Did you ever wonder if you were born at the wrong time in history or if some freak cosmic glitch dropped you into the wrong point in time? Now, as a faithful Catholic, of course I don’t believe in reincarnation or cosmic glitches, for that matter. But I do sometimes wonder why I am so drawn to the lifestyle of previous generations. The post-war generation in particular. Apparently, I’m not alone in this. According to this New York Times article, vintage fashion has made a big comeback. Not the 1980s look, either. It’s more than the fashion, though. Two blog posts, here and here, got me thinking about the good old days of ladies and gentlemen.
Yes, I know the 1950s and ’60s weren’t without their problems. There was the Cold War Soviet menace with its threat of nuclear holocaust and Vietnam brewing. Brown vs. Board of Education may have been the law of the land, but racial segregation and discrimination weren’t going anywhere soon. Ask any historian and you’ll learn that women were oppressed and relegated to domestic drudgery. And behind many picture-perfect, happy American families lurked alcoholism, abuse, or depression.
There are plenty of things worth bringing back, though:
Manners: Remember when people had some? Deportment and good penmanship used to be part of the school curriculum way back when. It used to be important to know how to behave in public, how to greet people, and how to be a good citizen. The grammar textbook SuzyQ used in 8th grade, Voyages in English 8, copyright 1962, included detailed lessons in good manners.
When we bring home a guest whom our parents do not know we should introduce him to them…We should always be courteous, gracious, and cordial.
MODEL: AN INTRODUCTION
KATHLEEN: Mother, this is my new friend, Dorothy Coll. Dorothy moved here from Gesu parish.
MOTHER: How do you do, Dorothy. I hope you will be very happy in this neighborhood.
DOROTHY: How do you do, Mrs. Fries. If all the girls are like Kathleen, I know I am going to like it.
Do you ever hear anyone say, “How do you do” anymore? Here was the section on writing (Yes, writing!) thank you letters:
The well-bred person always says “Thank you” for any gift or favor. The letter need not be long, but it should be friendly and sincere…
MODEL: A “THANK YOU” LETTER
Dear Mrs. Cray,
How can I ever thank you sufficiently for such a pleasant day as yesterday? Mother claims I even talked about it in my sleep last night!
The trip to Radio City was a delightful experience, and the visit to Mother Cabrini’s shrine was most impressive. Indeed the entire day, from the moment we set foot in New York until we boarded the train for Hartford, was a real joy.
I want you to know that I am very grateful to you for inviting me to share this memorable experience with Jeanne. I am sure we shall never forget our first visit to New York.
I think I would burst into tears if I ever received such a gracious thank you note. Today, you have to spend big bucks to get your kids educated at cotillion classes or manners camps. Even then, the extent of the curriculum is the obvious stuff, like table manners, saying “please” and “thank you,” and good sportsmanship. That’s the best we can do? Is it too much to ask in our modern society for a gentleman to hold a door open for a lady or stand when she comes to the table? What about children addressing adults as “Mrs. Jones” instead of “Miss Tracey?” Are “ma’am” and “sir” confined only to military members now?
So if you put it all together, what do you get? Well, maybe if we women put a little more effort into dressing like a lady, say “Mad Men” style,
we might get a little more treatment like this:
Not that women bear the full responsibility for improving their appearance. Maybe more men would act like gentlemen if they dressed the part. You know: save the ball cap for an athletic event, same goes for the track pants; try a button-down shirt every now and then. And by all means, wear a coat and tie when you go out to a nice restaurant or club or to church.
A disclaimer: I have never watched the show “Mad Men” since we don’t get any premium TV channels. I’m certainly not advocating the behavior portrayed in the show. I’m just saying that I often feel like you could plunk me down in 1960, and I would feel more at home in that era than I do now. Yes, I would wear the girdle, the gloves, and the little hat. And I would be expecting doors to be opened and chairs to be pulled out. Another disclaimer: I actually get all of this treatment from Darling Husband even without the girdle. Jealous?