Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

Find me on…

Get the feed


Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

Glove Personalities (1961)

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

One of my more popular posts on this site has been one I did many years ago on glove etiquette. I recently (re)found in my piles of smaller thinner books the pamphlet that this came from, and thought it would be fun to share another excerpt. Gloves: Fashion & Etiquette was published in 1961 by the Hansen Glove Corporation.

I can just imagine the personalities of some of the gloves that they manufactured!

"…sometimes it’s the way a glove falls into folds that says ‘elegance’

…sometimes the very opposite creates the effect ~ a short snappy jauntiness like the flip of the wrist

…sometimes it’s what a glove is made of that suggests its role: narrow-wale corduroy to point up fashionable tweeds or country-life leathers; doeskin in pale colours with the look of thick Devonshire cream for pure luxury; jersey for a sophisticated teaming with coats or suits with bracelet sleeves; string gloves in colours or combined with leather for a made-to-order air; a polka-dot cotton for a smart young thing; a hand-embroadered floral, frankly feminine

…it may be the season of the year or the time of day that is immediately associated with the picture of the glove you were wearing on that very important occasion

…and because gloves do have personalities of their own, many women make a certain kind of glove a fashion signature … a fashion editor who keeps several pairs of pale chamois gloves in her desk drawer so that she always seems to be wearing a fresh pair … the best-dressed woman who wears nothing but white kid … the collector of handsome accessories whose glove plan spotlights fabric gloves because they offer such a variety of textures, colors, patterns "

The Most Dire Female Crimes in Looks and Dress (1959)

Monday, September 26th, 2011

One of the books that fell off my shelf during the “The Big Mineral, Virginia, Earthquake of 2011” was a paperback titled McCall’s Guide to Teen-Age Beauty and Glamour, written by Betsy Keiffer. My version is from 1959 and claims to provide “the sure-fire way to become the most charming, poised and popular girl in your set.” Oh boy!

I decided to flip through before reshelving, and stumbled across these fantastic tips for teen girls, from a chapter titled “The Boys in Your Life.” Seems those boys are very particular about what qualities a girl must have to make them like her. I now see what I must have been doing wrong all those years of being single. It was my sloppiness!

"Besides being clannish and conservative, these maddening males are also keen-eyed as hawks. If you don’t believe me, listen to these gripes aired by a group of college freshmen. Asked what they considered the most dire crimes in looks and dress, they unhesitatingly came up with:

  • Make-up so heavy it comes off on a boy’s jacket at a dance.
  • Eye make-up that’s so extreme a girl looks like a Chinese vase instead of a girl!
  • Smeary lipstick. It’s disgusting to see it all over coffee cups and napkins.
  • Fingernails that belong on the bride of Fu Manchu.
  • Dresses that look as though they’d been painted on.
  • Dresses with necklines that end slightly above the waist.
  • Dresses that may be right in style but aren’t becoming.
  • A get-up that would look great at Buckingham Palace ~ when the date’s informal.
  • Not knowing the difference between casual and rumpled (Ouch! That one really hurt.)
  • Charm bracelets that clank so they drown out conversation.
  • Jewelry so blinding a guy needs dark glasses.
  • A raucous voice or sloppy speech.
  • Stance like a football player’s in a huddle.
  • Sloppiness! And this was echoed with such shaming particulars as:
    • Chipped nail polish
    • Underwear straps that show
    • Wrinkled stockings
    • Unshaven legs
    • Grubby handkerchiefs
    • Stains on dresses
    • Unsightly feet

I guess that makes it pretty clear that boys don’t miss a trick when it comes to a girl’s appearance. So never let that look of sleepy indifference lull you into carelessness about the impression you make. Besides making it very clear what boys object to, this awesome list can show you what boys like. Read it again, and a picture of the girl whose appearance they admire should also be clear. She is neat, she is sweet, she is clean, and perhaps most important, she is understated (to borrow that favorite fashion word), not only in her dress but in her make-up, her accessories and her manner. "

In case you are wondering, that “ouch” statement is actually part of the original text.









