Monday, September 28, 2009

When men wore hats and women wore gloves

When did we stop dressing like grown-ups? With every episode of Mad Men, I find myself longing for men in suits, ties, and those great hats that our daddies used to wear and women in shapely dresses, suits, and gloves.

Adults dressed like grown-ups for the first 12-14 years of my life, then it all went to hell in a hand basket. While leaving behind the classic late 50's/early 60's fashion, we never moved forward enough to coolness of The Jetsons, opting instead for dowdy fashion statements like platform shoes and drab pantsuits. Nehru jackets and lime-green polyester leisure suits sounded the death-knell of smart, chic fashion for men and women, I think.

President Kennedy is credited for single-handedly killing the men's hat industry, because he didn't wear one at his Inauguration. Even I know that's false, since he wore a top-hat for the occasion. OK, so we can't blame JFK for men shunning those lovely grey fedoras of a bygone era. Still, I would love to see them make a come-back. Guys, put away those baseball caps (unless you're actually playing baseball) and grab a real man's hat.

I don't know when women stopped wearing gloves, usually white ones, whenever they went out. I love the idea of gloves year-round. I am at the mercy of public transport and hate putting my bare-naked hands on handles, poles, and stairway railings. Yes, it's true, those white gloves would be mighty dirty by the end of the day, but I would feel so much safer having a bit of fabric between me and whatever's lurking on door-railings. Plus, they look adorable. But not with dowdy pantsuits.

Looking around the subway car this morning, I noticed very few people dressed for business - a few men in suits/ties, a couple of women in nice dresses, but beyond that it was sloppy, dress-for-comfort stuff. We all looked run-down and sad. Let's face it - if the people of New York City aren't wearing classic, neat styles, then nobody is.

I think we could change this sad state of fashion by bringing back men's felt hats and women's white gloves. I do not, however, advocate bringing back stiff girdles, garter belts and stockings - uncomfortable and a pain in the rear.

OK, I hear you all moaning out there, dressed in your sweatpants and running shoes. But I'd give anything to bring the Don Draper-Joan Holloway look back to the workplace.

Think I could pick up some white gloves at Bloomingdale's or Lord & Taylor?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Oh, Behave!

We seem to be living in a time of rampant rudeness. Celebrities reach new heights of publicity by digging to new lows in behavior. Politicians raise funds from their faithful by engaging in conduct that would've gotten them a stint in kindergarten "time out." Regular Joes and Janes eschew (I love the word "eschew") constructive town-hall dialogue in favor of gun-wielding scream-fests.

What would their mamas and Sunday School teachers say about this appalling lack of good old fashioned manners? I know what mine would say (as she so often did as we headed out the front door to school) "True politeness is to say the kindest things in the kindest way."

Now, no one holds the First Amendment in higher regard than Shorty PJs. But Shorty earnestly believes that Free Speech is in no way threatened by an infusion of civility and proper conduct. Please - say what you want, say what you think, but "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" at the same time. Take the high road.

But suspecting my pleas will fall upon deaf ears, I hereby recommend that we appoint a Nabob of Nice. A Queen of Serene. A Knight of Polite. Someone who can re-educate us in the simple art of polite regard for other human beings. After all, there are perfectly acceptable ways of making your voice heard in civil ways without resorting to screaming, interrupting, shoe-throwing, microphone-grabbing, or gun-totin'.

Problem is, I'm not sure how we'd choose the right person for this Manners Maven. It couldn't be through election or political appointment. Too much opportunity for corruption. Maybe we could all make nominations, then draw one name out - sort of a "Root Out The Rudeness" Lottery. We could toss in the names of mamas and daddies, teachers, or folks famous for their civilized deportment (Miss Manners and Julie Andrews come to mind). It'd be a tough job, but slowly - through much practice and perseverance - we might just turn ourselves around before we descend to the depths of snarling, animalistic behavior. Might be worth a try.

So all of you seething Joe Wilsons, Kanye Wests, Serenas, Barbara Walters, Qaddafis, and screaming citizens out there, take note. You are dragging civilization down. I order you to spend significant time each day meditating on the Golden Rule, your Scout motto, and your kindergarten rules of behavior. That way, you will make your voice heard loud and clear without resorting to rudeness. And who knows? It might just get you some publicity.

