17 Jun 2013

Miss Lemon wardrobe files: 1. Introduction

"Every one of your cases classified and cross-referenced five different ways.
Oh, yes. In this cabinet, names of witnesses; in this, name of perpetrator, if known. Victim's trade or profession. Type of case: abduction, addiction, adultery - see also under marriage, bigamy - see also under marriage, bombs."
Since we all seem to love Miss Lemon's character in Agatha Christies Poirot, I decided to start a series with a lot of pictures of her outfits!
The 50 minutes episodes of the first series are not always interesting fashion-wise, though we definitely get to see some pretty garments and accessories! Miss Lemon doesn't appear in all of the episodes. Sometimes we see her at the beginning when Poirot starts out with a new case and at the end of the episode. Sometimes she is absent, when Poirot is with Captain Hastings on a field-trip, outside of London. In some cases we only see her in one scene, when she receives a phone call from Poirot. Neverhteless she has something attractive and through her wardrobe items we get an idea of how independent, middle class women dressed back in the 1930's.
I think it is interesting to start with an overview of how life was in the 1930's England where the storyline is placed. While in the original books the investigations of Poirot start in the late 1920's and go on until the 1960's in the series they choose to place all of the cases in the 1930's (except a few 'flashbacks' of Poirot's early cases as a police superintendant in Belgium)
The next blogposts will cover almost all of the outfits Miss Lemon wears in the first 6-7 series! After making hundreds of screenshots I decided to divide the outfits by colors and there will be an extra post that covers her hats and accessories.

Historical background 1930's
In the series all of the episodes are placed in the 1930's England. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the largest stock market crash in American history, most of the decade was consumed by an economic downfall called the 'Great Depression' that had traumatic effects like high unemployment rates worldwide. Especially the working class suffered. Although we don't often see this back in the series it was already the start of the 'do make and mend' period. All kinds of garments would be re-used, worn out adult clothing would be cut down to make children’s clothing, buttons and elastic would be taken off to be used again. When items could no longer be reused as clothing then they would be used for other things such as cleaning rags or cut up to make rugs.
The majority of Poirot's clients are from the higher, society class. Though they are rich and have lifestyle accordingly, a lot of the characters have some kind of financial problem. As far as we know, Poirot doesn't. He is well known, has rich friends and often gets invited to parties and diners. Miss Lemon is her employee so she never goes to such places. She doesn't mind this since people by then knew their place and had expectations accordingly. Probably, many people were happier because they focused on what they had rather than on what they didn’t have.

Women's role and education
Miss Lemon is a middle class working woman who is independent and earns her own money, although she mentions from time to time that Poirot doesn't pays her 'that well'.
Women in the 1930s Europe did not have as many leagal rights and career options as men did. Most middle aged women like Miss Lemon were married and stayed at home taking care of the household and the children. Working women were often employed as a schoolteacher, nurse, clercks or in the private sphere as a secretary, or in domestic services. Women who had jobs were often pressured to give up their jobs for 'family men.' For education women learned to read and write at dame schools, they were not allowed to go to secondary school like men. They were still actively discouraged from seeking higher education in many places and were not allowed in some schools. When they could go to school it was rarely for professional degrees.

"Miss Lemon dreams of the perfect filing system, besides which every other filing system will fall into oblivion. And this morning...she is close to a breakthrough" says Poirot. 
The character Miss Lemon and women's life in the 1930's
Poirot described Miss Felicity Lemon in the novels as being "Unbelievably ugly and incredibly efficient. Anything that she mentioned as worth consideration usually was worth consideration." She is very practical, honest and to the point. She takes care of all kinds of administrative tasks, like paying the bills, sorting out the post, answering telephone calls and even answering the doorbell. She spends most of her time on developing the perfect filing system for Poirot's cases.
She complements Poirot's love for order and precision, and bravely tolerates his sometimes annoying demands. (On one occasion he makes her write a letter to the Chinese laundry owner to tell that the starching of his collars is of unacceptable quality...) He misses her desperately when she takes a short vacation.
We don't know a lot about the private life of Miss Lemon. We do know that she visits her mother now and then. She has a sister Florence, who is widowed and works as a housekeeper in a student hostile.
Miss Lemon is interested in society news and scandals. She reads the papers and knows the names of all of the famous actors and actresses. In the series there is only one rare occasion when we see her being involved in a short love affair. Sometimes she is involved in a case and does little 'undercover' investigations for Poirot. She is interested in occultism, hypnose and she is superstitious. She is delighted when Mr. Poirot returns from Egypt and brings a small cat sculpture as a gift for her.

