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Not so Perfect Behavior

August 13, 2010

Satirical cartoon on ‘Practical Dress’ from La Vie Parisienne, Sept 1923.

Causing me to chortle into my morning coffee today is a most amusing guide to etiquette, first published in the 1922, called Perfect Behavior. Written by Donald Ogden Stewart (Hollywood screenwriter and friend of Dorothy Parker, which figures), it was obviously intended as a rib-tickling read for the dashing 1920s bachelor. Tongue firmly in cheek, Mr Stewart provides all manner of insights on subjects which include weddings, their arrangements and the handling of wedding gifts:

As the gifts are received, a check mark should be placed after the name of the donor, together with a short description of the present and an estimate as to its probable cost. This list is to be used later, at the wedding reception, in determining the manner in which the bride is to greet the various guests. It has been found helpful by many brides to devise some sort of memory system whereby certain names immediately suggest certain responses, thus:
“Mr. Snodgrass—copy of ‘Highways and Byways in Old France'”—c. $6.50—”how do you do, Mr. Snodgrass, have you met my mother?”
“Mr. Brackett—Solid silver candlesticks—$68.50″—”hello, Bob, you old peach. How about a kiss?”

Illustration from the Gazette du Bon Ton, 2, 1921.

There’s observations on making payment for a street car (or tram):

A young married woman, for example, on entering a street car, should always have her ticket or small “change” so securely buried in the fourth inside pocketbook of her handbag that she cannot possibly find it inside of twelve minutes. Three or more middle-aged ladies, riding together, should never decide as to who is to pay the fare until the conductor has gone stark raving mad.

Illustration from the Gazette du Bon Ton, 3, 1921

And indispensable advice on writing most original Halloween party invitiations:

Another novel invitation is made by cutting a piece of yellow paper thirteen inches long and four inches wide, and writing on each inch one of the lines given below. Then begin at the bottom and fold the paper up, inch by inch. Fasten the last turn down with a “spooky” gummed sticker, and slip into a small envelope. When the recipient unfolds the invitation, he will be surprised to read the following:
Now what on earth
do you suppose
is in this
little folder
keep turning
ha ha ha
ha ha ha
ha ha ha,
ha ha ha
It would perhaps be best to telephone the next day to those guests whom you really want, and give them further details as to the date and time of the party. Additional fun can be gotten out of this invitation by failing to put postage stamps on the envelopes when you mail them; the two cents which each guest will have to pay for postage due can be returned in a novel manner on the night of the party by inserting them in sandwiches or stuffed tomatoes.

Cartoon on ‘Practical Dress’ from La Vie Parisienne, Sept 1923.

The illustrations in this post aren’t from Perfect Behavior, but they are more or less contemporary to it. They seemed to have a certain whimsy that perhaps Donald Ogden Stewart would have approved of! If you’re interested in reading more, the full e-text of Perfect Behavior is over at Project Gutenberg here
One Comment leave one →
  1. September 4, 2010 5:26 pm

    This book is so funny! What a great find…

    And the 1920’s illustrations that you found are so charming. I wish I could have a poster-size version of the first one – to frame, and hang on my wall!

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