Hemlines R Us

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

fashionQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am baffled by all of the fashion tips today, which are filled with mixed messages. I live in a small town in Florida, nowhere near the high-fashion world of New York City. What advice do you have about hemlines for a woman like me?

P.S. Your dress is beautiful!

Skirted in the Sunshine State

A Dear Skirted:

You are in luck, sweetie. I searched through my books from the 1940s and 1960s, as requested, and found a few bits of advice. I even threw in a few bonus sewing tips for you!

1945: Following Fashion Has Little In Common With Beauty

Fashion has the power to appear temporarily in the guise of beauty, though it is the antithesis of beauty as often as not. If you doubt it, look at old fashion plates. Even the women of beautiful taste succumbs occasionally to the epidemics of fashion, but she is more immune than most. All women who have any clothes sense whatever know more or less the type of things that are their style ~ unless they have such an attack of “fashionitis” that they are irresponsibly delirious.

There is one unchanging principle which much be followed by everyone who would be well dressed ~ SUITABILITY.

Source: Post, Emily. Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company,1945.
~ p. 455 ~

1949: Clothes

It’s very hard, in thinking or writing about clothes, to make what I say apply equally to the life and climate of every part of the country or fit the requirements of every kind of setting, from big city through small town or suburb to real country. But I’m sure it’s safe to say that the modern cosmopolitan woman’s attitude on clothes might be called “variations on a single theme.” And that theme is sophisticated simplicity. It holds for town and country, and in every price range . . . .

Except for extremely formal receptions, or as part of a wedding party, a long dress, before dinner, makes a hostess look too anxious for words, unless you’re wearing a smart, hostessy housecoat for a few friends, or if you’re alone. If you want to wear a long skirt to receive at a large afternoon reception or a cocktail party, choose a dinner dress with sleeves in your most becoming color, or else a long black skirt with a brilliant evening blouse. It looks far smarter than a housecoat or a tea gown, no matter how beautiful they may be.

Source: Bloom, Vera. The Entertaining Lady: An Informal Guide to Good Living. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949.
~ pp. 139, 147 ~

1963: Fashion Principles of the Refined That Never Change

CONSPICIOUS DRESS IS NOT SMART DRESS OR IS IT IN KEEPING WITH GOOD TASTE. The old saying “be not the first to try the new or the last one to put the old aside” proves forever timely. Applied it means that when a fashion is introduced which calls for DRASTIC CHANGE, a change that will not be accepted by the MAJORITY of women particularly the first season, it finds no place in her wardrobe. Experience has taught her that a drastic change in style will be modified the next season if it is to become acceptable, or chances are it will die completely. She allows, therefore, a group of women who have not quite distinguished between a “how ridiculous” stare and a “how lovely” one to test the fate of some fashion designer’s dream. But she never consents to being conspicious by being among the first to wear it. She would be concerned, however, if she did not change her style and length of dress when the majority of good women did, knowing that the truly outdated would also make her conspicuous; and this, again, is not her desire.

Source: Culkin, Anne. Charm for Young Women. New York: Deus Books, 1963.
~pp. 56-57~

1967: Anyone Can Sew

~ When hemming a skirt, mark a cardboard the desired width of the hem, then notch the spot with the scissors. This gives an exact guide as you pin the hem. It is quicker and easier than using a ruler, as you have to check the numbers each time you move it and the ruler slips easily.

~ When you are trying to raise the hem on a net dress that will not hold pins, place a clip clothespin over the folded fabric and you can easily put your hem in.

Source: Laird, Jean E. Around the House Like Magic. New York, Evanston, and London: Harper and Row,1967.
~ p. 145 ~

Her Face Looked Like a Sequined Jacket!

