A while ago I posted Chapter 30 of No Nice Girl Swears, a debutante’s advice book for women from 1933. Since I have to send the book back to its home library today, I thought I’d share another chapter with you all.
Chapter 29, entitled “The Hiccupping Fifties,” gives young women advice for how to handle themselves in illegal speakeasies and what Moats calls “the line of least resistance in entertaining”: the cocktail party. Since No Nice Girl Swears was written in 1933 at the tail end of prohibition, Moats describes speakeasies a little bit differently from the Roaring Twenties—the “newness” factor had worn off by then, and the social upheaval had settled—but her descriptions of speakeasy atmosphere is still interesting and valuable for anyone writing about them. Her attitude towards drunkenness both public and private is also interesting, especially compared to earlier eras. There are some fine flashes of sarcasm here as well. Is alcohol a necessary evil at parties, as she suggests? Let me know what you think in the Comments section below! 🙂
C h a p t e r 2 9 :
T H E H I C C U P P I N G F I F T I E S
How noble the prohibitionists felt when, through their efforts, the saloon door swung shut for the last time! Youth and American womanhood were saved from the corrupting influence of this cesspool of vice! We can’t suppress an ironical snicker when we think that all they succeeded in doing was transporting women from the drawing-room into the speakeasy. When bobbed hair came in and women invaded the barber-shop, men moaned that their last stronghold had been assailed. Little did they realize how soon it would be before their age-old prerogative of stag drinking was to disappear. Never again will they be able to congregate in a bar-room and relax, for even in the event of prohibition repeal men will have to resign themselves to the fact that the old-time saloon, for men only, will never again exist. Once a woman has felt a brass rail under her instep, there can be no more needle-point footstools for her.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that people went around deploring the fact that women went into speakeasies without a male escort. Now the most correct lady walks in and out of her favorite speakeasy with the same unconcern she would display in going to her hairdresser. Of course it all depends upon the tone of the place. There are some that have become the recognized Mecca of smart feminine lunchers, and in these there is no reason to feel uncomfortable while you sit waiting for your companion.
We have often seen groups of charming little gray-haired ladies happily seated in a speakeasy, giggling over cordials. But in spite of this, dining with another woman in this type of restaurant is not a practice to be generally advocated. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong in it or, for that matter, in meeting your escort at a speakeasy, but somehow you can’t help feeling foolish, and it is always annoying to be leered at by some tipsy old satyr.
In the evening when you have a date with a man and you have any doubts about the type of place you are going to, save yourself any possible embarrassment by refusing to meet him there. Insist that he call for you at your house.
Whether you are with a man or a woman, the chief consideration is to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Raucous laughter, silly screams, and wild gesticulations will immediately draw attention to you, to your companion’s intense embarrassment. And besides you’ll be accused of being tight whether you are or not. At any point in the game long conversations with the waiters just to show off your knowledge of a foreign language are pretty boring to the bystanders. But a girl who leans over the bar in a heart-to-heart talk with the bar-tender is just plain objectionable. Particularly to her boy friend.
You, too, probably have your little prejudices; one of ours is the friendly drunk who either sits at the table next to you and enters into the conversation or comes weaving across the room at you. We’re just magnets for them. Getting rid of this type of bore is no easy matter. There are two schools of thought on the subject. One contends that if you don’t buy him a drink, he will sit on and on waiting for the next. But one thing we’ve discovered—if you once permit him to launch on his life history, all is lost. The best thing for a girl to do is to take refuge in the ladies’ room and leave her companion to deal with the situation.
Soon the man who can drink and hold his liquor will become extinct—a legendary figure. No longer is drinking an art with Americans; once they drank for the taste, but now they drink only for the effect. The more quick and fatal the liquor, the better they like it. They are either on the wagon or else.
There was once a time when a man who got drunk in a lady’s drawing-room was never invited to the house again. If he showed the same lack of control in another home, he ran the rick of having every door closed to him. Now a hostess who insists that all her guests remain sober would find that she was giving parties to a chosen few, and very dull ones at that. She takes it for granted that the majority of her guests will be wavering before the evening is over. It may seem sad, but it is certainly true that the conversations the day after a successful party are invariably on the order of: “Were you there when Jack fell off the chandelier?—too funny! I thought I’d die laughing,” or: “Did you see Tom upping into the umbrella-stand? Old Mr. McCandless arrived too late to rescue his umbrella and was perfectly furious.”
Cocktail parties have become the line of least resistance in entertaining. They are convienent for the person who must get fifty or sixty people off the list of obligations and prefers to do it at one fell swoop, saving money at the same time. It certainly isn’t much trouble; all you need is a case of synthetic gin and a tin of anchovy paste. The greater the number of the guests, the smaller and more airless the room, the stronger the gin, the more successful the party. But if you give one, you must be prepared to have your friends on your hands until two in the morning, as they will invariably forget their dinner engagements and stay on until the last shakerful is emptied.
Moats, Alice-Leone. 1933. No Nice Girl Swears. New York: A.A. Knopf.