Friday, 27 February 2015

Last-Week Links: 27 February 2015

I was lucky enough to head up to Tyneside this week for the 6Music festival. Singing along, dancing, a bit of getting over emotional: it was magnificent. Just as magnificent, in fact, as the gorgeous river front. Full credit also to the women (and men) of Newcastle who do brave the February air without their coats. It really isn't a myth.

As you may know, I'm now working as contributing editor on the magazine The Simple Things. The March issue is out now and is every bit as fresh as the coverline promises. In this issue, I spoke to the lovely people at The Future Mapping Company, as well as finding some cheap and easy ways to make over an old sweater. Also in this issue: culottes, amazing sushi, vintage cameras and the most amazing libraries.

I've also been updating my Last-Year Girl Book Etsy shop. There are some real treats in there at the moment, from 1970s cult fashion bible Cheap Chic to a first edition of Dior's Little Dictionary of Fashion and a gorgeous book on 1950s London (check out the Festival of Britain endpapers).

On my own reading list, I've enjoyed Fiona MacCarthy's The Last Curtesy - the last season of British debutantes in 1958. The return of the Great British Sewing Bee is also making me very happy indeed.

Elsewhere on the internet: 

* In the January issue of The Simple Things, I wrote about fitness trends from the past (you can see a copy of the article here) and I developed a bit of a Jane Fonda crush. No surprise then I loved this piece on a week of Jane Fonda workouts.

* Keeping Calm and Carrying On can now make you thousands.

* How the V&A's National Art Library collects magazines

* An interesting series on the creative ways creative people dress for work

* Louis Vuitton does Wes Anderson - oh my!

* Graffiti artists fighting copying fashion brands

* I've ordered a copy of Mommy Dressing after reading this post on American Age.

* Take a look at the Europeana Fashion Tumblr for more fashion inspiration: it brings together thousands of different fashion and costume-items from 22 European institutions, including the V&A and MoMu as well as archives such as Missoni. I love this Southend Teddy Boy and this gorgeous floral lady as featured in recent posts.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Friday, 20 February 2015

Last Week Links: 20 February 2015

Yeah, haven't done one of these for a while...

First things first, I'm now on Instagram. Finally.

I've also been all over weekend trips recently - Margate, Newcastle and, this weekend, Oxford. We saw Love is Enough: the Jeremy Deller-curated William Morris and Andy Warhol exhibition. The Museum of Modern Art is a great space, and the exhibition really tried to make the most of it, the walls papered with some of Morris' famous wallpapers (a refreshing alternative to the typical white space). The exhibition was far from perfect, but at least it made me think - this one star review from the Telegraph is definitely too harsh.

We also managed to squeeze in a visit to the Ashmolean, a Ben's Cookie, a cream tea and a visit to a ye olde English pub. Well done us. And we got rather carried away by all the marvellous brushes, instruments and implements in the shop Objects of Use (as pictured above on my ... Instagram!)

More exhibitory delights this week, as I went to see the Elvis show at the 02. Featuring objects straight out of Graceland, it didn't have quite the emotional punch that a pilgrimage to Graceland does. But, produced with fondness and with a blind eye turned to many of his foibles, it was still top class entertainment. And those jumpsuits really are something.

I finally finished reading Silence by Shusaku Endo - very good, but Portuguese missionaries being tortured did not want to make me eagerly pick it up each time. I'm getting back into my reading groove with Fiona MacCarthy's The Last Curtesy - about the final season of English debutantes in 1958 (of which she was one).

Finishing off this week's cultural adventures, I went to see the play Tree at the Old Vic. If you like Daniel Kitson and/or Tim Key you'll know what kind of daft but well-observed humour to expect. But you probably won't expect that ending.

* "Jean Shrimpton now" is by far the most popular search term that bring people to this blog (and hopefully to this post). Here's an update. Her B&B has been converted into a holiday rental. Check out the Abbey in all its glory here.

* It's been a week for fab footwear collaborations. Ashley Williams teamed up with Red or Dead and Orla Kiely has been doing her usual thing just beautifully for Clarks as the above shoe demonstrates.

* An oral history of Laurel Canyon in the 1960s and 1970s

* There's going to be a Mad Men exhibit!

* Over on Fancies, I've written about fab, colourful clothes that are seemingly inspired by Matisse and other bits of modern art.

Oh, and did I mention that I'm now on Instagram? Have a lovely weekend!

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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Live Alone and Like It: Marjorie Hillis' 1936 advice to single women

After the horror of that was the advice offered on how to dress to find a husband, here are some vintage words that might actually bring comfort. They come from Live Alone and Like It, a book intended to be "a guide for extra women", offering tips for solo dwelling. Written by US Vogue journalist Marjorie Hillis, the book became a bestseller on its original release in 1936 – and I think did pretty well on its rerelease in 2005.

