School Spirited: The Vassar-Yale Bike Race, 1952

11/09/2012 § 1 Comment

The first crisp post-Labor Day weather has arrived in New York City and I was pleased to slip into a bit of tweed today — after roundly debating for a good three precious morning minutes on whether this would turn out to be a premature move, natch.  Happy to say that it was a perfectly sunny, briskly breezy transitional day and it put me in a proper “back to school” mood.  I almost felt like buying a new pencil box.

Completely apropos of the weather, my school spirit and my tweed, are these great photos from the 1952 Vassar-Yale Bike Race from the Life Archive.  A bit of astute Googling revealed that the lovely author Rebecca C. Tuite has written a great post for Ivy Style about the short-lived race, which began as a drunken wager, evolved into drunken debacle and was eventually shut down by school authorities for the greater good.  Thankfully, Life Magazine photographer Yael Joel was there to capture the shenanigans so that we might enjoy them today.  I don’t know about you, but my need for a new pair of Weejuns for the fall has definitely been intensified.

Photos by Yael Joel, taken April 1952, via the Life Archive.

Summer in Southern California

21/08/2012 § 1 Comment

For a perfect summer in Southern California, you’ll need golden light, a ton of palm trees, broad white beaches, a polka dot bikini, a beach shanty, some zinc oxide and a group of your closest surfing friends.  Add a dash of PCH, a little rum, some ice and blend it all on high.

For the second half of August, I’ve decided to turn my sights back to the coast I know best — the west.  While I may currently live on the east coast, and have quite an admiration for all things Northeast, summer will always mean very specific things to this California girl.  These photos taken along the So Cal coastline, from Malibu to San Onofre State Beach in Oceanside, were just the ticket.

See also:
Summer on the Cape
Summer on Long Island

Gidget in Malibu

Taken by Allan Grant in 1961 for Life Magazine, via the Life Archives.

Summer on Long Island

13/08/2012 § 2 Comments

For a perfect summer on Long Island, you’ll need a healthy serving of golf, a few polo ponies, a couple of playboys and a sailboat or two — be sure to add in a country club membership, if you’ve got one handy.  Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.  Serve via private seaplane, natch.

See also: Summer on the Cape

Members of the country club lounging on the lawn, watching the sailboats.

Men lining their sailboats up at the start line at the Seawanhaka Yacht Club.

Top polo player Stewart Iglehart, standing with his pony.

A man wrapping Stephen Sanford‘s hurt ankle.

Polo player Pete Botswick and his wife, looking out onto the field.

Michael Phipps sitting in his car, smiling at his dog.

Members of the country club sun bathing on the beach.

Members of the country club sitting outside near the swimming pool.

Mr. Thomas Bradley and his wife playing golf at the country club.

Taken June 1946 by Nina Leen for Life Magazine, via the Life Archive.

Summer on the Cape

03/08/2012 § 1 Comment

For a perfect summer on the Cape, you’ll need some pretty sailboats, a few rainy bike rides, wavy fields of tall grass, a clambake on the beach, and an overloaded jalopy.  For best results, serve over ice in a highball glass and garnish with a gaggle of Kennedys.

Photos by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine, 1940.  Via the Life Archive.

Daughter of a Deb

25/07/2012 § 1 Comment


The idea that girls require guidance and education in order to become women — scratch that, to become proper ladies —  is the foundation of charm school.  You might recall we discussed this concept in February.  I talked about how I saw value in the model, girls and women coming together in the name of self-education and improvement, but I disagree with the emphasis most of these institutions placed on being pretty, perfect baking skills or being a good wife.  To hell with all that.  And so, that’s why I created the Quite Continental Charm School, a modern guide for modern women to create their most charming life.

And while I might have turned the concept of charm school on its head for my own purposes, I still remain fascinated by all the traditions that prepare and commemorate a girl’s transformation into a woman, like the Bat Mitzvah or the Quinceañera.  Growing up, I was none too interested in all of that Sweet Sixteen stuff, but I wasn’t able to completely escape the allure of the tradition.  Perhaps it’s because I am actually the daughter of a “deb.”

