March we’ll be reading The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (author of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series for children), which will surely bring about some smiles.
*Cleaning out my overstuffed craft room/guest room/gift-wrapping room/stash-it room. In itself, decluttering is not a particularly sparkling activity, but the results are cheer-inducing.
How are you passing these late-winter days?