That might be because – sadly – the hectoring on what women should/shouldn’t be doing is still very much a part of everyday life. In contrast, Hillis’ advice still seems refreshingly sensible. As she says herself, the book is ‘no brief in favour of living alone’, but it does suggest ways to make the most of your situation, whether “the pleasures of a single bed”, or a “new and spicy book” to occupy an evening in. No sympathy is given to wallowers, or those feeling sorry for their situation. Although Hillis may be kind to the single woman, she is also bossy. While the living alone may not be your choice, the liking it – according to Hillis – very much is.

Here are ten of my favourite pieces of her advice on living alone:

1. “The basis of successful living alone is the determination to make it successful … You have got to decide what kind of a life you want and then make it for yourself.”

2. “Do go in for cosmetics in a serious way. Not any old cream, but the right creams. The right coiffure too, and the right nail-polish, and all the other beauty tricks that make you feel elegant. This is the kind of pampering that pays.

 “There are other good kinds: a glass of sherry and an extra special dinner charmingly served on a night when you’re tired and all alone; bath salts in your tub and toilet-water afterward; a new and spicy book when you’re spending an evening in bed; a trim little cotton frock that flatters you on an odd morning when you decide to be violently domestic. The notion that it 'doesn’t matter because nobody sees you’ with the dull meals and dispirited clothes that follow in its wake, has done more damage than all the floods of springtime.”

3. “One of the great secrets of living alone successfully is not to live alone too constantly. A reasonably large circle of friends and enemies, whom you can see when you want to, and will often see you when you don’t want to, is an important asset. Anybody can acquire it, but it takes a little doing … If you haven’t any contacts, put your hat right on and go out and start making them … Be a Communist, a stamp collector or a Ladies’ Aid Worker if you must, but for heaven’s sake, be something.”

4. “It’s a good idea to divide your time intelligently into hours spent alone and hours spent in entertainment. Both should be taken in moderation, and balanced rations are best … Hermits and other self-sufficient people may be geniuses (we doubt it) and contribute greatly to the scientific knowledge of the world, but they contribute practically nothing to its entertainment and have a very dull time themselves. Most people’s minds are like ponds and need a constantly fresh stream of ideas in order not to get stagnant.”

5. “You must keep an open mind about what you read and where you go. Favourite authors and one favourite movie house are all very well in moderation, but they can become old-lady habits if you don’t watch out.”

6. “A reasonable amount of travel ought, of course, to be listed among the necessities. (An unreasonable amount if you can manage it.) If you don’t agree with this, there is something wrong with you, and you should see a doctor or a minister or at least read a few travel books and folders. All normal people should get wrought up now and then over the fact that there are wild orchids in Brazil that they may never see, and temple bells in Mandalay that they may never hear, and beautiful Balinese maidens and incredible Tibetan Lamaseries that they are likely to miss altogether.”

7. “Your setting, if you live alone, matters much more than if you had a husband or even a lover. And your standards of living should be about ten points higher than if you lived with somebody else. The woman who treats herself like an aristocrat seems aristocratic to other people and the woman who is sloppy at home inevitably slips sometimes in public.”

8. “Of course, the civilised place for any woman to have breakfast is in bed … For you and me who live alone and whose early mornings are uncomplicated by offspring, farm-hands and even husbands, bed is the place.”

9. “We are all for as much glamour as possible in the bedroom. The single bedroom as well as the double one. If the most respectable spinsters would regard their bedrooms as places where anything might happen, the resulting effects would be extremely beneficial … We can think of nothing more depressing than going to bed in a washed-out four-year-old nightgown, nothing more bolstering to morale than going to bed all fragrant with toilet-water and wearing a luscious pink satin nightgown, well-cut and trailing.”

10. “You probably have your bathroom all to yourself too, which is unquestionably one of Life’s Great Blessings. You don’t have to wait till someone finishes shaving, when you are all set for a cold-cream session. You have no-one complaining about your pet bottles, no one to drop wet towels on the floor, no one occupying the bathtub when you have just time to take a shower. From dusk to dawn, you can do exactly what you please, which, after all, is a pretty good allotment in this world where a lot of conforming is expected of everyone.”

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Vintage advice on dressing to find a husband

“You have to take an enormous amount of trouble to catch a man permanently”
Poppy Richard, in The Intelligent Women's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

Wedding dress, photographed by John French, 1960s. Via

The dreaded day is approaching – that’s Valentine’s Day, of course – when, if you’re single like me, it can feel like a forced examination as to where you’ve managed to get your life so wrong. Normally in times like this, I turn to my vintage style guides for a spot of soothing consolation.

In February 1952, Ladies Home Journal offered a “quick inventory for bachelor girls” (as quoted in the wonderful Bachelor Girl book):

“What about your … hair, complexion, clothes? Are you are good talker, dancer, listener? Do you have a sense of humour? Outside interests? … If anything is lacking you must go to the hairdresser, psychiatrist, whatever is needed. Only then are you ready to face the world.”

Cripes. It’s clearly time for me to take action.


Edith Head devotes a whole chapter in How To Dress for Success (1967) to ‘How to Dress to Get a Man … and Keep Him’. One of her first pieces of advice (completed by the thrill of italics)

‘Count the available men you see every day – at the office, at church, at the railroad station, at the skating rink, the country club or the beach. One of them may just be for you.’

(My count, seeing as I work from home most days = 0)

The delights of the Little Black Dress, as demonstrated in Charm is Not Enough by Mary Young (1965) 


Once identified, according to Head the next step is to “ask yourself if you measure up to the challenge of attracting him with what you wear every day.”

Other designers offer some vague pieces of wisdom on this. Dior, for example, who councils “I would not advise anyone to wear big jewels and expensive furs before marriage,” in the Little Dictionary of Fashion (1954).

The Intelligent’s Women’s Guide to Good Taste
, meanwhile, is more particular in its advice – but trickier to pull off:

“Dressing to please men is an art not quickly mastered. Men like women to look smart but are alarmed by anything too avant garde. Furthermore, their natural appreciation of clinging lines and diaphanous fabrics is tempered by their anxiety for your reputation in the eyes of their friends. One must learn to walk the tight-rope between these two sets of conflicting ideals. On the whole, it is better to be under- rather than over-dressed by day. At night, all men expect you to take trouble – that is, put on your lowest frock – but soft-pedal on the Marilyn Monroe stuff even if you have got the curves. It is a waste of time consulting men about clothes. Only one in ten thousand knows the first thing about them. Decide for yourself. It prevents argument.”

Head, however, gets specific. She decides that “men fall readily into five categories or types” – that’s the ‘Outdoor Type or Sportsman’, the ‘sophisticated Man-about-town’, the ‘Shy Conservative Man’, the ‘Far-Out Intellectual’ and, ‘everybody’s dreamboat’, ‘The Successful Executive’. Once you've found out all about your target, “you can easily decide which group your man fits into and dress accordingly. Instead of shopping madly for a lot of new clothes selected without plan, buy with him in mind.”


Successful dreamboat Executive in mind, it’s time to think about the finishing touches. For this, I’ve turned to Mary Young’s Charm is Not Enough from 1965. At first her advice is comforting: “the young man in our life is much more likely to prefer to see us looking (and behaving) naturally … Men don’t seem to mind what you do to the colour of your hair, so long as it looks quite natural, simply styled, well cared for, and shining”. But, before you dare to leave the house barefaced, she continues with the dire warning: “This doesn’t mean that we can lower our standards in any way with regard to grooming, dress and make-up.” Okay, right...

Advert for Chlorodent toothpaste, via


Sorry, no let up here either. According to Head, the formula for success is simple: “If you can make yourself interesting to look at and interesting to be with your attraction for the opposite sex will be more than satisfactory.” Easier said than done, especially when you consider that her advice for women on search for a husband while travelling is “your costume must be impeccable, your luggage interesting and your reading matter carefully chosen to invite conversation.”

And there’s an inevitable amount of surrender too. A 1945 US Government “readjustment” guide (again quoted in Bachelor Girl) advises “Let him know you are tired of living alone … You want him to take charge. You want now to have your nails done.” Lilly Daché’s chapter ‘How to get – and keep – a husband’ in her Glamour book (1956) offers more of the same, subscribing to Burt Bacharach’s “Don’t send him off/With your hair still in curlers’ Wives and Lovers type of philosophy. “This is the thing that every successful wife must learn”, she concludes. “Happiness is to be tended and cultivated just as carefully as a plant which you value in your garden.”

Dishes Men Like cookbook, 1952. Via


As I was beginning to despair of both myself and the chore that seems to be husband hunting, I was delighted to discover Elizabeth Hawes' Anything but Love, a satire on exactly this kind of advice that's freely offered in books, magazines and advertising, and the seeming mission, post the Second World War that “Every American girl must get a husband, a home and children. Any other program for life is worse than death.”

Her words nicely spear the advice of Head et al, noting that, apparently, “the husband is acquired by titillation; falsification of appearance; and permitting him to believe anything he wants whether it be true or false, except in the matter of religion.”

Life Can Be Wonderful, magazine illustration, via

It also is a reminder – then as now – that the beauty and fashion industry have a big a role to play in making us feel just as bad as they make us feel good:

“Five out of five men are said to look twice at any girl in a black dress. Whether or not the same number would look at any girl in any colour dress is not important. For They would like to get every woman into black and keep her there. This is because black washes a woman out as not colour does and therefore necessitates more and more make-up as you get older.”

A depressing thought, however, is that Anything But Love was published in 1948 to counteract the deluge of propaganda encouraging women to leave the workplace and get back to being wives and mothers postwar. All the other texts quoted date from after the 1940s, showing this attitude simply didn’t go away. And, some of the advice quoted is probably still familiar if you pick up a teen or women’s magazine today. So, I’m choosing to try and keep a straight head, channel Elizabeth Hawes, and dismiss it all. At least, except for this final, vaguely sensible-sounding piece of advice from Edith Head:

“Don’t masquerade in clothes that you hate just to attract a man. Be sure you are really, deep-down his type of girl. If you aren’t – find another man.”

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