Skip To Content

    This Is How Single Women Should Behave, According To A 1930s Etiquette Manual

    All excerpts taken from the 1936 guide Live Alone and Like It.

    by , , ,

    The expert on self-image:

    You have probably noticed that the lady of your acquaintance who thinks of herself as a duchess may cause a good many laughs, but usually, in the main, is treated like a duchess—in so far, at least, as her friends know how a duchess should be treated. It is equally true that it is the lady who expects orchids who gets them, while you and I are pinning on a single gardenia.

    "Jesus, didn't realize i needed to get my Webster's out for this."

    "I feel like I agree with this as a life philosophy. We should all expect orchids. We're all a duchess."

    "Knowing how a duchess should be treated is kindergarten shit, right before time-telling and not pooping yourself."

    "If people aren't treating you like a duchess or giving you orchids, remove them from your life."

    On matching one's behavior to one's image:

    There is not much use, however, in thinking of yourself as Ina Claire and then acting like Zenobia Frome, or any other mournful character in fiction.

    "I should probably google Zenobia Frome but i enjoy the mystery."

    "I too don't want to act like Space Goddess Zenobia Frome, Long May She Reign."

    "Famous donkey Zenobia Frome."

    "From the names alone though you CAN tell who you want to be in this scenario. Ina Claire, two first names, very elegant."

    "I want to be Zenobia, are you kidding? Do you know what it would be like to have a galactic army at your fingertips?"


    On FOMO:

    Another good rule for any liver-alone is not to feel hurt when Mary Jones doesn't ask you to her dinner party, or when Cousin Joe fails to drop in to see you. It probably wasn't convenient for either of them.

    "Mary Jones is a stuck up bitch, tbh."

    "Yeah I get the sentiment but personally it's my right to be pissed if Mary Jones doesn't invite me."

    "Does this writer think the liver-alone has nothing going on? She too can be inconvenienced."

    "Mary Jones has like 14 dinner parties a month and she can't invite me to one?"

    "I feel like it's really inconvenient when Cousin Joe drops in. Like, can I live, Cousin Joe?"

    "Fuck Mary Jones, I taught her everything she knows about candlelight suppers."

    On how to dress:

    It takes a genius to make an impression in run-down heels and an unbecoming hat… do have some really smart street costumes—surprisingly, they can cost as little as dowdy ones, and practically no one's morale can overcome an outfit that's all wrong. Do have some evening clothes with swish, and—very specifically—do have at least one nice seductive tea-gown to wear when you're alone (or when you're not, if you feel like it).

    "'Smart street costumes,' like, Batman?"

    "It had never before occurred to me that something called a 'tea gown' could be seductive."

    "I spend all of my alone time in a VERY seductive tea gown."

    "It's how I wind down after a long week."


    "1. Come home 2. Make sure I'm alone 3. Put on seductive tea gown."


    On getting rid of guests:

    Question: How late is it proper for a woman living alone to entertain a man friend, and how can she get him to go at the correct time? If you want him to come again soon, a little tact is usually wiser. You might begin with, "Let me get you a glass of water (nothing stronger)—it's hours since you had that highball.' This will get you both up and give you the advantage. You can keep on standing, which will eventually wear down any man (if you don't drop first).

    "I love Just Stay Standing Up as a strategy for like, ending things."

    "'Hey want some apple juice?' 'WOW OK LADY I AIN'T READY FOR THIS KIND OF COMMITMENT.'"

    "What if you have a man friend who can stand all night?"

    "You're in real trouble."

    "What if he has Robo Legs?"

    "Maybe your man friend is one of those guys who has a standing desk and he's ready for this challenge."

    "Just shut off the lights, play 'Closing Time.'"

    On pajamas:

    Question: Is it permissible for a youngish un-chaperoned woman living alone to wear pajamas when a gentleman calls? Answer: Assuming that she knows one pajama from another, it is entirely permissible. There are, however, sleeping pajamas, beach pajamas, lounging pajamas, and hostess pajamas.

    "FOUR TYPES. Of pajamas."

    "First of all, what?"

    "My pajama collection is SEVERELY LACKING."

    "I need to go shopping immediately."

    "What about your old NSYNC T-shirt — where does that fall in?"

    "I have a pair of pants with cows on them saying "I'm mooooody in the morning." Are those OK?"

    "I am doing the beach so wrong."

    "Hostess pajamas: for when you want to host people but are also unconscious."

    "Can a man see you in a seductive tea gown?


