When I arrived to pick up the rental car yesterday, the suave attendant told me in one smooth move that he was going to max out my credit card, and then added, ‘O, and Happy Birthday by the way!’ as he handed back my driving license. We established that he’d been playing with the Irish/American insistence on keeping their own date format, but even still, he had gotten it wrong. Or had he?
Aideen was born on the 6 September 1913, and she celebrated her 28th birthday in Hollywood. It was a day to be marked, and how does a girl celebrate her birthday? By maxing out her credit card (ahem), going dress shopping and then having a cocktail in Musso & Franks, of course. She wasn’t a ‘birthday cake with candles’ kinda girl and although I’ve no idea how she managed to shop in this city in September, given the mind-bending heat, it seemed only right to honour the day properly.
Doris Raymond is the diminutive owner of The Way We Wore, on S La Brea Avenue, where JJ and I lost ourselves in the racks for hours and hours yesterday.
[Photographs are forbidden because of the designers they work with. Sorry. They do have a website: thewaywewore.com. CHECK IT OUT!!]
I’m continually overwhelmed by the way Californians are reaching out to Aideen, and Doris was so attentive to the details and facts of her life that I quickly realised she is at once historian, curator, fashion designer and personal stylist. She reappeared with authentic editions of Vogue magazine from 1941 and 1942 to allow us to browse, showing the fashions that were on the catwalks and in the shops when Aideen arrived in California.
An FBI Civil Fingerprint Card (an immigration requirement) showed that Aideen was a petite 5 foot 2 ½ inches and 106 pounds. Her diaries show that she wore size 6 and a half gloves, and her feet were a size 3. The loose, square shapes of the early 1930s could not have been as flattering on her as the tailored, tightly-cut, thigh skimming skirts and suits of the War years.
Arriving on the train from New York in 1939, Aideen had a trunk of clothes that she would have to wear, mend, and wear again until the war ended and fabric rationing was lifted. I imagine that Boss wasn’t much of a shopper and may have passed his clothing coupons on to Aideen, and there must have been a couple of elegant evening gowns for when she accompanied him to the RKO and Paramount parties. For daytime, there would have been light, tailored dresses in printed rayon, with sensible walking shoes. She was a big advocate of slack suits and she also liked nautical-style shorts with ankle socks and pumps.
Slack suits were very popular in the 1930s, but by the early 40s there was rarely enough fabric to have matching jackets and slacks. Aideen wasn’t interested in housework, and I doubt she had the skill or patience to mend or renew her old clothes. (Another feature we share.) Did she mix and match? Or simply abandon the out-dated fashions?
When she wasn’t arguing with Equity, or going to the movies to watch news reels, Aideen was spending more and more time at home alone, often staying in bed during the day. JJ had already found what we needed in The Way We Wore: The rail of incredibly luxurious silken nightwear. Handsewn, with lace pannelling, in shades of pale peach and baby blue. A ribbon here and there, peep-holes on the back and sides. All far too long for Aideen, unless she was wearing high heels with them around the house, which many women must have done. Expensive and coveted; I’ve decided that she deserved to have one.
Party dresses? I found two – and still can’t settle on a final favourite. The fabrics nowhere near as luxurious as the nightwear; material that definitely didn’t breathe in this weather. Both had waists so tiny that fitting them on was a delicate operation.
The first was ivory polyester, with a pale sheen of peach flowers. It had a sweetheart neckline, capped sleeves and fell straight to just above the knee. But there was a swathe of material on both hips that struck me as a little too fussy for Aideen.
The second was classic black crepe, with sequined shoulders and a circle of black net at the clavicle and a peephole at the back. The heavy material fell straight to the floor, creating a silhouette as slim as the cigarette holder she may have held in her hand. Again, it tumbled onto the ground around my feet. Heels would be needed; I’m thinking a flash of gold and a clutch bag to match.
So, at least I know where the royalties from my book will be spent. Until then, JJ and I had to make do with our own wardrobes to grace the cocktail bar at Musso & Franks. Aideen would have been okay with it: There were short dresses, costume jewellery, lashings of mascara and red lipstick. Much red lipstick.
My camera had been charged, and I’d left The Way We Wore with half a battery. But when we came in the back entrance of Musso & Franks (the entrance closest to her apartment on North Cherokee Avenue), I took one photo of JJ and then it died. I’m not joking. I wish I were. Again: blogging involves repeated public humiliation.
But there were cocktails, and I have the M&F menu dated 6 September to prove I spent Aideen’s birthday there. Perhaps she shut down the camera. Perhaps she was telling me that I had a pretty dress, red lipstick, and a wonderful friend to talk fashion and literature. Perhaps she was telling me to kick back, enjoy my drink and stop thinking about home.