By Marjorie Hillis
Originally titled, Orchids on Your Budget when it was published in 1937, this reprint of the depression era, no-nonsense advice book is a good read – both for the economically challenged and those craving a greater understanding of women’s lives in the 1930s.
Author Marjorie Hillis (1889-1971) was already a best-selling author when this book came out. Her 1936 book, Live Alone and Like It, “sold 100,000 copies at a time when almost nobody had two pennies to rub together.” (New York Times Review of Books, 1981). She was well-known for her pithy, straight-talking style advice that had been featured in both Good Housekeeping and Vogue.
Here is a brief excerpt from her chapter on dress from Bubbly on Your Budget:
“A new mode is a complicated thing. It’s made up of colors and fabrics and skirt lengths and waist lengths and relative proportions and a hundred details. The untrained woman’s eye doesn’t take them in at a glance. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t have to take them all in, but she ought to take in more than she does. What usually happens is that a dress or a suit or a coat that is new in every detail looks pretty funny to her. ‘That,’ she thinks, ‘would be fine for Miss Ina Claire or Mrs. Harrison Williams, but I’d look as if I’d gone a little mad if I should wear it.’ She may be right. But she’s not right when, instead, she buys a dress that, in all but one or two new points, has all the familiarity of a dear old family friend. She’ll enjoy wearing it for about six weeks and then, lunching at the country club, she’ll feel suddenly dowdy beside Mrs. Smith’s smart little number.” (37-38)
Hillis goes on to offer advice for building a wardrobe based on practicality and longevity, warning against organdy and velvet evening frocks, and focusing on those that can be used for multiple purposes. Here is her take on the “Little Black Evening Dress“:
The Little Black Evening Dress is, of course, the great standby of nine-tenths of the economically minded women in the country, and it has done its part nobly for a couple of decades. It doesn’t soil easily, isn’t remembered like a color, is appropriate anywhere, and can be varied by contrasting jackets, jewels, flowers, scarfs, and slippers till it dies on its feet. The idea may not excite you, but if you’re really going in for saving money, you’d better get one anyway. In a few short months, you’ll probably love it like a sister, though you would be heartily sock of anything else.” (48)
For a 1937 review of the book from the Oakland Tribune, read this: