A Steamer Trunk

a portmanteau with
scraps and remnants of literary fashion

steamer trunk & top hat
photo by Carlyn Crystal

In that town, in those days,
all the women
who wore silk or velvet
knew all the other women who wore silk of velvet.

from The Magnificent Ambersons (1918)
a novel by
Booth Tarkington

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]

… I grow old, I grow old,
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each…

from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (1917)
a poem by
T S Eliot

Phil came down-stairs…and surveyed herself in the long oval mirror on the wall

“Do I look pretty nice, Anne?”

“Do you really know how pretty you are, Phil?” asked Anne, in honest admiration.

“Of course I do. What are looking-glasses and men for? That wasn’t what I meant.
Are all my ends tucked in? Is my skirt straight? And would this rose look better lower down?
I’m afraid it’s too high—it will make me look lop-sided. But I hate things tickling my ears.”

“Everything is just right, and that southwest dimple of yours is lovely.”

from Anne of the Island (1915)
L M Montgomery

Miss Fisher…leaned back in the taxi beside Henrietta
as though all this had been an effort and she still could not relax.
She wore black gloves with white-stitched seams that twisted round on her fingers,
and black furs that gave off a camphory smell.

At the Gare du Nord, as she stood under the lamps…
her olive-green coat and skirt, absorbing what light there was, had looked black.
She looked like a Frenchwoman with all the animation gone.

– from The House in Paris (1935)
by Elizabeth Bowen
opening chapter

Susy stood up again, and flung her arms about her friend.
“Oh, Grace,” she laughed with wet eyes,
“how can you be as wise as that, and yet
not have sense enough to buy a decent hat?

– from The Glimpses of the Moon (1922)
by Edith Wharton

cocktail hat made by Elle
photo by Chandelier Studios, Albuquerque

Some of the girls were making the most of their fifteen-minute rest period. They were grouped around a girl at the piano and were singing, Hello, Central, Give Me No Man’s Land.

As Francie walked in, the pianist drifted into another song, inspired by Francie’s new gray fall suit and her gray suede pumps. The girls sang There’s a Quaker Down in Quaker Town. A girl put her arm around Francie and drew her into the circle…

“Francie, where’d you ever get the idea for an all-gray outfit?”

“Oh, I don’t know—some actress I saw when I was a kid…”

“It’s cute!”

…Do-o-o-own To-o-o-o-own, harmonized the girls in a grand finale.

from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)
Betty Smith

“Where’s Phil off to to-night?”

“She’s going to a dance, and she’s got the sweetest dress for it—
creamy yellow silk and cobwebby lace. It just suits those brown tints of hers.”

“There’s magic in the words ‘silk’ and ‘lace,’ isn’t there?” said Aunt Jamesina.
“The very sound of them makes me feel like skipping off to a dance.
And yellow silk. It makes one think of a dress of sunshine.
I always wanted a yellow silk dress, but first my mother and then my husband wouldn’t hear of it.
The very first thing I’m going to do when I get to heaven is to get a yellow silk dress.”

– from Anne of the Island (1915)
by L. M. Montgomery

I had laid the clothes Birdeen was to wear tomorrow night across a chair.

Not because I expected her to put them on
but because, if she could see them, it would make the contest more real when she came in to practice: white shirtwaist, lacy with insertion; white ten-gore Indian Head skirt;
white high-heeled buck shoes, so clean they reflected the light from the kitchen lamp.
The only new thing Birdeen had for the occasion was a pale blue kid belt, worked in seed pearls.
It set off her small waist to perfection.

Birdeen, when she saw the clothes laid out on the chair, said, ‘I’m too tired to put those on, Ginerva.’

“I know it,” I answered. “I thought you might put on the belt, though.”

Birdeen circled her waist with the belt and slowly fastened the buckle.

“It transforms you, Mama.”

“I could stand a little transforming.”

– from The State of Stony Lonesome (1984)
by Jessamyn West

After a minute in there, a girl with high pink complexion, in a lemon-yellow hat,
pulled out the other chair at Karen’s table and bumped down on it.
Several other tables were still empty and Karen glanced at them pointedly;
she did not want company.

But Yellow Hat’s face swooped across at her confidentially:
“D’you mind if I come.” she said. “There’s a fellow after me.”
Her round slate-blue eyes rolled in a woman-to-woman way.

“Do,” said Karen with a polite smile.

Yellow Hat, who was large, billowed out pleated jabots between the lapels
of her opulent fur coat. She had a highly respectable kind of flashiness,
and was not what Mrs Michaelis would have called quite-quite.

– from The House in Paris (1935)
by Elizabeth Bowen

Of course one fell in love with every woman one met.

There was a freshness about them; even the poorest
dressed better than five years ago surely;

and to his eye the fashions had never been
so becoming; the long black cloaks; the slimness;
the elegance;
and then the delicious and
apparently universal habit of paint.

Every woman, even the most respectable,
had roses blooming under glass; lips cut with a knife; curls of India ink;
there was design, art, everywhere.

Those five years—1918 to 1923—had been,
he suspected, somehow very important. People
looked different. …
This taking out a stick of rouge,
or a powder-puff and making up in public…

A girl would stand still and powder her nose
in front of every one…
A change of some sort had undoubtedly taken place.

– from Mrs Dalloway (1925)
by Virginia Woolf
(in the scene where Peter Walsh,
just back from five years in India,
is walking down a London street in 1923)

Annabel and Midge did—and completely—
all that young office workers were besought
not to do.

They painted their lips and their nails, they darkened their lashes
and lightened their hair, and scent
seemed to shimmer from them.
They wore thin, bright dresses, tight over their breasts and
high on their legs, and tilted slippers, fancifully strapped.
They looked conspicuous and cheap and charming.

– from The Standard of Living (1941)
a short story by
Dorothy Parker

Elegance of personal appearance was believed to rest more
upon the texture of garments than upon their shaping.
A silk dress needed no remodelling when it was a year or so old;
it remained distinguished by merely remaing silk.

…The long contagion of the ‘Derby’ hat arrived:
one season the crown of this hat would be a bucket;
the next it would be a spoon…

Trousers with a crease were considered plebeian;
the crease proved that the garment had lain upon a shelf,
and hence was ‘ready-made’;
these betraying trousers were called ‘hand-me-downs,’
in allusion to the shelf.

from The Magnificent Ambersons (1918)
a novel by
Booth Tarkington

The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for
finery or parade; and Mrs Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it
all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.
“Very little white satin, very few lace veils;
a most pitiful business!”

– from Emma (1815)
by Jane Austen
last page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *