As I Please
Tribune, 8 November 1946
has just sent me a copy of an American fashion magazine which shall be
nameless. It consists of 325 large quarto pages, of which no fewer than 15
are given up to articles on world politics, literature, etc. The rest
consists entirely of pictures with a little letterpress creeping round their
edges: pictures of ball dresses, mink coats, step-ins, panties, brassičres,
silk stockings, slippers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail varnish – and, of
course, of the women, unrelievedly beautiful, who wear them or make use of
them. I do not know just how many drawings or photographs of women occur
throughout the whole volume, but as there are 45 of them, all beautiful, in
the first 50 pages, one can work it out roughly. One striking thing when one
looks at these pictures is the overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of
beauty that now seems to be striven after. Nearly all of these women are
immensely elongated. A thin-boned, ancient-Egyptian type of face seems to
predominate: narrow hips are general, and slender non-prehensile hands like
those of a lizard are everywhere. Evidently it is a real physical type, for
it occurs as much in the photographs as in the drawings. Another striking
thing is the prose style of the advertisements, an extraordinary mixture of
sheer lushness with clipped and sometimes very expressive technical jargon.
Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back,
innersole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize and
pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader
will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at
‘A new Shimmer Sheen colour that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.’ ‘Bared and beautifully bosomy.’ ‘Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!’ ‘Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!’ ‘Gentle discipline for curves in lacy lastex pantie-girdle,’ ‘An exclamation point of a dress that depends on fluid fabric for much of its drama.’ ‘Suddenly your figure lifts . . . lovely in the litheness of a Foundette pantie-girdle.’ ‘Lovely to look at, lovelier to wear is this original Lady Duff gown with its shirred cap sleeves and accentuated midriff .’ ‘Supple and tissue-light, yet wonderfully curve-holding.’ ‘The miracle of figure flattery!’ ‘Moulds your bosom into proud feminine lines.’ ‘Isn’t it wonderful to know that Corsees wash and wear and whittle you down . . . . even though they weigh only four ounces!’ ‘The distilled witchery of one woman who was forever desirable . . . forever beloved . . . Forever Amber.’ And so on and so on and so on.
A fairly diligent search through the magazine reveals two discreet allusions to grey hair, but if there is anywhere a direct mention of fatness or middle age I have not found it. Birth and death are not mentioned either: nor is work, except that a few recipes for breakfast dishes are given. The male sex enters directly or indirectly into perhaps one advertisement in twenty, and photographs of dogs or kittens appear here and there. In only two pictures, out of about three hundred, is a child represented.
On the front cover there is a coloured photograph of the usual elegant female standing on a chair while a grey-haired, spectacled, crushed-looking man in shirt-sleeves kneels at her feet, doing something to the edge of her skirt. If one looks closely one finds that actually he is about to take a measurement with a yard-measure. But to a casual glance he looks as though he were kissing the hem of the woman’s garment – not a bad symbolical picture of American civilization, or at least of one important side of it.
interesting example of our unwillingness to face facts and our consequent
readiness to make gestures which are known in advance to be useless, is the
present campaign to Keep Death off the Roads.
A sidelight on bread rationing. My neighbour in Scotland this summer was a crofter engaged on the enormous labour of reclaiming a farm which has been derelict for several years. He has no helper except a sister, he has only one horse, and he possesses only the most primitive machinery, which does not even include a reaper. Throughout this summer he certainly did not work less than fourteen hours a day, six days a week. When bread rationing started he put in for the extra ration, only to find that, though he could, indeed, get more bread than a sedentary worker, he was not entitled to the full agricultural labourer’s ration. The reason? That within the meaning of the act he is not an agricultural labourer! Since he is ‘on his own’ he ranks as a farmer, and it is assumed that he eats less bread than he would do if he were working for wages for somebody else.
The Estate of Eric Blair
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use law