Friday, 5 September 2014

Guest blogger: Mandarin's Jade & Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

Mandarin’s Jade – 1937 short story

Farewell my lovely – 1940 novel


from guest blogger Veronica Horwell








When Raymond Chandler cannibalised his short stories in 1930s pulp magazines to construct his novels, he updated the fashion. Not for the bit parts – some guys didn’t even get to change their sock suspenders -- nor for the dangerous dames, much. Chandler knew that dressing for seductiveness is often incompatible with fashion, and had his fantasy self Philip Marlowe wriggle out of describing a vamp in Farewell My Lovely, 1940, with “I didn’t pay much attention to her clothes. They were what the guy designed for her and she would go to the right man.” But when Chandler, through his hero, evaluated a rare female ally, they got the full Vogue caption.

There were only a few such women and they earned a fair part of their own living. The best-dressed is Carol Pride in the Dime Detective 1937 short story, Mandarin’s Jade, who became the Celtic redhead Anne Riordan when Chandler lengthened the story into Farewell, My Lovely; both Carol and Anne save the private eye’s neck through independent competence. Carol/Anne inherited their cool head and steady hand from their dead, honest-cop, dad; he had been suckered into buying a little land that produced oil and pumped out a small income, which subsidised their feature-writing -- Carol/Anne are both journalists, with their own bungalows and fussless décor of Navajo rugs, desks, hand-woven curtains. Their clothes mark a period of fast transition for woman in employment: Carol visits the detective’s office in a speckled tweed suit, with “mannish shirt and tie”. Later she wears a plaid overcoat with suede collar, and a “funny little octagonal hat that had a red button”. Her outfits blend borrowed masculinity – the tweeds and tie go back to the serious, educated woman of Chandler’s English Edwardian youth -- and what he elsewhere called “ditziness” – the surreal sculptural shapes Schiaparelli introduced into fashion in the 1930s. They don’t quite mix, and Carol’s clothes lack a certain ease and maybe sexual confidence; Chandler keeps her “nice” to contrast with the femme fatale.


By the time Anne is sent in as substitute in 1940, her attitude, with the clothes, has subtly changed. She wears a slack suit, an outfit for both sexes with wide-legged trousers and a simple jacket that didn’t always need a shirt beneath, and a flannel coat. When she arrives uninvited in Marlowe’s office, it’s in “a tobacco brown suit with a high-necked white sweater inside it”, an American classic perpetually now, as is the large suede bag she dumps on the desk. (Ralph Lauren’s design crew must be contractually obliged to read all of Chandler annually.) Marlowe is bemused by her hat, “a crown the size of a whisky glass and a brim you could have wrapped the week’s laundry in”, yet concedes it’s smart.





Best of all, when Anne meets Marlowe over a dead body in a lonely canyon, she puts “her hands down into the pockets of a long rough coat with flaring shoulders”. (In which she packs cigarettes and pistol, although she isn’t responsible for the corpse: she carries a flashlight, too.) Flaring shoulders might mean the jutting, padded shoulders of 1940, but sound more like the cut of a swagger coat, which as a flared-shape long jacket, or knee-length wrap, was the outer garment of the 1940s, its looseness allowing layers of workwomanlike separates, and those patch pockets (or sometimes slit pockets, like a pea-jacket) intended for hard use. It’s not a garment for nice girls who wait and hope to be kissed. It encourages an elbows out, hands and everything else in pockets, 24 hours: it’s all the time we’ve got, can-do attitude. “Don’t you know there’s (soon to be, in the US) a war on?”




With thanks to Veronica (again – see her previous guest blogs here and here) who says the clothes described in the works above sound just like her own wardrobe…


Ladies styles in topcoats is from the NY Public Library collection - the two models to the left of the picture are described as swagger coats. The swagger jacket is from the same source – the sketch came in two lengths: coat or jacket. The woman in a slack suit, also NYPL, was part of the World’s Fair fashion show.

12 comments:

  1. Moira - Thanks for hosting Veronica.

    Veronica - You know, I'd never thought of Chandler as paying much attention to anyone's clothes, really, but you've proven he did. And it's very interesting that he makes distinctions among character styles he does describe and those he doesn't. Of course, as you say, 'vamp' doesn't equal 'style' or even 'fashion.'

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    1. Margot, I wonder if with Chandler it was his eye for detail rather than an eye for clothes - as Veronica points out above, he liked describing interiors too.

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  2. A swagger coat conjures up the best images - why is it that women's clothes have so few decent pockets nowadays. Tho' I likely don't need room for a gun (and surely the weight would not create a good 'line')!

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    1. Couldn't agree more - and proper pockets too, ones that are integrated into the design. And ones that don't push their contents out. Particularly important if there was a gun, which I do agree is not likely or necessary.

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  3. It is interesting how much effort Raymond Chandler puts into describing women's clothing. I would have a hard time describing clothing in such detail.

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    1. Yes it's surprising isn't it? I guess, as I suggest above, that he's a man for detail. It doesn't slow him up, the books are still full of action... There's some thriller writer (is it Lee Child?) who always tells you how much each character weighs, which always makes me laugh, it seems so absurd. 'He was a tall rough-looking guy, around 200 pounds' sounds ridiculous to me.... but who am I to talk, with my obsessions with what characters wear?!

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  4. Jack Reacher is a very tall, very big guy, no one to mess with. I guess Reacher sizes up others, too.

    I love these clothes, swinging coats with matching hats, great suits.

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    1. Don't they look great? A good historical moment for clothes.... even if the world was going mad elsewhere.

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  5. Yes, the 1940s, madness.

    Over in the States, Hollywood went on making movies with women wearing gorgeous suits, coats and hats. Many women went to work in the factories then, but I doubt they were wearing these clothes!

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    1. I suppose that the films were escapism - if you were wearing overalls and workwear at the factory, maybe you liked to see fancy gowns in the evening...

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  6. I suppose I ought to have read more by Chandler, but I've only managed one many years ago and I can't even remember which one it was.
    In the last drawing/sketch/picture, I think the garment look kind of military in style.

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    1. Yes I see what you mean, I think fashion mavens would agree that clothes reflect (or contrast with) what is going on in the outside world, so army uniforms probably did influence fashion.

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