A Cat’s Meow

In college, I wasn’t particularly fond of linguistics. Although I gladly admit, sociolinguistics was an exception. I really loved comparing cultural influences on language and vice versa. Politeness was my favorite topic and it still amazes me how perceptions differ even in the same language area. My second favorite topic has always been American slang. Today, I’m not particularly up-to-date and an excessive usage of words such as epic and awesome tickles my risble muscles. Like as a filler word on the other hand drives me up the walls. What I prefer is slang from bygone eras, from the 1930s through 50s to be exact. Words, abbreviations, euphemisms – they are my secret vice. Here’s a list of my favorite expressions and their meaning. You may be surprised how many words date back to the era of Jazz, screwball and noir.


  • Blow your wig – become very excited
  • Blinkers, peepers – eyes
  • smooth, sweet, swell – very good
  • Cats or alligators – fans of swing music
  • Curve – disappointment
  • Cute as a bug’s ear – very cute
  • Dead hoofer or cement mixer – bad dancer
  • Dick, shamus, gumshoe, flatfoot – detective
  • Dig – think hard or understand
  • Dollface – name for a woman when a man is pleading his case or apologizing
  • Hard boiled – tough
  • Honey cooler – a kiss
  • Hop, rag, jolly up, romp, wingding – dance or party
  • Pill – disagreeable person
  • Scrub – poor student
  • Shake a leg – hurry up
  • Whacky – crazy
  • What’s your story, morning glory? – What do you mean by that?
  • You and me both – I agree

Do you want to learn more about slang from the 1930s? Check these two websites here and here.

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America in Primetime

In 2011, PBS presented America in Primetime, a documentary in four parts about the history of television. Focusing on the evolution of the Independent Woman, the Man of the House, the Misfit and Crusader, each episodes offered a look back at the beginning of mainstream television in the 1950s until today. Blessed with a great variety of popular interviewees, America in Primetime was an ambitious project with names such as Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Ron Howard, David Lynch and Shonda Rhimes attached to it. Unfortunately however, the series did not live up to its potential and rarely offered controversy about contemporary perception. For years, it’s been in vogue to bash the 50s and idealize the 1960 and 70s, for example, but from the announcement of this PBS production I had expected otherwise.

It’s always easy to look at a bygone era with modern eyes without looking underneath the surface. But no matter how much I am personally tickled by Lucille Ball, the 1950s had more to offer than just I Love Lucy, The Donna Reed Show and Leave it to Beaver. I was surprised, to say the least, when I didn’t hear a mention of Betty White and her already flourishing career and bewildered, like so often, when Mary Richards was called the first single working girl on television. Whatever happened to Connie Brooks and Della Street? After all, not every female character (despite their feminine appeal) was “just” a housewife, a job many (post-)feminists still seem to wrestle with.

Male characters of that era weren’t appraised more adequately either. I mean, Ralph Kramden may have been a prototype for characters like Fred Flintstone or Homer Simpson, but he was already a caricature back in his time and not just a regular guy. Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best, as another popular example, was also more flawed than critics often depict him today. His wholesome attitude and simple answers may have fostered the image of the omnipotent father, but only on the surface – he was wrong too often with his fatherly assessments to call him a picture perfect patriarch.

But America in Primetime doesn’t like to dig deeper and rather creates an odd summary of female liberation (and correlated emasculation of male role models) on TV. Murphy Brown, Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy serve as notable examples along with The Good Wife‘s Kalinda Sharma. Positive role models such as The Cosby Show‘s Clair Huxtable, Maggie Seaver from Growing Pains, Designing Women or The Golden Girls don’t even get a mention and I wonder if it’s their grace and domesticity or their love for men that interferes with the desired image of women who favor their careers over everything else.