What’s a deb? Historically, American debutantes were girls who had reached the age of maturity and were newly eligible to be married.  As part of a formal — and usually quite lavish — ceremony the girls were presented to polite society (read: upper class) either singly or as part of a group, usually wearing some kind of fancy white ballgown.  Fast forwarding a few generations, the deb of my mother’s generation wasn’t primarily intent on catching a husband.  Her attentions were instead focused on making an excellent impression in her social circle (on her own behalf, as well as for her family), finding the perfect escort and wearing an amazing dress.  While traditions do vary regionally, most debutantes also perform some sort of charity work as part of the process as well.

So, as we might have discussed already, my mother was quite the social butterfly growing up.  When I was a young resident of Awkwardsville, living at the intersection of Braces Street and Glasses Avenue, I would often look at the pictures of my mom at one of the many photos of her at a prom or formal — from their sheer number, it would seem like that was all she did in high school — but it was the pictures of her at her cotillion, in that shining white dress, that would always stand out from all the others.  What I felt is hard to describe, but I loved them without having any desire to be a deb.  I left that to my sister, who seemed to enjoy it.  Naturally, to her cotillion I wore a black, backless gown and painted my nails with Chanel’s VampNaturally.  

So for a change, I asked my mom to talk a little about what it was like when she was a deb, to hear the story behind the pictures I love so much (which I promise to scan sometime soon):

“The debutante thing was very different in 1965.  You had to be invited to participate, and that produced a group of about 35.  In the spring we waited with baited breath to see if we were chosen.  Selection was based on family, character, and social standing.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be chosen because your grandparents were not in the “in” social scene.  But we were buddies with Alicia’s family (they were); and Alicia and I were best buds (but she had to drop out because she came down with mono).  I was a little younger than the rest of the debs (required age was 17 of a HS senior), but it was the crowd I hung out with (I was 16 and a junior).   Announcements were made and the formal tea was held; we wore hats and gloves and our best dresses to tea.  In the countdown to Thanksgiving weekend, we were required to attend etiquette classes,  We were also required to do a set amount of volunteer hours.  I was assigned to the Neuro-Psychiatric Institute at UCLA (NPI).  It was interesting.  I had to wear a candystriper-type uniform (like a pinafore).  I got to see the lab monkeys in their cages (that part was sad).  Then weekly rehearsals began around mid-Sept.  Mrs. Poole started us of with the waltz and curtsey.  After we had that down, they brought in the dads, and then the escorts.  The ball was held at the Ambassador Hotel in the Embassy Ballroom (where RFK was assassinated 3 years later).  I had a room upstairs where I dressed and some parents hung out after hours.  We had an all-night party as a group somewhere else.”

My mother’s debut was organized by the Los Angeles chapter of The Links, an international, non-profit volunteer service organization of women committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry.  This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Link’s ball; the first was held at Ciro’s, a famous nightclub on the Sunset Strip, because hotel ballrooms were not available for minority social events in Los Angeles in 1952.  So you can imagine how happy I was, finding these pictures in the Life Archives.  While these debutantes in 1950 are 15 years earlier than my mother’s era, and a good fifty years earlier than my sister’s, there are constants: the puffy white dresses, the elbow-length gloves, the proud parents, the nervous escorts, the pomp and the circumstance.

The photos, shot by Cornell Capa for Life Magazine, capture Harlem’s very first large-scale “negro debutante cotillion,” organized by Mrs. Lillian Sharpe Hunter, a prominent social-event promoter.  If you would like to read the article — and there’s a great shot of the  Rockland Palace Ballroom where all 52 girls debuted in front of an audience of 4,700 that you must see! — you can find it here.

(Above, L-R) Debutantes Joan Greene, Carole Mc Kenzie, Marian Romain,
Lois Mc Laughlin and Marcia Miller posing in their dresses.

Debutante Marilyn Lowe wearing a dress made
from feathers during the debutante cotillion.

Patronly shriners, members of Brooklyn’s Eureka Temple No. 10,
who sponsored debutante Joanne Norris during the debutante cotillion.

Ushers holding seating lists during the debutante cotillion.

Girls waiting to go downstairs for the debutante cotillion.

Grand March is led by Mrs. Lillian Sharpe Hunter and the
guest of honor Grover Whalen for the debutante cotillion.

