Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Long Hangers and Toilet Seats

... really have nothing in common! Except... In September, 1937, Better Homes & Gardens included them both in the "It's News to Me!" column. I often spot items like this in old magazines and books that look so useful, I really do ask, "Why did we stop doing that?"

Check out the page:
Among the numerous goodies to help folks make their lives easier is one thing I sure could have used about seven or eight years ago, and another thing I sure wish I had right now.

First, number 2... really, no pun intended! The description reads: "'A clever idea,' says Gladys Denny Shultz of the toilet cover, designed for the home where there's a baby. Its second hinged seat, built in to rest lid-like on the adult's seat, fits the child. Thus the unit has permanent, swinging seats in two sizes, and a lid..."

How brilliant! If you've also struggled with the various potties for training, you know how handy -- and clutter free -- this beauty would be. And it would still be around, presumably, for when child-sized visitors need to visit the bathroom...or maybe even grand kids.

The second item, I'm sure is still made somewhere. But I've never come across them, and I'm sure if I did, they would be out of my price range. Our bedroom closets have two shelves above the rod. I can't get to them, nor does anything really fit on them that I would like to store. What I would really like to do is take them out, drop the existing rod, and put another rod up near ceiling height. If I had some of these hangers, that would make my closet twice as large, and I wouldn't even need to stretch to get to stuff up out of the way.

The description: "It it's top hat and tails for the big time, just reach your clothes from these long-handled hangers. hanger at left (No. F), hooked on a high closet rod, keeps an evening gown from trailing. The other (No. 0), placed high, saves a man's dress suit from the closet crush of the hoi polloi!..."

Or... my winter things could pop up to the top rod, along with my special clothes, and my current rotation of clothes could reside below.

Don't these things just make sense? Why'd we stop doing that?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Appropriate Clothing

My grandmother knew a thing or two about dressing comfortably. She lived in an old house out in the country, and until her later years, she and my grandfather gardened extensively, kept animals, and generally lived the rural lifestyle. But when she had to go to town--for groceries, to the bank, or for some entertainment--she dressed for the occasion. That was when her best clothes, shoes, and jewelry came out, and she could fix her thick and curly white hair into the prettiest styles. (She tended to wear hairnets around the house to keep her rather wild mane in order!)

Anytime I venture out, I have to question, "Why did we stop dressing appropriately?" Seeing people in dirty and torn clothing at the library, seeing people in the grocery store in pajamas, seeing adult men "of a certain age" wearing the same things that 10-year-old boys wear and women wearing super short shorts and barely-there tops away from the beach or pool.... Not appropriate! It's a lack of respect for themselves as well as for those around them.

I live in an area where people come from all over to tube the river. I hate the tubing season because everywhere one looks is more flesh than I care to see, especially when I'm shopping for food or stopping in a cafe for a bite to eat. I fully understand that bathing suits are appropriate to the river, but for walking down the street? For shopping? We passed a woman the other day walking down the street whose bikini was so small that from a not-far distance, we could have sworn she was completely naked!

So I was delighted to see that the great Edith Head had made a list--alphabetized!--for appropriate clothing for women. I've just finished reading her memoirs, titled The Dress Doctor, from 1959. After many tales of dressing some truly amazing men and women (and herself), she concludes with an appendix, "For the Do-It-Yourself Dress Doctor."

One of the fantastic illustrations by La Edith.
 Some of her "Prescriptions for Dressing":

AMUSEMENT PARKS: Spectator sport clothes--skirt + sweater or blouse, or sport dress, sport suit, or simple street dress; + comfortable shoes+sweater or jacket at night. Hat and gloves optional.

BICYCLING: Shorts, pedal pushers, or pants + shirt, sweatshirt, or sweater; + sneakers + anklets. Cap optional.

CHURCH: Day dress, dressmaker suit, or ensemble (dress and jacket); + hat + gloves + street shoes. Hats or head coverings are always correct, in some churches obligatory; bare arms, incorrect.

