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Vintage Fashion Advice: Marjorie Hillis


Marjorie Hillis wrote Orchids on Your Budget and Live Alone and Like It. Spunky and opinionated, Hillis was a single lady until she was 49. She climbed the ranks at Vogue and was (in my opinion) a top pre-feminist feminist in the 1930s. To top it off, all her budget-y goodness still applies today. Ignore the very frank tone if you're easily offended.

1. On Getting a Good Fit

"Too many women buy a dress in the size nearest their figure and wear it as is, wondering why it looks only so-so. [...] If you are frankly overweight and still must buy bargains, get them a shade large and have them fitted. The additional wear will more than pay for the cost of alterations and you'll look a lot better besides."

My Comments: How many times have I championed going to the tailor and getting your pieces shaped up for the best fit? It help -- and it makes you look amazing. While I don't necessarily like the way it is worded, I do appreciate the advice for women on the plus side. At least somebody's mentioning it in a 1930s book (and an editor for Vogue at that).

2. On Your Closet

"In assembling a smart wardrobe, you have to spend something -- money, time, or taste. Three black dresses in a row in your closet won't bore you one quarter as much as three in any other color. [...] Don't buy clothes to wear to the places you'd like to go (like a garden party, if you live in the city, or an outdoor horse show); buy them to wear to the places you do go."

My Comments: Shoe trees -- that's the goal for the rest of the year. They help when you are shining and servicing your shoes, and they keep the shape when you're not wearing them. Don't forget about all the cool doodads you can get to keep your shoes nice, like heel protectors and custom-match leather repair mixes.

3. On Caring for Your Clothes

"Brushing and cleaning and pressing and putting things away properly may be drab activities, but they pay and pay and pay. The most expensive dress is a sorry sight if it's wrinkled, and we hesitate to even bring up the matter of spots. But a crisp, fresh, immaculate look is attractive and chic in itself. Amateur cleaning is, however, a doubtful economy, unless you have the gift."

My Comments: I'm a little more optimistic about cleaning your own pieces, but that's because we live in another century -- one with steam irons, home dryers, Febreze, and dry cleaning kits. There's no excuse, and this stuff is inexpensive to boot. Get a stiff wardrobe brush to brush your clothes off, too.

4. On Buying Cheap Clothes

"It is now our stern duty, however, to say a few sharp words against the too casual buying of cheap clothes. We don't say that it can't be done with triumphant results, but we do say that it offers a lot of temptations to get a dress with just a teeny-weeny bit too much trimming, or lines the faintest shade too extreme, or some other detail that is almost but not quite right."

My Comments: Forget all that. Cheap clothes are killing the planet faster than you can say "landfill." Synthetics are a huge problem, so if you do buy cheap, buy all-natural fabrics at least. That way, at least you can reuse worn-put pieces as dishrags and the like.

5. On Skimpy Dresses

"And never, never get a dress that is a bit skimpy. It won't wear, and it won't look right even when it's new, and though you may plan to reduce, there is always the chance that you'll add a few pounds instead. [...] If you are frankly overweight and still must buy bargains, get them a shade large and have them fitted. The additional wear will more than pay for the cost of alterations, and you'll look a lot better besides."

My Comments: Invest in alterations! Ask around first, to make sure you're getting a good price for all that trouble. As for the skimpy mention, it doesn't surprise me in the least, although we know that Ms. Hillis's description of "skimpy" was much different than our own.

6. On Evening Clothes

"As for your evening clothes -- here is a place where variety is more important than wearing qualities anyway. You probably don't wear out one evening frock a year -- really wear it out -- and nobody wants to go to too many parties in the same old dress."

My Comments: Genius tip. If you are planning on spending on little bits and pieces, you should do it on evening stuff.

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