Now. Go have a cup of tea and play nice.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book Hippies vs. Bag People

While flipping through an old yearbook the other evening, I was struck by a glaring difference between the high schooler of the 1960s and the high schooler of today. No, it isn't drugs, sex, or clothing. It's not the hairstyles, make-up, or locker configurations. It's the way we carry our books.

When I was in high school (Class of 1969 - yes, it's been 40 years), we carried our books on our hips with one arm or close to our chest with both arms, sans backpack (not yet though of) or book satchel (which was really old-fashioned). Depending on the chosen carry-method, we always had one - and only one - arm free to open doors and lockers, pick up assignments or papers as we entered/left class, and smooth down our hair or skirt. Not much leeway for trouble, having only one idle hand.

Now, there was a very distinct method to stacking our books so that we could carry them comfortably with one arm to and from class, bus/car, and home. The foundation upon which our loosely carried bundle was built was a large rigid notebook filled with loose-leaf paper, dividers, and often a little plastic pouch that held pens, pencils, and protractor. Then, depending on the size of our history, English/literature, math, and science books, we stacked accordingly - narrower books could be placed side by side on the notebook, with wider tomes placed underneath or on top to stabilize the stack.

We girls also had our purses (John Romaine, natch - no shoulder bags) clasped firmly in our book-carrying hand. And sometimes there was a lunch sack (brown paper, once we outgrew our Howdy Doody lunchboxes). I don't remember it being a big deal. We managed.

But we didn't carry all of our books around all the time. That's what lockers were for - no matter how far-flung from scheduled classes. Usually, we carried the ever-present notebook with a book or two to tide us through a couple of classes. Our bundles increased as we left for home at the end of the day, but, again, we usually didn't have to carry every single book - usually two or three were all we needed.

Contrast that with today's Bag People. Poor kids. It seems reasonable to believe that this new bag-method is more efficient that the hippy-method, but I don't think it is. Enormous backpacks stuffed beyond all reason (what is in there?), hoisted upon young backs, causing them to lean forward just to get enough traction to move. Plus, backpacks leave both hands free to, well, get into all kinds of trouble that could be avoided if left to the devices of only one-handed-chaos-causing. Think about it. My career advice to today's students: chiropractor.

I don't know which book-carrying way is better. I do know that I don't envy today's school kids their beasts of burden. Oh. And I do know that our clothes were cuter. Sayin'.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Searching for the Guiding Light during Tomorrow's Secret Storm

Friday, September 18, 2009, will mark another nail in the coffin of real television soap operas. That's the last broadcast of "Guiding Light," which has lived on radio and TV for over 70 years. "As The World Turns" is the last of the old-time soaps still standing. Gone already are greats of the 50's and 60's like "Search for Tomorrow," "The Edge of Night," "Love of Life," and "The Secret Storm," all popular when I was growing up.

My definition of a real soap opera is a program that:
  • started as a radio show and/or began broadcasting on television before 1960.

  • started as a 15-minute program. ("As The World Turns" is the only exception, since it began as a ground-breaking 30-minute show. Big news in 1956.)

  • was recorded at a studio in New York City.

  • My mother was a big soap fan before she went back into the workplace in the late 50's. I remember she'd fix us our Campbell's Soup and Hi-C to keep us quiet while she watched "Search for Tomorrow" and "The Guiding Light," 15 minutes each. Then we'd go down for our naps, but if we didn't sleep too long, we could catch a bit of "As the World Turns" and "Love of Life." "Secret Storm" and "The Edge of Night" came on a little later in the afternoon, so we could keep up with those, too.

    Now, don't get the idea that we sat around watching TV all afternoon. Mother was ironing or sewing or in and out of the kitchen. We'd play inside and out - we were kids, after all, and our world didn't revolve around Mother's soap operas. But they were background noise. And the Tates and Bergmans and Bauers and Hughes, et. al., were like long-lost relatives that could only communicate through TV plots.

    As we grew up, went to school, and found other ways to spend our time, we only had to check in occasionally with our soap families to get up to speed with the action. And, alas, as teens we gravitated toward "American Bandstand" and "Dark Shadows," only stopping by Oakdale and Springfield and Henderson during Christmas break or in the summer.

    I can't remember the last time I watched "Guiding Light." Funny, but during a news story about its soon-to-be demise, I recognized a goodly portion of the cast - older, portlier, but still familiar. Just like a real family.

    I raise a plastic cup of Hi-C to the cast of "Guiding Light." Cheers, you rascals!