A Black Friday Adventure

Photo courtesy ChuckmanChicagoNostalgia.wordpress.com
Good glory! I stepped off the streetcar onto State Street yesterday and nearly got trampled by hordes of people laden with bundles! "What on earth is going on?" I shouted as I toppled into a (remarkably handsome) man. He told me it was something called Black Friday, when stores have the most marvelous sales and people celebrate by emptying their bank accounts.

"Well, for heaven's sake," I said as I regained my bearings, "Back in my day we had a Black Tuesday which emptied people's bank accounts, but there was certainly nothing to celebrate about that." The man explained that "Black Friday" is a good thing, that retailers count on the day to literally put them "in the black" for the year as people start their Christmas shopping and snap up bargains.

I suddenly felt inspired to do a bit of Christmas shopping of my own. Did I mention that the man smelled awfully nice? He disappeared into the crowd before I had a chance to ask him what he was wearing, but I zipped over to Field's and headed straight for the gentlemen's cologne counter to purchase something grand for Pop. The array of choices was dazzling, but in the end I settled on something familiar. (Pop is very wary of what he calls "new-fangled" things.) I selected a bottle of Aqua Velva shaving lotion, which originated in 1929 and is something he will actually wear. Did you know Aqua Velva was originally introduced as an alcohol-based mouthwash? 
It was so economical that I picked up a bottle for my brother Charlie, too. Now I'm off to find a gift for my sister Helen. She's fifteen years old--any bright ideas?

Enjoy your shopping, kiddos, and don't take any wooden nickels!

My Darling Yellow Hat

Darlings, you must forgive me for my lengthy silence. My blogging schedule is entirely at the mercy of one poor overworked writer who finds herself, shall we say, just the tiniest bit over her head from time to time. Charitably speaking, of course, I'm afraid I had to resort to quite drastic measures to encourage her to pay attention to me. And that's all I've got to say about THAT.

Now, on to the important news of the day. Have you ever purchased an item of apparel that made you feel scrumptious every time you put it on? I have such an item--a yellow cloche that I purchased at Marshall Field & Co. in the 1920s. That's one just like it, pictured above. Isn't it simply the bee's knees? 

Here's how I describe the experience in my memoir-in-progress:

"The saleswoman, whose nametag read "D. Rodgers," produced a fashionable cloche in the most stunning shade of brilliant yellow, trimmed with a sophisticated navy grosgrain ribbon. I took off my own dull hat and set it in my lap. She handed me the cloche and I gingerly placed it on my head.

"No, no. Not like that. You wear it like down, like this." She grabbed the hat on each side and firmly tugged it down until it rested low on my forehead, shading my eyes. "There! That's better. What do you think?"
I gazed at the three-way mirror. I almost didn't recognize the chic, up-to-date woman who looked back. I examined my head from all angles. "It's lovely," I admitted.
"It's amazing what a difference the right chapeau can make," Miss Rodgers exclaimed. "Just look what it does for your coloring!" My complexion did indeed look clearer—what I could see of it beneath the lowered brim. "It's a darling hat," she continued. "And so classy. You know what she says: 'A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.'" At my puzzled glance, she grinned. "Coco Chanel."
"I don't know," I dickered, reluctantly pulling off the hat and smoothing my flyaway hair. "It might be a little too fashionable. I live in a small town, you see."
"That's your opportunity to be a fashion leader! Someone has to set the standard, even in the small towns. It might as well be you."
I liked this clerk! She was warm and friendly, and I wished I had the nerve to copy her style. Even so, I doubted that I'd be setting any kind of standard in my hometown anytime soon, for fashion or anything else. "I love the yellow one, but I think the brown suede would be more practical," I said.
"Oh, piffle" she scoffed. "That dull brown makes you simply fade into the woodwork. In fact, it looks remarkably similar to that sad thing you were wearing when you came in. I should think you'd be tired of it and want a change."
If she only knew how much I wanted a change—and not just of my hat."

And now for the REALLY important news. Dear ones, I am THRILLED to announce that my hat . . . my Darling Yellow Hat . . . is currently available for purchase at that most exquisite of emporia, Target. That's right, dear reader, you too can sport this fetching cloche simply by visiting Target! I hope to see several of you wearing it the next time I run into you on the street. Move over, Red Hat ladies . . . make room for the Darling Yellow Hat Club!

Until next time,


Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along!