Classroom.  Sweater (pullover or cardigan), or blouse (sport or tailored), with skirt (straight, gored, pleated). Or sport dress (shirtmaker, jumper), or sport suit (suitable fabrics--wool, wool jersey, flannel, tweed, cashmere, corduroy; cotton and synthetics in spring); + jacket (cardigan or blazer) + vest + car coat + top coat + loafers, moccasins, saddle shoes or oxfords + bobbysocks (cuffed) or knee-length socks or hose + gloves (knit or sport) + bag + scarf or hood for campus.
Leisure. Pants--blue jeans to velveteens--Bermuda shorts or pedal pushers; + blouse or sweaters + loafers or leisure shoes.
Social Functions (teas, luncheons). Dressmaker suit or afternoon dress (wool, knit, silk; in spring, prints, cotton, organdy); + jacket or coat + day (not sport) shoes + hose + small hat + gloves.
Evening--semiformal. Afternoon or dinner suit or dress (suitable fabrics--silk, taffeta, velvet, soft wool, brocade, satin or lace; in spring, organza, cotton, organdy); + coat, jacket or stole (fur or fabric) + dress shoes + hose + cocktail hat + long or short gloves.
Evening--formal. Short, long or ballerina-length dress (faille, taffeta, brocade, satin, lace, tulle, net, organdy); + formal coat (taffeta, brocade, satin, fur) or stole + evening footwear.

At Home. Hostess: Short or long dinner dress. Guests: Short or long dinner dress (depending on hostess's request); + evening shoes + wrap + gloves.
Restaurant, Hotel or Cafe (usually a dinner dance or dinner preceding other formal functions). Hostess and Guests: Long or short formal dress; + evening shoes + gloves + wrap.
At Home. Hostess: Afternoon dress, short dinner dress, hostess gown, or evening separates (dinner pajamas, or dinner skirt or slacks with evening sweater or blouse). Guests: afternoon dress, ensemble, or evening separates (skirt + sweater or blouse) + suitable shoes, gloves optional.
Hostess and Guests: Short, ballerina, or full-length formal dress; + stole or evening wrap + evening shoes + gloves.
At Home. Sport dress, afternoon dress, or cocktail dress, + suitable shoes. Guests: according to request of hostess.
Country Club. Sport dress, short dinner dress, afternoon dress, or separates; + suitable shoes + wrap + gloves.

HOUSEWORK: Housedress, smock, duster, or skirt or pants of any becoming length with shirt or T-shirt or wash sweater (all clothes in this category must be functional and washable, but colors can be gay); + apron suitable for work in hand --rubber, plastic, or cotton + low-heeled ties, moccasins or flats--not bedroom slippers.

ROLLERSKATING: Action skirt, or slacks, with blouse or sweater; + wool socks + cardigan sweater or jacket.
There are many other gems, like what to wear shopping, what to wear to a prize fight, what to wear hunting (including specifics for game or bird hunting) and fishing (whether fly or deep-sea!), and much more. This was a fun read that definitely puts the meaning of dressing well and appropriately in a new light from someone who spent her life thinking about how clothing made people look. She wasn't just about "what to wear and not wear" but about the outcome of all kinds of presentations. Really interesting stuff!

I'll leave you with this quote from Ms. Head;
"There is a point every woman can learn from the actress. Do your clothes justice--never appear in them half-baked, be the finished product. An actress doesn't wear a dress or suit and say, "This'll look wonderful when I have the right shoes and the right hat." She knows that each impression she makes is important, that she's always being seen. She takes pride in herself.
So should we all."

Monday, June 20, 2011


Are you old enough to have had a class called penmanship? For me, second grade was that magic time when we set aside such childish things as printing in block letters and moved on to the much more adult style of writing (but still in pencil! ink wasn't allowed until high school!). Cursive was that amazing and magical way of writing that meant we were growing up.

But my kids didn't have that. My teenager had a class called "keyboarding." We called it "typing" in my day. My younger daughter will not have either class, although they did learn some cursive--a simplified, rather stripped down version--and something called "italics." (See article here: Op-Art: The Write Stuff)

Some studies show that learning penmanship, the art of correct handwriting, can improve students' education overall. Once upon a time, penmanship was important. Students worked hard and spent a good deal of time working on their hand, getting used to the tools of penmanship, learning the art of it. And it was indeed artwork. A beautiful flowing hand was an admired trait. How many times have you seen some old piece of handwriting and said, "I wish I could write like that!"

I have a book from 1872 called The Payson, Dunton, & Scribner Manual of Penmanship, published in New York and Chicago by Woolworth, Ainsworth, and Company. It is a manual, not for learning how to write beautifully, but for teaching students how to write beautifully. Interestingly, the first thing stressed is that the teacher should do all the work the students will be asked to do, and that he or she basically lead by example. It also teaches the future teacher of penmanship how to criticize. It give specific instructions for how to ask students questions and correct their work. I love this piece of advice: "It is not enough to discover the fault. They must know what to do to make the desired change." Words all teachers should live by!

