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Pretty in pink, and adorned with a stunning blonde in a classic pin-up pose, the Mannings stockings box piqued my interest about 10 years ago. I almost passed on it, because it was such a departure from the face-powder boxes and hair-net envelopes that I generally acquire. However, at $20 it was an inexpensive opportunity to broaden my collection in a meaningful way—meaningful, because I believe that the social evolution of modern women can be charted in part through their choices in makeup and lingerie. Think of the early days when women rearranged their internal organs with corsets so tight that they routinely fainted and you realize lingerie indisputably and dramatically altered the lives of women during the 20th century.

The 1920s saw profound social and political changes, particularly for women, and the garter belt originated during that time as an alternative to the restrictive corsetry that had been worn previously. Ironically, it was another call for movement (literally) that resulted in the garter belt being replaced by pantyhose. Allen Gant, a textile manufacturer, was inspired to create pantyhose after hearing his wife complain about the discomfort of wearing a garter belt while pregnant.

With the help of his colleagues, Gant developed the world’s first commercial pantyhose, a product called Panti-Legs, which debuted in 1959. Panti-Legs enjoyed modest success until the miniskirt became popular in the 1960s. Fashion icons Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton popularized pantyhose after being photographed wearing the new style of stockings with their miniskirts. It was the miniskirt that sounded the death knell for the routine garter belt, because the fasteners spoiled the smooth silhouette of the garment and it would have been considered tasteless for the garters to show.

 Today, garter belts and stockings are worn primarily by vintage clothing enthusiasts, sex industry workers, and burlesque queens. Stockings and a garter belt, once thought to be old-fashioned and restrictive, have become associated with erotica, and for good reason—slowly rolling a sheer black stocking up your leg and fastening it to a garter is, in my opinion, one of the most provocative and sensual acts a woman can perform.

As I hold the Mannings stockings box I reflect on feminine traditions, many of which have become lost to us over the decades. Slipping into your lingerie, whether it’s a lacy bra or a slip, is a powerful daily ritual and an affirmation of womanhood. The subtle brush of silk on your skin as you move through your day should bring a smile to your face because lingerie speaks the secret language of women—and everyone is entitled to her secrets.

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Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is directed by Preston Sturges and stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After Charles Poncefort Pike, an ophiologist and heir to the Pike’s Pale Ale fortune, leaves a zoological expedition in the South American jungle, he boards an ocean liner headed for the East Coast. Although the eligible bachelor only has eyes for his book on snakes and is oblivious to all the young female passengers, Jean Harrington succeeds in getting his attention by tripping him as he leaves the dining room. Jean, a con artist and cardsharp who works with her father, ensnares Charlie with her feminine wiles, and despite the warnings of Charlie’s suspicious guardian, Muggsy, Charlie falls in love with Jean.

I found the 1920s Gimbel Hair Net in an online auction over seven years ago and paid $8.99 for it. The delicate floral design in the upper corners is typical of the period, and the depiction of women playing sports reflects the mania for physical activity that characterized the era.

Over the past few decades, female athletes have embraced fashion as more than just an opportunity to endorse sportswear for a paycheck. In 1976 Olympic skater Dorothy Hamill won a gold medal for her performance on the ice, but it was her cute bobbed hairstyle dubbed the “wedge” that stole the show and started a fad.

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In recent years tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams have pushed the fashion envelope on the court many times. Serena’s black lycra catsuit caused a sensation at the 2002 US Open; and Venus ignited a media firestorm when she appeared at the French Open in 2010 in a red-and-black outfit that appeared to be part corset and part French maid’s costume. The Williams sisters have received both kudos and condemnations for their choices in tennis wear—but they weren’t the first to shake up the world of women’s sports fashion; that distinction belongs to Suzanne Lenglen.

Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen was born on May 24, 1899, about 43 miles north of Paris. She was a sickly child, so her father suggested that she try tennis as a way to build her strength. Almost immediately she demonstrated a talent for the sport and her father began to train her in earnest.