Matronly organizers and committee members
look on during the debutante cotillion.

Were you a deb too?  I would love to hear your story!

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Roughing It.

05/07/2012 § 4 Comments

Fact: I have never been camping.

Corollary: My mom will probably dispute this.

Who’s right?  I suppose it depends on how broadly you construe the term “camping” — because if to you, camping means you’re in a sleeping bag in a tent in the woods somewhere, then I most definitely have never been camping.  However, if you are like my mother, and think camping includes driving some sort of van or trailer to a “campground” and parking for a few days near some nature, then maybe you’ve got me there.

My parents did own a sweet Minnie Winnie in the late 90s.  It was sort of an odd purchase for a completely non-camping family that was spurred by the experience of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.  We did use it a few times, mainly for soccer tournament weekends, but also for camping at Lake Cachuma and the Kern River.  We actually did Thanksgiving one year, turkey and all, entirely on wheels!

So while I don’t really count those experiences as camping, I do have plenty of great memories of those weekends, which were jogged when I came across this set of photos in the Life Archive, taken at various points around the country by Ralph Crane in 1970.  Capturing different kinds of motor homes and trailers, and the folks who used them, they are a slice of Americana that seems perfectly apropos for the day after Independence Day.

Some of these images originally appeared as part of a special group of articles in the August 14, 1970 issue of LIFE entitled “Home, Home on the Road,” which details “Caravans on the open road.  Houseboats on the busy waters.  Youth in its frustrated festivals.  Venturers abroad in trains.”  If you’d like to read the article — and I definitely recommend it, mainly for some great pictures of a convoy of pretty aluminum Airstream trailers — you can find it here.  Enjoy!

Bob Newcomb with his 12-member family in Hershey, PA.

Sidenote: Can I just say that I have NO idea how 12 people could coexist for any extended amount of time in a trailer.  My family only numbered 5 and speaking for the kids, I know we regularly contemplated pulverizing each other when we “camped.”  Newcombs, hat’s off to the lot of you, indeed.

Baby Newcomb in her bathtub bed!

The Wally Byam Caravan Club converging upon Hershey, PA.  The club, named for the founder of the Airstream Trailer Company, still exists — and caravans — to this day.

Airstream owners and Caravan Club members, saluting the flag.

All images via the Life Archive.

Drawing Dad

15/06/2012 § 7 Comments

In honor of Father’s Day, a little something I found in the Life Archives…

One morning in 1949, the Kindergarten class of Ms. Doris Morcom at Sedgwick Elementary School in West Hartford, Connecticut, all drew portraits of their dads from memory for an upcoming Fathers’ Night at the school…and here we can compare the portraits with the subjects themselves, in photos taken by Al Fenn.  Aside from some startling accuracies, I love how these photos also give us a look at men’s style as the 1940s were giving way to the 1950s.

If you’d like to read the original article, which appeared in the December 26, 1949 issue of Life Magazine, you can find it here.

For fun, the fathers drew Ms. Morcom for their children.

Happy Father’s Day!

All images via the Life Archives.

Woman of the Hour: Margaret Bourke-White

14/06/2012 § Leave a comment

Today is the birthday of photographer Margaret Bourke-White.  Born in 1904 in the Bronx, Bourke-White was one of four original LIFE Magazine staff photographers and an accomplished photojournalist.  She holds a number of notable “firsts” to her name — my favorites include the fact that she was the first woman war correspondent and was the first woman allowed to fly on combat missions (both during WWII) — and created an exceptional, varied body of work.

I frequently come across Bourke-White’s photos and portraits in the LIFE Archives, but the one you see above is one that I hadn’t seen before today.  She stands on the scaffolding of the still under-construction Chrysler Building in 1931.  She is 27.  She hasn’t yet been to war.  With her slickly bobbed hair, leather jacket and massive camera, she is outfitted for an adventure.  The look on her face tells you she won’t stop until she finds one.  I love this picture.  Full stop.  But I also love pictures like the one below, of Bourke-White in Algeria in 1943, in front of the Flying Fortress bomber in which the photographed the US attack on Tunis.

If you’d like to see some of Bourke-White’s most iconic work, the LIFE blog has put together a lovely portfolio in honor of her birthday.  It’s a must-see if you admire this amazing photographer as much as I do.  Find it here.