Here are the parts of letters at the back of the book:
Yes, I wish I could write like that, but I honestly don't know how practical it would be. After all, who would know how to read it? But, teaching students how to write by hand, neatly, legibly, and with a little flair is important. And we've apparently stopped doing that. Why?

Predictions of handwriting's demise didn't begin with the computer; they date back to the introduction of the Remington typewriter in 1873. But for at least a generation, penmanship has seemed a quaint and, well … schoolmarmish subject to be emphasizing. Now, backed by new research, educators are trying to wedge it back into the curriculum. After all, no one has suggested that the invention of the calculator means we don't have to teach kids how to add, and spelling is still a prized skill in the era of spell check. If we stop teaching penmanship, it will not only hasten the dreaded day when brides acknowledge wedding gifts by e-mail; the bigger danger is, they'll be composed even more poorly than they already are.
The above quote is from a Newsweek article from November 3, 2007, titled "The Writing on the Wall." According to the article, handwriting fluency has been found to be a building block of learning. Those who can physically write better, can not only demonstrate their skills better, but the act of expression is part of the learning process. After all, we've been writing by hand for an awfully long time. Typing, or keyboarding, has its place (I couldn't write to you now without it!), but so does handwriting. Just because we do one doesn't mean we don't have to do the other anymore. The common argument ties it to the calculator: Just because we can use a calculator to figure hard math does not preclude us from learning the technique behind the equation. It's two different things. Learning how to add is important, and it's a building block for a lot of stuff. So is learning how to build letters into words and words into sentences at the rhythm that our brain and hand work together.

And to close... my mother had an autograph book in 1940. I've always been fascinated by the little notes from family and friends in it, and also by the handwriting from so long ago. In 1940, my mother was in the seventh grade. Just look at this little gem, so beautifully written and with such flair... and written by a boy!
Who was John? I don't know. But doesn't he look interesting? I wonder if someone will see my handwriting one day, 70 years from now, and say, wow... I bet she was smart and interesting? I wonder if I will leave behind any handwriting at all...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tiny Doors!

Maybe because I've never been lucky enough to live in a house that was of an age (or in a location) for a milk door or milk chute, I've always had a fascination with those tiny little double doors that open into the kitchen or near the front door. Those little passages opened on the outside, for someone to put the milk/butter/cheese/love note in, and then a little door on the inside would open for one to retrieve said treasure.

Why did we stop doing that? Well, probably because--sadly--no one has milk delivered anymore (that's a whole 'nother post). But what we do today like crazy is order stuff online. Imagine if the postman or UPS guy or gal could pop our packages right into a safe, dry, secure little trapdoor instead of leaving a note for later delivery or leaving the package out in the rain/snow/sun/full view of mean people and/or dogs.

Sounds like a plan to me! If only I could go back in time and order one of these little beauties as seen in this "For Better Housekeeping" column in my August 1928 Better Homes & Gardens magazine:
Among the things that we do still do like have self-wringing mops, carpet sweepers, kitchen tongs, and step-to-open trash cans, is the little beauty called a "package receiver." (OK, we probably don't need to still do the ice-crushing set, admittedly!)

The little last part of the article, which I have not included here, notes: "Do you sometimes wait at home for packages to be delivered, or worry about the milk that is delivered early in the morning? This cast iron package receiver can be placed in any house, old or new, in a wall thickness of from 5 to 14 inches. The deliveryman places his packages in the compartment and closes the door, which locks automatically. At your convenience, you remove the deliveries from the inner door and then pull a chain which again unlocks the outside door for more deliveries." What's not to admire there?

Also, check out this Flickr pool of milk door pics. They're cute. They're handy. Why'd we stop doing that?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Focus on Fashion, Part III

Returning for the last time to April 1936's Good Housekeeping. This time, make-up.

The article:
Honestly, not much has changed over the decades in the choosing and application of make-up. We still want a fairly natural look in shades that suit us. What has changed, though, is the packaging of that make-up. It used to be so lovely! And much of it was refillable because it was so lovely (and what better way to have brand loyalty? If you have the gorgeous lipstick case, you're probably going to stick to the brand that fits it.) Why, oh why, did we stop doing that?

To wrap up, some ads from the same magazine:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Focus on Fashion, Part II

More from Good Housekeeping 1936!