Darlings, you'll never guess. I just got my hair bobbed! I was dying to look like my roommate Dot, who looks almost exactly like Louise Brooks (that's her up above--Louise Brooks, not my roommate).
Alas, I failed to take into consideration that my hair is neither black nor straight. So my hair turned out looking more like Nancy Carroll's.
Which isn't so bad, it's just not what I was expecting. Sort of a halo of frizz, wouldn't you say? Has something like that ever happened to you in the barber's chair? 
Still, I feel so very modern with short hair!
Here in the 1920s, getting one's hair bobbed is quite controversial. I think it's glamorous, but some people think it's outrageous and not quite decent for a woman to chop her hair off like a boy's. Funny how in 2012, many of you ladies run around with short hair and no one thinks anything of it. In my day short hair was a STATEMENT. For an entertaining look at the controversy, read F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic story, Bernice Bobs Her Hair.
And now I'm off to heat the curling irons on top of the stove and see if I can tame this beast into some semblance of a style! Toodleoo for now.

The Great Gatsby Rises Again!

Lollapalooza! It's all over town that a gentleman with the delightful name of Baz Lurhmann is making a new motion-picture version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, starring a swoony matinee idol named Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio (correct me if I'm mistaken, but didn't poor Mr. DiCaprio go down with the Titanic? That story seemed to be all over your newspapers just last week . . .). Anyway, this new retelling of The Great Gatsby is set to come out later this year, and it's a talkie and everything. My stars, it will even be in COLOR! Hand me the smelling salts, I think I'm going to faint. The Orpheum in my hometown has never seen anything quite so lavish.

For those not familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald, he's only one of the most prominent writers of my decade. I think I've already mentioned that he coined the term "Jazz Age" in his short-story collection "Tales of the Jazz Age." But his chef d'oevre is his novel The Great Gatsby, published in 1925. If you haven't read this classic story about the enigmatic Jay Gatsby and his beyond-reach sweetheart, Daisy Buchanan, run right out and get it (or read it online here, if you have the patience for that sort of thing--personally I like to read my novels while immersed in a steaming bubble bath, which is a place not compatible with these newfangled computer machines, I am to discover...). The story is set on Long Island in the heyday of--well, of my day. It will explain a lot of things about the era, although I certainly haven't been drinking cocktails at millionaire's estates and whatnot. Anyway, read it before the movie comes out. You'll be glad you did!

More about Mr. Fitzgerald and his wife, the fabulous Zelda, in a future post. Meanwhile, toodleoo, and don't take any wooden nickels!

All that jazz!

Since I'm calling this place a "Jazz Age Journal," I guess I can't go much further without saying a little bit about JAZZ, the background music for the whole decade of the 1920s!
Back in my day, jazz was highly controversial. Our parents weren't crazy to have us listening to it; they thought it encouraged wildness and decadence, which it probably did, with its catchy rhythms, peppy tunes and occasionally risque lyrics (not that we always understood what they meant--some of us were a little more sheltered in those days!). Jazz was also heavily associated with the gin mills and speakeasies, so the older folks would rather we'd just avoid it. But we youngsters thought it was simply the cat's pajamas! We just loved to get dolled up and make the floor shake. And how!

The term "Jazz Age" was coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, in the title of his book of short stories, Tales of the Jazz Age. He in turn took it from a style of music that was all the rage.

Jazz, a spicy stew of African and European styles of music, was birthed in the black communities of the Deep South and migrated up the Mississippi River to cities like St. Louis and Chicago, and on over to the East Coast, early in the 20th century. The music includes all kinds of influences, from African rhythms and call-and-response elements, to gospel hymns and spirituals, the blues, to marching bands and syncopated rhythms, to Creole and Latin American music, and loads of other stuff, I'm sure. Later (I'm told) jazz branched off into swing, be-bop, boogie-woogie, and rock-and-roll.

It's a little hard to define jazz, because there are many different styles, from ragtime to Dixieland to Cuban to some mysterious thing you twenty-first-century types call "techno-jazz." So it's probably better just to let you listen. The Charleston is a good example. Here's another sample of jazz from back in MY day, a song about my favorite town. Boop-boop-be-doop!

The Charleston!

People tell me that no song quite captures the spirit of the 1920s like "The Charleston." For any of you young prom-trotters who might not know the song OR the dance, here's a moving picture that features both, plus a little lesson:

The Charleston--named for the town of Charleston, SC--was a dance craze that originated in the very early 1900s, but did not become popular until it was featured in a Broadway show in 1923. Then it took off like wildfire! It was considered so wild that some colleges and "respectable" venues banned it, but even so, Charleston contests were very popular events.
Speaking of Charleston contests, I'm told that some of you are deeply fond of this version from a little picture called "It's a Wonderful Life." (That one hasn't made it to the Orpheum yet--but of course, I'm about two decades too early.)

Did you know the Charleston even has lyrics? Enjoy!