    On where to snack:

    It's all very well to take some friends out to the kitchen and let them stir up a midnight supper; but never, never, have snack meals by yourself on the kitchen table. No one's morale can stand them long. (If you don't want to set a table, fix a tray, with your best linen and china, and take it to a comfortable chair beside the window.)

    "Fix a tray with your best linen and china is like saying put on your sweatpants and your $700 blouse."

    "What is a snack meal?"

    "Snack meal sounds like what an alien would call dinner."

    "A snack meal is not something you eat in a dinner dress."

    "Why are my animal friends allowed to eat in my kitchen but I am not?"

    On skincare:

    There are hundreds who don't know the difference between a cleansing cream and an emollient—which to our minds is practically the same as being illiterate.


    "I have to say… I don't know what an emollient is."

    "Wow OK, idiot. It's clearly a type of clown. *sweating*"

    "I feel so attacked right now."

    "I would guess, too, that the number is greater than in the 'hundreds.'"

    "Like out of the MILLIONS of people in America and BILLIONS in the world, it's just hundreds who don't know this and we're among them."

    "We should round up these people and teach them to read."


    On pajamas...again:

    We would also like to say a few words about your bedroom wardrobe. This is no place to be grim and practical. Don't worry about whether your nightgowns will wear if you are sure that they will flatter. We can think of nothing more depressing than going to bed in a washed-out four-year-old nightgown, nothing more bolstering to the morale than going to bed all fragrant with toilet-water and wearing a luscious pink nightgown, well-cut and trailing.


    "Again, just really would like to know where she stands on very old, oversize T-shirts."

    "I've gone to bed all fragrant before but that was after a long day of playing Man Pig."

    "Is four years a long time to have a gown?"

    "I always feel really good about myself when I'm fragrant with toilet water."

    "You know I DO think I would feel pretty great going to bed in a well-cut trailing pink nightgown. I never thought of it, but I want one now."

    On affairs:

    Certainly, affairs should not even be thought of before you are thirty. Once you have reached this age, if you will not hurt any third person and can take all that you will have to take—take it silently, with dignity, with a little humor, and without any weeping or wailing or gnashing of teeth—perhaps the experience will be worth it to you. Or perhaps it won't. The sad truth is that whatever you decide, you'll think you regret it. You'll hate the shabby end of romance, and you'll detest missing it altogether.

    "I find this one extremely real and poignant. If weird that it's like, 'affairs = bad…unless maybe you're over 30'?"

    "When you're 30 you go live in a cave so nothing really matters anyway."

    "Murder is OK after 50."

    "This woman has lived through some shit."

    "You know what's very nice? She got married at 49."

    "After 19 years of affairs? That's sweet."


    On cuisine:

    Worse, even, than the woman who puts marshmallows in a salad is the one who goes in for fancy cocktails.

    "I DO NOT agree with this."

    "Fuck you, I love fancy cocktails. I love fancy cocktails more than affairs, and that's saying something."

    "Marshmallows in a salad IS bad."

    "Marshmallows in salad is a proud Midwestern tradition."

    "Is she a fan of shit cocktails? Like gin and beef gravy? Power to her, but keep the fancy ones out of it."

    "Vodka and marshallow salad for the lady in the seductive tea gown."

    On breakfast:

    Of course, the civilized place for any woman to have breakfast is in bed. For you and me, who live alone and whose early mornings are uncomplicated by offspring, farm-hands, and even husbands, bed is the place.

    "Farm-hands always get in the way of my breakfast."

    "And husbands."

    "This is something I can FOR SURE get behind. Also lunch and dinner."

    "Yeah I love this policy if it's a little labor-intensive. I think she thinks we have a maid."

    "I mean she's right. I have eight maids. One for each affair."


    On what to wear to dinner:

    Dress up a bit for [dinner]. Here is the perfect place for a trailing négligée and frou-frou. The woman who always looks at night as though she were expecting a suitor is likely to have several.

    " a frou-frou."

    "The best character from PBS's Sesame Street."

    "I think it's a band."

    "Frou-Frou is the name of the dragon I'm nursing back to health."

    "This woman's nighttime apparel collection is extraordinary."

    "She really enjoys being sexy in every single different way she can, which honestly I admire."

    "Everything about her screams Sunset Boulevard and I like it."

    "I have to reassess what i thought a négligée was."

    "It's like a smaller tea gown."

    Want great book recommendations in your inbox every week? Sign up for the BuzzFeed Books newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form