"April Into Summer"
So, the magazine arranged for these clothes "to be displayed on living models the first week of April" at shops and department stores in Hartford, Buffalo, New York, Cincinnati, Portland, St. Louis, Louisville, and Des Moines. How cool is that?

And these... "Bright young people are now buying the sort of clothes they can wear immediately and also right through summer." I love the echoes of Evelyn Waugh's "Bright Young Things" across the pond here. The dresses on these two pages came in sizes 12 to 20 and cost between $16.95 to a whopping $25.

For the bride:

So elegant, aren't they? The bride, the mother of the bride, and bridesmaids in lovely gowns with timeless elegance.


I love this: "Colored accessories are gay, but don't overdo them. Match bag and gloves, bag and belt, shoes and bag, or hat and bag."

Yes! A shopping service! But wait... there are three more pages of clothes to order!

AND, as if that weren't enough! There are two pages of patterns to choose from, costing 45 cents each. And the magazine even offered "The Sewing Room: The Fashion Salon presents a model sewing room equipped with modern conveniences, which we cordially invite you to visit at 57th Street and 8th Avenue, N. Y. C."

Just wow...

Phew. And that still isn't all the gorgeousness in this one issue. Part III will cover make-up! See you next time!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Focus on Fashion, Part I

Imagine Good Housekeeping magazine focusing on fashion. Imagine seeing the latest fashions from Paris (rather than from a chain department store) amongst the adventure stories and recipes. In April 1936, that's what homemakers got.

Imagine: a gorgeous cake recipe, and the newest Schiaparelli, Heim, Molyneux, and Chanel! That's my kind of magazine! Why'd we stop doing that?

Check out these pages...and this isn't even all there is in this issue!

From left: Vera Borea, Heim, Creed.


From left:Robert Piguet and Chanel
Both Molyneux
The rest of the article.
To note: "First, there is the Margot influence, inspired by Bourdet's play by this name now running in Paris, concerning the enchanting Marguerite de Valois, who married Henri IV of France in the 17th century. Our modern 1936 fashions reflect in a modified form the beautiful Medici costumes of this play, in high, wide shoulders, small waists, and high necklines encircled with ruffs. Lots of ruffled lingerie neckwearis an outcome of this influence. Capes also belong to this group, as well as peplums and the schoolgirl white collars, the fitted bodices, and wide circular skirts.

A second influence is from the Chinese exhibit held in London last fall--an influence shown in colors, embroidered details, the tunic, and the straight silhouette;...

A third is the mannish influence which is inevitable in the midst of a suit season, and it shows particularly in details of lapels, vests, and men's worsted suitings.

Fourth is the Directoire, shown in capes with lapels, the high waistline in evening frocks, and such detail as narrower border trimmings."

The article notes that one of the most important details of the new collection "is in the waistline. Belts, wide and draped, look like crushed girdles and often reach the hipline, making the waistline appear lower. The bolero jacket emphasizes, in some cases, these draped girdles. In color belts often contrast with the dress."

How gorgeous. Wouldn't it be amazing to have such ready access to Paris fashions? I wonder how many women copied these and made their own amazing fashions?

Friday, June 3, 2011

At Home ... With THE Range

Yes, I'm talking about appliances again. I pine for old appliances. They were so clever and stylish in so many ways--and so many are still plugging away (no pun intended...really) today. Check this stove out:

This is from the March 25, 1957, Life magazine. (Sorry for the photo...the ad is way too large to scan.) Behold the RCA Whirlpool Electric Range. Not only is it ... swoon ... pink, it has double ovens. It has a rotisserie. It has a timer that turns off and on all kinds of stuff. It has burners that can flip up even when they're hot so stuff doesn't burn on them. It has a meat probe that turns the oven off when the meat is done. It has a griddle. It has space on top to work. It has two--TWO--plugs on the top front. And the utility drawer comes completely out so you can clean under it!

I am in love with a range. Is that wrong?

Of course, extensive Google searching (OK, about three tries) does not turn up any of these babies anywhere. Surely such perfection never really existed? Because if it did, wouldn't modern ranges do all of these things? I certainly would think so. If these did exist, why on earth did we stop doing that... all that?

So do tell. Anyone out there have proof of the existence of perfection? Please show pictures.

I will dream of this range. If I had it, I, too, would cook massive meals (TWO pies!) in high heels and starched apron with a big smile on my perfectly made-up face. How could one not??