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

a fad is attention-gettingQ Dear Miss Abigail:

The other day I heard about a friend of a friend who’d had his tongue forked ~ that’s right, split up the middle. Then yesterday I saw a picture in the paper of a woman with some 200-odd piercings. Her face looked like a sequined jacket. Don’t you think this piercing thing has gone a little too far?

Grossed Out

A Dear Grossed Out:

Piercings are one thing, but a forked tongue? Ouch! Miss Abigail is grossed out as well. I was able to track down a few bits of advice that might help those considering a pierce, a fork, or whatever.

In addition to a bit of jewelry etiquette, I’ve included a little test to help us all sort out the differences between fad and fashion (I have a feeling such extreme body alterations may be just a fad). Now I wonder ~ can that tongue be put back together when the fad has passed?

1937: How Many Jewels?

It has always been the rule of the well-bred not to wear too many jewels in public places, because public display is considered bad taste in the first place, and in the second, a temptation to a thief. But with the present vogue for gigantic jewels, the New York smart world has developed a veritable mania for covering itself in public as well as at home with pearls, rubies and emeralds made of ~ glass!

It is a knowing thief this day who can tell whether Mrs. Gilding, junior, is wearing gems worth half a million or ten dollars’ worth of beads. Tilly, the cash girl, can wear a wristful of jeweled bracelets or an eighteen-carat ring ~ and since jewelry is ornamentation after all, glass makes an effective trimming quite as well as gems.

Source: Post, Emily. Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company,1937.
~ p. 705 ~

1969: Fashion or Fad?

What is a fad, and how does it differ from a fashion? A fad, your dictionary will tell you, is a “temporary,” usually “irrational” pursuit which “excites attention.” While fashion is national, even world-wide in scope, a fad is usually confined to a small group, a town, or a geographical section.

A fad is temporary, while a fashion lasts at least a season ~ often longer.

A fad is attention-getting, while true fashion abhors the conspicuous.

Fads can be fun, or, by their extreme nature, they can be so unsightly as to be painful to the beholder. Such fads are usually in the sloppy category. Other fads are so objectionable or harmful that they are actually taboo.

Can You Tell the Difference?

Here is a list of recent fads. Indicate those you think are Fun and harmless (F), Sloppy and unsightly (S), objectionable and Taboo (T).

1. You wear nonprescription, rimless granny glasses. ___
2. You wear your skirts a couple of inches below the knee when everyone else shows several inches of thigh. ___
3. You wear knee socks with date dresses. ___
4. You wear a long Thrift Shop dress to a party when everyone else is in short, shiny dresses. ___
5. You never have your hair trimmed, because you’re proud of its length. ___
6. You paste decals on your legs. ___
7. You wear a sweater so skin-tight that it shows the outline of your bra. ___
8. You wear an army jacket to school. ___
9. You wear a scarf tied above your knee. ___
10. You wear a ring on every finger. ___
11. You wear the shortest of micro skirts, even though you’re over a size 14. ___
12. You wear black tights with stiletto-heeled shoes. ___
13. You wear stretch pants so tight that the outline of your panty girdle shows. ___
14. You wear slogan buttons that are apt to offend minority groups. ___
15. You wear a leather band around your forehead, Indian fashion. ___
16. You wear as many bead necklaces as you can bear. ___
17. You wear black lacy tights to school. ___
18. You wear “his” turtle neck to school, although it’s several sizes too large. ___
19. You wear half a dozen chains, plus keys about your waist as a belt. ___
20. You wear your skirts so short that the tops of your stockings show. ___

Answers: F for 1, 6, 8, 10, 15, 16, 19; S for 3, 5, 11, 18, 20; T for 2, 4, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17. Give yourself five points for each correct answer. A score of 100 means you know a fad from a fashion; 80 or more signifies you’re human after all; 60 to 80 suggests that you’re either too proper or too sloppy in your dress; under 60 is an invitation to try again.

Source: Thomas, Kay. Secrets of Loveliness. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1969.
~ pp. 26-28 ~