Suzanne Lenglen. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1914, Lenglen won the World Hard Court Championship at Saint-Cloud; however, WWI put an end to most national and international tennis competitions for the duration, and Lenglen had to wait several years to compete on the world stage. Her turn finally came in 1920 when she faced Dorothea Douglass Chambers at Wimbledon. A seven-time Wimbledon winner, Chambers was a formidable opponent, to say the least.

Chambers took the court in the standard women’s tennis costume of the day: a voluminous skirt, long-sleeved blouse, starched collar, and a tie. Dressed like that it was a miracle she didn’t fall and break her neck.

Dorothea Chambers. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Lenglen arrived courtside in full makeup, wearing a dress that fell only to mid-calf (revealing the tops of her stockings when she moved just so) and carrying a flask filled with brandy that she sipped intermittently throughout the game. Unencumbered by multiple yards of fabric—and fueled by brandy—Lenglen won the match. Her daring costume (designed by legendary courtier Jean Patou) revolutionized the way women dressed for tennis, and she was just as stylish off the court with her bobbed hair and designer wardrobe. The Gimbel hair net package serves as a reminder to me that never does a woman look more stylish than when she’s pursuing her dreams.

REBECCA

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier. It is a wonderful mix of suspense and romance, and stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Maxim de Winter, who is in Monte Carlo to forget the drowning death of his wife Rebecca, meets the demure paid companion of matronly socialite Edythe Van Hopper and begins to court her. The girl falls in love with Maxim and happily accepts when he asks her to be his wife. The bride’s happiness comes to an abrupt end when Maxim takes her to his grand seaside estate, Manderley. There she is tormented by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who continually reminds the young bride of the great beauty and elegance of the first Mrs. de Winter and undermines her attempts to assert herself in the household. One night shortly after her arrival, a boat is wrecked off shore, and during the rescue attempt, another submerged boat is found in which the body of Rebecca is trapped.

THE LADY VANISHES

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is THE LADY VANISHES, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and  starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty. This is one of my favorites! Enjoy the movie.

TCM says:

Aboard a train bound for London, Miss Froy, an elderly English governess, makes the acquaintance of young Iris Henderson. When Miss Froy disappears, Iris asks for the other passengers’ assistance in finding the old woman, only to have all contend that Miss Froy was never on the train.

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The Avon lipstick sample card was a lucky find at a flea market, and it was a bargain at $15, because it’s in wonderful condition with the miniature lipstick still attached. Judging from the woman’s hairstyle and makeup, I’d say it was manufactured during the ’30s. By then, Avon had been in business for nearly half a century, and had a fascinating history.

It began as the California Perfume Company founded by native New Yorker David Hall McConnell in the early 1890s. McConnell started his career selling books door-to-door, but he found it tough to make a decent living. He decided to offer his female customers free homemade perfume as an incentive. Over time, McConnell realized the women were more interested in the perfume than in the books, and thus his life-changing epiphany: If door-to-door sales worked for books, why not for perfume?

It was an inspired concept, and it changed the lives of scores of women who, instead of toiling 12 hours a day in a gritty factory or working as a domestic, could now become sales representatives for the California Perfume Company and make a living wage. Shopping from home was also a boon to women who were raising families and otherwise housebound.

The company changed its name to Avon in 1939, and its success continued, even during World War II. The post-war era found Americans trading their lives in cramped, big-city apartments for the green lawns, multi-car garages, and BBQs of the new bedroom communities that were springing up around every metropolis—and Avon followed them.

Vintage Avon ad. Source unknown.

Clever marketing increased demand for their products and spawned one of the most memorable and longest running ad campaigns in history. In the mid-1950s, Avon introduced a television commercial that would appear in various forms for close to two decades. The scenario was simple: A well-dressed woman was shown pressing the doorbell of a typical suburban home. The bells chimed—ding-dong—and the door opened. A jingle played in the background, “Avon calling at your door / bringing cosmetics and much more.”

Whenever I hold the Avon sample card I can’t help singing the jingle and reflecting on the ways in which life has changed since the era of “the Avon Lady.” Internet shopping has replaced door-to-door salespeople, and we have traded the opportunity to bond with a friend over a cup of coffee and the perfect red lipstick for a convenient point-and-click purchase from a laptop. Change is inevitable, and I have bought plenty of cosmetics online myself, but I would love to travel back in time and spend just one afternoon trying on lipstick in the company of a friendly Avon saleswoman.

 

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Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is TO CATCH A THIEF starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After a series of daring, nighttime jewel thefts creates panic among the Riviera’s wealthy elite, American-born John Robie, a reformed burglar who used to be known as “The Cat,” becomes the police’s only suspect. When police detectives come to question him at his hilltop villa near Cannes, John cleverly eludes them. John then races to see his old friend, Bertani, a restaurateur with whom he fought in the French Resistance and whose employees are all ex-convicts like John. Although Bertani is sympathetic to John’s plight, the other restaurant workers treat him hostily, fearing that his apparent transgression will cast suspicion on them. Feeling that his only recourse is to catch the thief himself, John asks Bertani for information about his rich customers. Instead, Bertani offers to put John in contact with a man who two days before asked for the same information. As John is leaving the restaurant, he is spotted by the still-pursuing police detectives.

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Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is LADIES IN LOVE [1936] starring Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Constance Bennett, and Simone Simon. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Susie Schmidt, a naïve chorus girl, and her friend, Martha Karenye, who survives by doing odd jobs, rent a large apartment in a fashionable neighborhood in Budapest with Yoli Haydn, a sophisticated model. As they move in, Martha suggests that, according to a gypsy custom, they each count the corners of their room and make a wish. Susie wishes to own a hat shop and be independent of men, while Yoli wishes for a rich husband, and Martha, for a good home, someone to love and children.

Will their wishes come true?

radio_girlI found the Radio Girl face powder box at a compact collectors convention in Las Vegas, it was one of was one of the first items I acquired when I began to collect vintage cosmetics ephemera nearly twenty years ago. I was particularly fortunate that year because most of the other attendees were focused on the compacts and vanity cases so I picked up this box, and several others, for under $25 apiece.

Advertising art reflects its time, and the colorful zig-zags of the Art Deco graphic combined with the silhouette of a woman with her arms raised above her head like a radio antenna, suggest to me that the Radio Girl box is a product of the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Radio was the biggest thing to happen to technology in the early decades of the 20th Century, and everyone was talking about it. During its infancy broadcast radio didn’t offer much in the way of programming—it consisted mainly of classical music and local preachers seeking acolytes; but the promise of radio was that it had the potential to bridge the gap between the West and East coasts. It should come as no surprise that one of the first national broadcasts was a sporting event—the 1927 Rose Bowl game was heard by fans from coast-to-coast. (For those of you dying to know who won, the game between Alabama and Stanford ended in a 7-7 tie!)

Today we pride ourselves on our mobility and the convenience of our smart phones, tablets, computers and the myriad of devices we carry with us each day. Portability was a concern for early radio listeners too. Sure, it was nice to gather the family around the Zenith console in the evening and listen to a college glee club or a repeat of the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera “Mikado”; but what if you were out during the day?

Women in Los Angeles obviously grasped the concept of portable entertainment devices very early on—as you can see in the photograph a group of young mothers discovered a way to take their youngsters out for a stroll while tuning in their radios. If you’re wondering where the electrical outlets were they weren’t needed, battery powered radio sets were available as early as 1922.

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I am very lucky because whenever I crave an olde tyme radio experience all I need to do is to ask my husband, Scott, to turn on one of the tube radios in his vast collection. He has many of them set up to receive programming we select and transmit to them. There’s nothing quite like the warm glow of a tube-lit radio dial. I love to turn off all of the media in the house that postdates 1950, and then I mix a gin gimlet, put my feet up, and listen to an episode of “The Shadow” from the 1930s—it is my idea of a perfect evening.

GOOD GIRLS PARIS

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS [1939] starring Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell.

TCM says:

Ronald Brooke, an English exchange professor at a Midwestern college, is astounded at waitress Jenny Swanson, whose ambition is to gold-dig her way to Paris. Jenny begins to realize her dream when Ted Dayton, the son of a millionaire, hits her with his car and she entices him into a marriage proposal. When her conscience prevents her from going through with a breach of promise suit, Ronnie counsels her that good girls go to Paris too.

Is the professor right? Do good girls really get to Paris?  Watch and find out!

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