Charleston, charleston
Made in Carolina
Some dance, some prance
I'll say better than finer
Than the charleston, charleston
Boy, how you can shuffle
Every step you do
Leads to something new
Man, I'm telling you
It's a lopazoo
Buck dance, wing dance
Will be a back number
But the charleston
The new charleston
That dance is surely a comer
You'll dance it one time
That dance called the charleston
Made in South Caroline

Buck dance, wing dance
Will be a back number
But the charleston
The new charleston
That dance is surely a comer
You'll dance it one time
That dance called the charleston
Made in South Caroline

What is "It"? Who has "It"? How do you get "It?"

You may have heard the term "It" or "The 'It' Girl." Back in my day, "It" was a sort of attractive quality that didn't rely on beauty. People in later decades might call it "sex appeal." I suppose some today might call it "hotness," although I must say, that's a vulgar term to a lady's ears. "It" was more light and flirtatious, more about personality than physical attributes.
Way back in 1904, Rudyard Kipling, in his short story "Mrs. Bathhurst," introduced the concept: "It isn't beauty, so to speak, nor good talk. necessarily. It's just 'It'." 

But it wasn't until the 1920s that the author Elinor Glyn used the term and made it a household word (at least among the young people. In the Corrigan household, my fifteen-year-old sister Helen would use it; our parents most emphatically would not). Glyn wrote, "'It' is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With 'It' you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man." 

In 1927 Clara Bow starred in a movie called "It," and from then on she was known as "the 'It' Girl." That's Clara, pictured at the top of this post. Pretty, yes? But, alas, not always a very pretty life. We'll talk more about Clara later on.

One thing the concept of "It" makes clear that by the 1920s, people are focusing less on developing good character and more on developing a good personality. Earlier generations might have worried about being a good person; my generation started worrying about being a popular, well-liked person. There's a big difference, and it's not necessarily a good thing.

My roommate Dot has "It." Her personality sparkles like champagne in a glass. Me, not so much. That doesn't stop me from wanting it. I'm just not the natural "It" type. However, I have something that's much more important. 

But more about that later. Right now, I've got to scram or I'll miss the streetcar, and Very Famous Department Store doesn't look kindly on girls who are late!

What about you. Do you think you have 'It'? Why or why not?

Hey, whaddya know . . . about the 1920s?

So maybe what you know about what life was like back in the 1920s doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Well, kiddo, that's what I'm here for! Here's a quick glance:

Sandwiched between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression was the era people call the Roaring Twenties.Why "roaring" you ask? Because the Twenties roared, both literally (machinery, roadsters, tommy guns, saxophones) and figuratively. And how!

Picture a time of economic prosperity--even excess--when people were making fortunes overnight and spending them just as quickly. An era of smoky jazz clubs, rat-a-tat-tat machine guns, wild new dances like the Charleston and the Black Bottom that had the older generation reaching for the smelling salts. The automobile--newly available to ordinary, everyday folks, thanks to Henry Ford and his assembly line--released courting couples from the front parlor and gave them unprecedented freedom from the watchful eyes of chaperones, giving birth to the modern dating culture. Whole armies of people were on the move, from country to city and south to north, following jobs in the prosperous industrial economy. Radio, magazines, and the silent screen (and by the end of the decade, the "talkies") spread popular culture in new ways.

It was a great time to be alive! And I'm looking forward to telling you all about it. Meanwhile, if you have questions about the era, please send them to me, Miss Marjorie, at marjorie.corrigan@gmail.com.

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

And here I thought the candlestick telephone was a rather handy gadget. This Internet thing is simply the bee's knees! Imagine being able to connect across all these decades. Sure am glad I took Miss Bleecker's typewriting class in high school!
My name's Marjorie Corrigan, and I'm dropping in to visit you from the Roaring Twenties. About me, there's not much to tell . . . I grew up in a small Middle Western town but I simply adore Chicago! I'm single and work at a Very Famous Department Store on State Street. (If you know which one, meet me under the clock!) I'm in Ladies' Nightwear. (Not literally, of course. At the moment I'm in a darling yellow frock with a clever black bow--perhaps I'll send you a photograph.) 
Here's what's happening in my world at the moment. The city's rocking to the rhythm of the Jazz Age. The Charleston’s all the rage. Prohibition's in full swing. Coolidge is in office. Al Capone rules the underworld. Valentino rules the box office.  
I share a prewar apartment with my roommate Dot--prewar meaning the Great War, of course, darling, what did you THINK I meant? Dot also works at VFDS. She's in Millinery. But her real ambition is to be a singer on the stage. Currently she's singing on weekends at a gin joint owned by her boyfriend, Rico. I'm not entirely sure I approve. But that's another topic for another day.
In days to come I hope to find out what's happening in YOUR world. 2012, is it? I'm simply gasping to find out what's playing at the pictures!