Monday, May 19, 2014

Vintage Bedroom Etiquette

Claudette Colbert wasn't taking any chances in the motel room, alone with Clark Gable ~ "Even the kindest people are savage at night." Sir Walter Scott

  I have an odd habit of giving away copies of the 1936 book, "Bed Manners and Better Bed Manners." This, and its 1934 predecessor, "Bed Manners." It's not that I don't want the book. I just bought another copy a month or so back. It's that I try to show my etiquette instructor trainees that there is a whole world of etiquette out there to ponder.  The world of etiquette isn't just tea parties or sending out notes of thanks. It surrounds us. It is kinetic. And it is also, sometimes, hysterically funny. Take for example the sales pitch that permeates the first two chapters that I have posted here. I will post more of this tomorrow.   
Much human misery would be eliminated if fathers took their boys aside and talked with them frankly about many things.
This book is based upon Harford Powel's epoch-making article entitled "Bed Manners," which appeared in Vogue. As Mr Powel said, the subject has never before been discussed in print, and deserves the careful study which we have given it. We extend thanks to numerous readers who have helped us by describing the heinous errors in good taste and etiquette committed by their husbands, wives, sweethearts, college roommates, etc. May this little book fill your nights with sunshine.
Ralph Y. I Hopton, PhD
Anne Balliol
Volume 1

How to Use This Book

What? A new etiquette book in a world already groaning under the weight of thousands of etiquette books? Yes. Because this book pioneers in a new field of good manners in good form.

Every etiquette book written up to now has a missing chapter, which would be the most valuable of all if the writer had only dared to print it. Such a chapter would follow the section on Table Manners, and the section on Party Manners. It would be called Bed Manners, and fully instruct you how to behave in a nice way between bedtime and breakfast time.

Of course, you may be living all alone on a desert island, to which you have fled to escape your creditors, your wife, or the like. If so, it doesn't matter how you behave at night. Only the owls and the fireflies can see you, and it makes no difference to them if you snore, mutter in your sleep, kick the clothes off the bed, or commit any other breach of social etiquette.

But probably you are not alone, or don't want to stay that way.

Civilized life is full of strange adventures. Some people explore the jungles, others work in laboratories with deadly germs, others get a kick out of polo, or mountain climbing, or cruising in deep water in tiny boats like cockleshells.

But the strangest adventure of all is to find yourself locked in a bedroom with a person of the opposite sex, with whom you are required to go to bed and get up for thousands and thousands of nights. This is called "marriage." It may have happened to you already. Or it may happen just when you least expect it and are least prepared.
Did Cleopatra own a dreaded vassarette?
Very well. How are you going to act? How are you going to make the other person act? The schools of America teach many valuable subjects like geometry, ancient history, football and algebra, but they do not teach bed manners. As a result, our young graduates plunge into marriage with no idea how to behave. They can read the etiquette columns in the newspapers and the etiquette books in the library until they are black in the face, and still fail to find a single word of advice on this important topic.

During the past year, to prove our point, we have studied more than one million words written by every authority on etiquette in America. We have listened to the radio as well. Make this test yourself, and what do you get?

You get a lot of information about visiting cards, and lawn fetes, and the right way to eat asparagus, and how to write a letter to a United States Senator, and how to set the table for a formal luncheon. This is all good, as far as it goes. But it never goes past bedtime. You might think these authorities wanted you to sit up all night in the parlor, writing formal letters, or practicing the correct way to grip asparagus, or something.

Now, you know better than that. You know that you can't sit up all night for more than a very few nights without feeling very tired and wanting to get some sleep. Very well. This little book which you are now reading tells you, in a few practical lessons, everything you need to know about good form in the bedroom.

Knowledge is power.

Grasp it firmly, and you will be able to remodel the behavior of the person who sleeps with you. This person has no doubt been behaving very badly, for lack of good, practical information, such as this book supplies. If this is not checked, at once, it will lead to quarrels, injured feelings, and eventually to divorce. You probably will not be able to afford a divorce this year. Avoid all such expense by leaving this book in plain sight, where your bedfellow will see it and absorb its lessons. If it doesn't work a cure, nothing can.

If you wish to do good in your community, like a good citizen, you should extend the usefulness of this book by giving it to every married couple who are beginning to crack under the strain. In the very next home on your street, you may have reason to know that the husband is a boor. Or the wife may behave is if she has been brought up in the monkey cage at the zoo. Your course of action is obvious. Buy a copy of this book and leave it on their pillow. They may be surprised when they see it, but they will thank you in the end, when they learn how much happier it will make them.

