Well Dressed HousewifeOne of the things that perhaps defines me better than anything else is my absolute refusal to live in 2005. I came across this picture today, and I am very tempted to have it blown up and framed in my own gracious townhouse. The epitome of perfection...the 1940 housewife.
I have always worked very hard at being perfect. If I found myself at a loss in a conversation, the topic I knew little about became a full out research project for me. Never again would that topic elude me. I would sit and practice my handwriting over and over again, until it looked EXACTLY like it should. Those 1940's-1950's instructional readers found on the living room bookcase could have been filled with my very own handwriting.
Once, I was invited to accompany a friend to a ball. I wore dress trousers and a white shirt, with a black tie. Upon my arrival, I noticed that it was no ordinary ball, but a fancy dress ball. I was completely, and totally underdressed. So ended my days of "slight" formal wear. I filled my wardrobe with sports coats, dress jackets, and a vintage tuxedo a la Cary Grant within 1 year of that occasion. I've yet to add the white dinner jacket, but it is nearing the top of my list, a purchase lingers, waiting to be made.
My home, much like my handwriting, is a carefully planned study. My Great Aunt Alice moved into an apartment during The War. She, apparently agoraphobic, decided it best to live in her gorgeous pre-War building. Taking the gated lift up to the fourth floor, I discovered what was to become my version of paradise. Her furniture, and decor perfectly captured the era, down to her thick pressed glass juice glasses, decorated with two cherries; the pitcher matched. Deco inspired persian knot rugs, mixed with an inherited Edwardian desk and hall clock. She had groceries ordered in, and when ill, a nurse came to her home. She loved to have people over, she just didn't like to go out.
This apartment maintained (or some say retained) its charm. At Christmas she would set up her silver aluminum tree, decorated sparingly with green and blue blown glass ornaments. The sturdy, well built furniture never sagged, the cushions on the sofa maintained their original plush, Burgundy welts. The glasses weren't chipped. Her white embroidered apron was always ironed. Her dresses were floral, her neck always covered with a strand of single pearls. As her hair thinned, she began to tuck the white bob behind her ears. I don't remember it being any other way, but pictures reveal her to have been a bomb shell with horn rimmed glasses.
Then she died in the early 90's, a visiting nurse found her in the hall of her apartment. Very sad indeed.
My last visit to Alice's apartment was important. I must memorize the cut and color of everything from the drapes, to the curve of the matching, weathered leather club chairs. She kept very little in the way of knick-knacks, but did have some gorgeous McCoy pottery in the most beautiful shades of sea green, and milky light blue. I think I was about 15, but knew that I had to remember it.
Today, my sitting room and dining room have that same War Era look. Once I've put an Artie Shaw, or Benny Goodman record on the mahogany deco record player, I can almost feel my self pulled back to her apartment. My Grandma Loretta has even told me "I feel like I've stepped back in time". Of course, I've had to make a few concessions to modern technology. My television rests upon a deco radio/record player cabinet, and the interior has been converted to hold my VCR and DVD player. My record player plugs in, and isn't cranked. My lampshades have the same cut as Alice's, but sit atop reproduction lamps. My coffee and end tables are white washed mahogany (during the war you made do with what you had), as well as one of the low standing bookcases. The knot carpet on the floor is a family piece. One bookcase is filled with first edition Beverly Nichols publications, a definite nod to the period.
My dining room houses my period china, and I meticulously wax my mahogany dining room table with the same lavender wax that my Great Aunt used. I've even kept a tea set out, and used one of my Great Grandmother's hand embroidered buffet runners to keep the eye delighted.
My collection of old cookbooks (encouraging me to use my War rations properly - as any good housewife would do)keep the cuisine 1940 contemporary, and fill my house with the most delicious smells. Some have been updated by me, spontaneously, to avoid full out coronary complications. Besides, butter was a commodity - as were eggs, and spices.
When I come home from work, and slip on my own pressed white apron, perhaps it is 1946. A little bit of music from the sitting room, news of another real war on the radio, and a bit of repressed reality can go a long way. A period look is difficult to achieve, but one I have aspired to, and accomplished. Practice makes perfect.
Next year, a Victory garden. I have also been eyeing a buffet and hutch that would serve perfectly to store my home grown canned preserves. One never knows.
Accordingly, the well dressed librarian must keep a closet full of vintage sweaters, french cuffs, deco cufflinks, and several sturdy pairs of polished Oxfords. Paper for proper correspondence, brown paper envelopes, and a well used Waterman fountain pen aid in rounding out the persona that accompanies the look.
Gentle readers can learn lots from the 1940's housewife. They looked perfect, created perfect surroundings, and strove to make the most from the least. Let this be our moral of this blog.