Monday, December 17, 2012

Handbook of Dating and Other Etiquette (1970)

Good morning!

Hope everybody had a good weekend...I've been undergoing this massive pre-spring Spring Cleaning project (another of my pre-New Years New Years resolutions, haha) and wow, the things I didn't even know I had. When I was going through the books in one bookshelf, investigating the novel concept of only-having-as-many-books-as-the-bookcase-would-hold-on-actual-bookcase, I found this Handbook of Dating and Other Etiquette by Sandi Cushman, published in 1970. As best I remember, this title was a Scholastic Book Services score of my mom's when it was new, and was also a favorite of mine circa 1997, where visions of bowling dates and house-guest invitations danced through my pre-teen imagination. The cover looks pretty...mooky, really...but the insides are pure vintage gold. Let's look!

"Heart + Art = Good Manners" may sound goofy, but it's honestly true! Even at thirteen, and again now at twenty-seven, I'm in love with the idea that if you do not know how to do something (or if you do know how to do something, but would rather do it with the grace and politesse you've seen people do it with in the movies), there's a book for that. For sixty cents in 1970 money, you could have the answers to all your dating and etiquette questions at your fingertips!

Plus, the illustrations are pretty much worth the price of admission. Look. AT! How adorable the Malibu Barbie like protagonist of the chapter headers is:

It doesn't make good sense that the woman who did the illustrations (Dorothy D'Anna), did not also do a cover, because wouldn't you be more likely to buy this book on the strength of the French-curls and triple-layer-false-eyelashes gal in the pictures rather than that weird, taken from surveillance photographs picture that actually is on the cover? Sharing a milkshake, going on a picnic with a guitar, dancing, legs akimbo...and, most importantly of all, reading about how to make a success of her dating life!

I know a lot of this is dated, and maybe I'm dated, but I still agree with most of this. Sample advice from these chapters:

Item one: Santa Claus, please, please, please bring me a wiglet for Christmas. I have been really good this year. Item two: I love the abuse of flats in the first section of chapter 2...our fearless author posits that though flats MAY seem like the appropriate choice for a date with Sam Shortington, "chances are you'll waddle like a duck when you should glide like a swan" in those heel-less slippers. Ouch! Ouch, Sandi Cushman! But in my heart, I know you're right (as I fearlessly don wedges that make me 6'3''...a vertiginous swan am I!).

The clothes in these illustrations are giving me envy-induced headaches. Look at the party dress below left. The mini-skirt and coordinated socks-to-sweater ensemble. I am dying. Also, how can I make my hair look like a cascading waterfall of curls in real life? I need more than a round brush and a hair dryer, but by Godfrey, I'll figure it out yet!

Special note: I was OBSESSED with the following passage upon first reading it as a kid. Picturing these poor girls on dates in inappropriate clothes still makes my skin crawl, and I really could have quoted to you each of these passages without having to refresh my memory by reading the text. It made THAT much of an impression on me in my youth! Today, as an adult, I'm almost a little too wary of what I'm wearing and its suitability for various weather/activities/wow-factors...I wonder if this is the root of my problem!

It's good to know, by virtue of the Chapter 5 frontispiece, that good hair runs in Ellie Etiquette's family! Her mom and sister apparently also have Da Vinci like skills with hot rollers and fixative sprays ((eyes narrowing)). These two chapters have to do with being kind to people in your immediate household, as well as those you encounter in your travels (oh please, oh please, oh please Santa can I have a traveling ensemble like this including a raised beret to go over my wiglet? COME ON, MAN).

I cracked up a little over "the Singing Zombies'" latest single (you don't want to get them confused with the Zombies, who do, naturally, sing, and are not a fictional band), and who are you to judge my room and its Russian Army trampled like state of disarray! Mother's Wednesday afternoon bridge club can go to Haiti for all I care! (See, I am working on the swear words thing).