All in all, America in Primetime – like other documentaries before – celebrates the evolution of television from the simple, archaic days of the 1950s to a supposed golden age of the 2000s (predominantly on pay TV). By celebrating the creation of broken and disturbed characters whose complexity supports the audience’s alleged desire for drama and realism, the program may appeal to anyone who enjoys shows like Nurse Jackie, The Sopranos, Mad Men or Breaking Bad. For anyone who prefers dignity, subtlety and moderation in storytelling, the documentary may draw the wrong conclusions about a bygone era and leave a taste of bias in your mouth. Personally, I was dissatisfied with the fragmented glimpse into TV history and the overwhelming number of present-day TV makers as a primary interview source. But with my fondness for vintage that may not come as a surprise.

A Radio Treat

Two days ago, I listened to a radio broadcast from 1950, a live recording from March 23 to be exact, the day of the 22nd Academy Awards. Presented by Paul Douglas at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood with radio comments by Ken Carpenter, Eve Arden and Ronald Reagan, the show was a good two hours in length and filled with lots of joyful moments.

The show – although already exciting for any classic movie buff without great names such as James Cagney, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Stewart, Dick Powell and June Allyson, Anne Baxter and John Hodiac, Cole Porter, Ruth Roman and Barbara Hale – was entertaining from the start and blessed with a beautiful score presented by Gene Autry, Dean Martin and other wonderful performers. Despite the many differences in presentation compared to the lengthy ceremony I’ve long stopped watching each year, it amused me to find one announcement already existed back in 1950: the request for the winners to cut their thank you’s short. And trust me, the few people who said more than a heartfelt thank you, didn’t take center stage to present a short story about their lives. How refreshing to hear there once was a way to go about this differently, when recipients were in tears about their accomplishment without dwelling on it. How surprising to hear a young boy thank his parents and God – at least by today’s standards.

I know not everyone will share my sentiment, but I loved the mix of glamor and simplicity, such a charming combination. Stars and winners aside, the radio hosts also won my heart for their lively presentation and supportive attitude. Without making a fuss, they added to the style of a show that still showed signs of gratefulness and modesty towards their peers and audience. A different world, Hollywood in 1950, both good and bad, and so much fun revisiting with your eyes closed.

In Loving Memory

In 1916, my grandma was born. August 18th was her birthday. Gregory Peck was born that year, so were Kirk Douglas, Betty Grable and Olivia de Havilland. WWI was haunting Europe, leaving an entire generation lost and scarred. Radio was the connection to the world and newspapers the main source of information. Irving Berlin was a big name in music and Cole Porter presented his debut, See America First, on Broadway. Al Jolson was big in show business, as well as movie stars such as Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. James Joyce published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man while Claude Monet and Henri Matisse created some of their most beautiful paintings.

The world my grandmother grew up in seems so different now from ours and yet I always felt our souls were one and the same.When she entered her teens, she was affected by the Great Depression like everybody else. Those years shaped her understanding of money and security, and made her frugal despite her generosity. When she was barely of age, the world was shaken by another World War, a catastrophe that shaped her decisions about marriage, family and friendship. When the war was over, the world changed yet again, with women (despite their inferior legal status) struggling to juggle their jobs, children and returning soldier men. In the 50s, my grandma couldn’t afford to live the dream of a housewife, she had to work to support her two children because her husband’s salary alone didn’t suffice. She worked in a field she had been trained in with her father’s permission before the war and stayed with the same company until she finally retired at sixty. It took her years to afford a washing machine or other amenities, her household eating up much more time, without the help of her husband. I don’t know how she did it, but she cooked every day and created delicious meals on a tighter budget than I am scraping by today. She was a beloved host and as a child I always aspired to get as much praise for my cooking as she did.

It is her discipline, warmth and love I remember the most, the everyday routine she kept even after she had long stopped working. Her closet always looked impeccable, with neatly folded sheets and her well-groomed wardrobe. Her clothes were ladylike, her hair curly and naturally gray. When I close my eyes, I immediately see her in the kitchen, an apron safely tugged around her waist and her glasses steamed up from adding a secret ingredient to my favorite dishes. I often wonder how she would feel about my vintage life today and remember the feeling of reaching for the phone to ask her for a recipe or some advice long after she had already passed away. Sometimes I hear her voice in my dreams and I see her face smiling at me. When I wake up, I always feel blessed but also lonely for her presence, then I realize how many of the things I love were cherished and celebrated by her in a humble way. She read whodunits, loved music, embraced solitude as well as company and liked to talk to me at least an hour every day. Like me, she also loved Perry Mason and when I look at Della Street in her senior years, I always feel reminded of my grandma and what a gift it was to have been loved by her.