Images via Time/LIFE Inc.

Improper Bostonians

22/05/2012 § 5 Comments

I’m off to Boston for a few days on business, and I thought it would be the perfect time to share this set of photos I discovered in the Life Archive.  They were taken in 1949 at the original Filene’s Basement, then called the “Automatic Bargain Basement” for the automatic schedule of its discount percentages (pegged to the number of days the item had been on sale).  Created in 1909 in the basement of Boston’s flagship Filene’s department store, Filene’s Basement was eventually spun off as its own entity and outlived the department store until it too became defunct in 2011.  Fun fact: it’s actually where the term “bargain basement” originated.

Sadly the gorgeous original flagship store at Downtown Crossing in Boston, built in 1912 and where these photos were taken, was largely demolished in 2007 after Filene’s went out of business.  Because only the building’s facade was landmarked, developers were free to gut the interiors of the building, which also dated back to 1912.  When those developers lost funding, the building was just left gutted — a huge, gaping hole with the facade looming like the ghost of sales past.  (I haven’t been to Downtown Crossing lately to see if anything has changed at the site — has anyone?)

In these photos, Life photographer George Silk captured the annual $11 suit and topcoat sale at Filene’s Basement.  Just like today’s sample sales, customers started forming a line for the 8:30am sale at 6:30am, and made a mad dash as soon as the doors were flung open.  In less than three hours, 5,000 garments were sold.  In the article, entitled “Improper Bostonians” (which you can read here), Life delightedly informs us that a 200-pound woman fainted and had to be carried away, a blind man was nearly trampled and a man posed as a salesman and swiped someone’s $11! 

Nice to see sample sales haven’t really changed all that much in over
60 years, even if the customers do look a little more refined!

Taken by George Silk for Life Magazine, via the Life Archive.

New Addition || Put A Horse On It: Life Magazine, 1937

01/05/2012 § 5 Comments

This weekend while on a walk in my neighborhood, I stopped by one of my favorite shops in Tribeca, Philip Williams Posters, on a bit of a lark.  While the store is best known for its collection of vintage posters, my attention was drawn from the window by what looked like a massive stack of magazines.  Once inside, I simultaneously realized that they were Life Magazines and that my afternoon was pretty much sealed.

You already know how much I love Life Magazine: I collect them, I read virtual copies on Google Books and wander for (way too many) hours in the online archive.  Coming at this cache of vintage media from multiple directions sometimes provides the opportunity for the kind of pleasant surprise I had this weekend.

First off, you put a horse on anything and I will at least give it a second look.  You put one on the cover of a Life Magazine from the 1930s and mention it’s a polo pony?  Dead.  Before even cracking this baby open, I knew it was coming home with me.  But when I did, I realized I was already familiar with the photos inside as they were part of a set that I had discovered in the archives a few weeks ago — and trust me when I say there is nothing in there tagged “polo” that I haven’t already seen.

I especially love the advertisements.

The feature is about George H. “Pete” Bostwick (August 14, 1909 – January 13, 1982), steeplechase jockey, horse trainer, 8-goal polo player and grandson to Jabez A. Bostwick, a founder and treasurer of Standard Oil Company of New York and partner of John D. Rockefeller. Pete’s favored game, high-goal polo, was a pastime of the wealthy in the 1930s, but Pete made an unprecedented, egalitarian move: he invited the public to watch him and his friends play at Bostwick Field on Long Island, charging only fifty cents for admission.  It was an immediate hit.

These photos were taken 1937 in Long Island by Alfred Eisenstaedt.  Because relatively few actually made it into the issue, having access to the archive allowed me to really enjoy even more photos than were published.  This is about to be a long post, so I must apologize in advance if you don’t enjoy looking at black and white photos of horses, polo or people in their Sunday best.  I will apologize, but I’ll think you’re kinda crazy.

A 28 year-old Pete Bostwick, center.
“There is no use sitting in school when one
can sit on a horse and go somewhere.

Pete Bostwick: lover of polo, beer and cable knit sweaters.

If you’d like to read the feature yourself, you can find it here, via Google Books.

Philip Williams Posters || 122 Chambers St., Tribeca || 212.513.0313

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