Truthfully, though, it does take a little extra oomph of effort to conduct yourself with grace and glamour even in a domestic setting, but it's well, well, and WELL worth it. Trade your bathrobe for a fancy vintage lounging robe (same amount of comfort, 200% more sex appeal)! Take five minutes in the morning to make your bed and toss last night's tights in the laundry hamper! It really does make me feel like a queen in my own house to take pride in how I look and act while I'm in it.

Will all this good behavior on the home front be rewarded with a week's vacation in someone's guest room?! One can only hope:

There's lots of pointers on not-acting-like-your-host-is-the-owner-of-a-hotel and not-acting-like-you-act-in-your-house-when-we-just-talked-about-how-not-to-act-in-your-house, and a lot of daydreaming on my part about staying with a family where wondering how much to tip their live in maid is a real issue that crosses my actual mind ("two dollars if you've been there for a short stay, and three to five dollars for a stay of more than a weekend, up to a week", for inquiring minds). Le sigh!

Life is "Scranch, NY" is, like, Nowheresville, U.S. of A! These are perfectly lovely letters, but really, Scranch? And Louchie Avenue? Could you come up with something halfway human? I do love how warm and yet elegant these thank you notes come off.

And for the grand finale, how to act in department stores and in sports situations (do you think she was just running out of ideas at this point?). Please do note the gentleman caller in the all-over full length fuzzy fur coat at right (how could you not?):

I vaguely remember a time, possibly in the late eighties' or early nineties', when salesclerks at department stores like JC Penneys and Caster Knott would roam the sales floor and either timidly or brashly, depending on their personalities, approach you to ask if there was anything you were looking for in particular, but it's a dim memory at best. Now, you pretty much have to stalk a sales representative down, African savannah style, stalking your prey through several departments before you can make eye contact and ask your question. At which point, the representative will claim ignorance and fealty to a department that does not carry the sweater with the missing price tag in question. That said, I don't see why "Hey there! Show me some cheap sweaters!" isn't an appropriate conversation opener for a multitude of social situations (maybe this is why I never get invited to stay anywhere with a live-in maid).

Re: the below excerpt on letting your date win or winning gracefully: this really is a little true. Even enlightened dudes of the twenty-first century might be a little sore if they realize you are WAY better at tennis than them.

What do you think? Is most of this advice still on target or do you take umbrage with some of Cushman's underhanded, 1970 lady tactics? Which illustration do you like the best? Was there a particularly influential etiquette text you memorized or were enchanted by in your youth? Do tell!

Well, that's it for today. Mind you manners and I'll see you promptly back here tomorrow for more vintage rants and raves. See ya then!


  1. Awww I love this! This seems like the thing I would have adored when I was entering my teens.


    1. I think daydreaming about the future, when I would have the occasion to ASK questions like "What do I wear on a bowling date?" or "How do I mind my manners when traveling by train?", was the big selling point for me at 13. I still have all the answer memorized for when those situations someday happen, haha!

  2. I remember when all the "big girls" (high school) looked just like that! Sadly, in 1970 I identified more with Velma from Scooby Doo. Big head, bad 'do, glasses.

    1. Oh, I hate to even THINK about my middle school/early high school pictures. I had glasses and a big head too!

  3. This was really enjoyable! I think the advice is still relevant today, even if the "let him win" stuff irked me - but that's just me :-) .

    1. I love the "just be coy" tactic of saying things like "Guess I was just lucky today!" (when you know you were secretly channeling your inner Serena Williams). I could read etiquette books alllll daaaay, haha.

  4. i had a book like this that i LOVED to read when i was a kid. I think my favorite part was the date descriptions. who would be dumb enough to wear pink rollers on a date! or even out of the house! i think a lot of her advice holds up!

    1. Right?! Or the girl with the stained blouse! I'm not saying you have to be Grace Kelly, but it's a DATE, dummy-example-person-from-the-book. Spruce up! Like I said, ten plus years later I still remembered all the Goofus Gals from the descriptions and they STILL give me horrors, haha.



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