More Dressing in Style

A while ago, I shared my love for vintage fashion on this blog – my favorite designs coming from the 1940s and 50s, with rare exceptions from the 30s, 60s and then the 80s. And since I love to pay tribute to our fashionable (grand)mothers by copying their style, it is time to share my latest findings because no matter how stuffed my closet already is, I still love to shop. Be it circle skirts from the 50s with a matching blouse or sweater and a scarf, collar dresses, cardigans, two-inch heels or fancy flats, pencil skirts, shirt dresses from the 40s or the combination of an over-knee skirt with boots and a turtleneck from the 80s – I’m crazy about them all. And the stores below more than help me fill my hangers and eat away my dough, moolah and smackers.

Etsy is one of those beautiful examples – a portal filled with original pretties from different sellers, including clothing, jewelry and other “usefuls” like aprons, toys or candles. Other stores are PinUp Girl Clothing, Tara Starlet, Queen of Holloway and Lady K Loves. They offer new vintage chic for modern pin-up dames, housewives and working girls. Their designs are mostly inspired by the 1930s through 60s and the patterns and fabrics vary from each shop and collection but always include classics such as polka dots or gingham.

So whatever works for you – if you’re into Rockabilly or just love to look like your favorite golden Hollywood character or star, these stores are a great addition to your shopping list. They offer fashion that goes beyond the renewed Mad Men mania and their hyped 60s nostalgia. They bring the fun back into dressing up, depending on your preference, making you feel classy, feminine or perky. Most stores also offer stockings, intimates, coats and shoes to complete the feeling of traveling back in time a little. With the right purse and luggage, who knows, you may even wish to never return to our day and age again.

Dressing in Style

All right, ladies (and interested gents), let’s talk beauty today. The kind that was fashionable some sixty years ago. Robes and girdles, wraps and circular skirts, petticoats, bullet bras, seamed stockings, stoles and shirt dresses…designed to make girls look glamorous, all-woman and elegant.

Are you like me? Do you miss the classiness of those bygone days? Hats, cardigans, playsuits and colorful scarfs embellishing female necks or taming perfectly trimmed curls…

Personally, I miss the 1940s the most, and then the 50s – those are my favorites: hairstyles, make-up, attire. The early 60s were swell, too, more so the 30s. But for me, those decades got nothing on those twenty years in-between with all the grace and stylishness celebrated then.

I love the colors, the patterns, the way a dress complimented a woman’s body, how it hugged female curves before it was in vogue to be all bones and boyishly slim. I love the exuberance of silk, lace and quillings as much as the rather plain, simple and almost linear suits. I like how stiletto heels perfect the femininity of a skirt,  a composition of an entire outfit with blouse, belt and lusciously cropped curls. I adore the room a 50s cocktail dress provides for my female belly, no matter how sporty and toned – I like to eat at a party, and sit for that matter, without that perpetual fear of blowing my favorite garment.

It’s  the great variety of styles from Katherine Hepburn’s sophisticated style to the all-American sweater, scarf, skirt and flats. Dolling up or roughing it, from those two decades I even love the pants.

If you want to learn more about vintage beauty, check out this blog called Glamour Daze.

You can also find new vintage clothes available in the US and in most of Europe at stores like Collectif, WhatKatieDid, Miss Mole or Joanna’s Wardrobe. There are a number of other stores out there, offering both original vintage clothing and new vintage style, including petticoats, hosiery and accessories.

For everybody who is as interested in vintage fashion design as I am and desires to create her own 40s/50s dream, check out the many blogs and websites for instructions and sewing patterns, e.g. WikiHow (here for hairdo’s).

You’ll see there’s a lot of information available for those of us who cannot ask our beloved grandmas about their precious secrets anymore.