You have a duty to young people, too. Instead of letting them grow up and marry in blind ignorance of the natural pitfalls caused by imperfect bed manners, you must see that a copy of this book goes to every prospective bride and groom in town. A young woman who finds it in her bridal shower will appreciate your kind thoughts. So will the college student who receives it as a graduation gift from you.

Another splendid use of this book is as a gift to your physician. He meets dozens of discontented married people in his daily rounds. He will want to prescribe this book to all of them, as soon as he has read it, digested it, and learn what it can do to make his own married life bearable, even happy.

One word of warning. This is the first and only book ever printed about Bed Manners. The subject is a vast one. The happiness of many million people depends on it. Therefore, do not attempt to read this book rapidly. Meditate each chapter before you take up the next one. You must think as you read. You can do this in the privacy of your home, or in the subway, or out riding with friends, or in odd moments at the office or factory where you work.

For this reason, you cannot rent this book at a library, and gallop through it, and expect to get its full benefit. Own your own copy it all times. Carry it around with you, and give its magic a full chance to work.
Maybe I fell for the sales pitch, but I seem to keep giving copies away.

Getting Undressed

If you were sentenced to spend nine years of your life working at one job for eight hours a day-- Sundays included-- you would think harshly of the judge. At best you would be forced to consider him a meanie.

Statistics prove, however, that the average one-family man, with a life span of seventy years, spends this amount of time taking off his clothes and putting them on again.*  The amount of time similarly spent by the average woman can be measured only in light years.

Being condemned to the slavery from birth, one would think people could learn how to do the job with a little finesse. On the contrary, clothes seem to be like a delicatessen salad. In the store window they are a thing of beauty. Once start to take them apart and---
Avoid the habit of getting undressed by gravity!
To most people undressing is not so much an art as it is coming to pieces. This is a mistake. Failure to correct it has been responsible for the development of a good-sized city in the West, composed of exiled husbands. If the average ignorant bird should hurl his feathers around the nest in imitation of man, there would be no more eggs.

Some of the principle sins against good breeding are committed in the process of removing the clothes. In putting them on most people are conferring such a favor on the sensitive eye that lapses of etiquette are more pardonable.

Whatever you do, avoid the habit of getting undressed by gravity. The appearance of puddles of male or female clothing on the bedroom floor never caused a tremor of love in the most sensitive person. Our researches show that women are particularly prone to this moult-and-walk off process. They have one strange garment they call a step-in. All of them might be called step-outs. They also have a rubber fabric strait-jacket called a vassarette. Getting into it is a job for a contortionist. Getting out of it is a bit easier, if your grandmother was a snake and you inherited the knack of shedding your skin.

Most men are partly sloppy undressers. One group practices what is known professionally as the drop-kick. This consists of allowing the sub-waist clothing to slide down the legs, lifting one foot out of the resulting nest, and propelling the entire mass at the nearest chair with a toe. Avoid it.

An even larger school spends futile years throwing odds and ends of clothes at bedroom chairs. These men argue that bedroom chairs serve no other useful purpose. No one has ever been known to sit on them. We advise against it, however, even if it is done in the purest spirit of sportsmanship.

Regardless of how clothes may be worn they should be taken off unostentatiously. Once off, they should not be treated like Christmas tree decorations. Get them out of sight. Far better to shove them under the bed with the foot than to wake up each morning to the sordid contemplation of their wilted forms. The seeds of many fashionable divorces have been sown by these early-morning vistas. What man can shave with a loving heart while contemplating a bedraggled brassiere hanging on the bathroom scales? What woman, lying in bed because it is too cold to get up, has not wondered sadly how the handsome lad of yesterday can possibly fill out a pair of unions like that?

This brings us to the question of getting dressed, which is so buttoned up with a number of other things, that we will treat it somewhere else, if the matter should come up.

*These figures do not include Nudists, Esquimos (sic), Bedridden People, or Fan Dancers.

Contributor Maura Graber has been teaching etiquette to children, teens and adults, and training new etiquette instructors, for nearly a quarter of a century, as founder and director of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette.  She is also a writer, has been featured in countless newspapers, magazines and television shows and was an on-air contributor to PBS in Southern California for 15 years. 

No comments:

Post a Comment