“‘I shall not write about restaurants… because I haven’t been to any and am tired about writing about eating anyway. I shall write about drinking, because it is high time that somebody approached the subject in a specific, constructive way.’” -Lois Long (Zeitz, 101)
Newly employed at The New Yorker, Lois Long was engaged in penning an anonymous column on an emerging New York nightlife. Being the 1920s, this nightlife was uniquely situated to contend with the constraints of prohibition. As such, a considerable theme explored, explicitly and implicitly, revolved around the shifting notions of respectability and the undermining of larger cultural paradigms. With a unique deftness, Long was able to navigate these institutions and humorously examine the ways in which shifting notions within society about women’s roles and their visibility within public spaces operated. Long signed this column ‘Lipstick’, bringing the same tongue-in-cheek exposition of glamour that was at once a critique as well as a celebration of a society in flux. Due to the fact that the column was anonymous, Long further accentuated the allure, anonymity, and illusion of the era of which she was a part, one that was moving with increasing rapidity and fervor. She thus became a kind of embodiment of the era’s ethos. As such, she set herself up to be both participant and critic. As noted by Joshua Zeitz in his treatment on the subject, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern, “Long also used her column to flaunt the drinking habits and adventures of young women like herself who no longer felt bound by Victorian notions of feminine propriety. What reader could forget the week she stayed out until dawn, realized that her copy was due at The New Yorker by noon, rushed to the office still decked out in a backless evening dress, ‘threw up a few times’ in the bathroom, and still managed to bang out her column before the deadline?” (100).
Long’s next assignment was to write a column on “Feminine Fashions”. Bringing the same pointed and acerbic wit to the subject that she had brought to her portrayal of New York nightlife, Long re-imagined what was possible within these clearly gendered confines. A fashion column, thought of pejoratively as the realm of women, didn’t deter Long, who refused to let that limiting framework dictate the way in which she treated her subject matter. Once again, the column became an comprehensively witty assessment of the social and cultural constructions of the day, undermining the niceties of conventional culture and representation. Speaking “On College Clothes”, Long stated “Custom has established the right of every generation to shock the one proceeding it, if possible, but this is not always as easy as it looks. The plight of the current college girl, attempting to startle parents who survived the Scott Fitzgerald era, is a case in point, and pitiable indeed. In recent years, the young things have been trying to assert themselves by running around in attire resembling that of underprivileged serfs under the Hapsburgs, but their elders have taken it all with discouraging calm, and present indications are that the whole act has therefore lost its savor” (554). Within her column, Long not only sought to describe the styles of the day in painstaking detail, but was often found commenting on what she believed to be the strengths and weaknesses of the fashion establishment and it’s treatment and expectation of it’s customers. Furthermore, Long brought a humorous understanding of human and societal dynamics to her discussions of fashion and culture which, as clearly outlined in the passage above, imbue her work with a unique personality and style.
Long, Lois. “On College Clothes.” The 40s: The Story of a Decade: The New Yorker, edited by Henry Finder with Giles Harvey, Modern Library, 2014, 554-555.
Zeitz, Joshua. Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. Crown Publishers, 2006.