Art and architecture
In the architecture the Late Art Deco period is running. Just take a look at the stunning houses Poirot visits during his investigations! These buildings have clean, graphic and geometrical lines and just a little colour. In the art after the cubism the surrealism comes up. Though Poirot appreciates this new form of expression we often see Captain Hastings wondering about the meaning of paintings, like below.
It was during the 1930's that Hollywood film making really started to spread its wings as a "happy distraction" from the Great Depression period. The Golden Age in Hollywood reaches it's top by 1939. From the mid-20's on the use of sound continued to advance: by the late 20's there was often a section of sound film inserted in silent films. The commercial beginning of the sound era is in the 30's. The careers of famous movie stars like Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo were launched, as well as Katherine Hepburn's who was quite succesful on stage at the time. Also the legendary child star Shirley Temple appeared in her first movies.
Jazz and black musicians bacame very popular in the 30's. In one of the episodes a society guest arrogantly mentions that that kind of popular music is for 'second rate' people, provided by the 'inferior' races. It sounds harsh but was the reality back then.
Famous women of the period were the pilot Amelia Erhart, the president's wife Eleanor Roosevelt, in England the divorcee Wallis Simpson who eventually married Edward VIIIth (who abdicated his right to the throne to marry her). American novelist Margaret Mitchell was the author of one of the most famous novels ever written: 'Gone With the Wind' that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. 

The dresses ands skirts had a length just above the ankles and were rather column-shaped, often with a high waistline. The evening dresses were often cut on the bias to achieve a figure-hugging silhouet and the bare back became a feature. Clothing and footwear were made to last and had to be looked after properly. Did you know that it was during the 30's that the first synthetic textiles like rayon were invented? There was a commercial urge to easily produce artificial silk. Nylon was patented by DuPont in 1935 and commercially introduced in 1938. By early 1938, the first nylon stockings are produced.
1930's clothing was pieced fabric together in extraordinary ways and often used seams and stitching as embellishment. The garments had lots of feminine details like bows, lace inserts, ruffles, and decorative buttons. There is a diversity of colors and prints. The novelty prints started to come up. Hats and gloves complimented every outfit. Not only jackets but also a dress was worn with a hat and gloves outside the house. It was quite common to dress up for dinner and to change a few times a day. Every mid-class women owned at least one evening dress. Vionnet and Schiaparelli were the famous designers of the era.
Movie stars like Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn made it acceptable for women to wear trousers in public. These high-wasted, wide legged pants are often featured in the Poirot series. Not by Miss Lemon of course! She prefers a more modest and conservative style. She apparently could afford to have her clothes made to fit and she owns a few fabulous items. Her clothing style doesn't same to change much during the years but we get to see new items from time to time. She prefers bright, primary colors and has a strong feeling about dressing rather 'appropriate for the occasion' than fashionable, though she owns a few really stunnig day dresses. Sometimes we see a dress or a top return with a different collar like here:
   Edit: There is a great 1936's article with tips and trucs from Schiaparelli herself on 'how to be chic on a small income' Read it HERE

Make up and hair
The base of the makeup look of the early 1930′s was pale skin and thin brows, complimented by red lips. Miss Lemon always wears an orange toned red lipstick and almost no other make-up.
Her hair is always pulled back in a conservative low bun. Sometimes she wears attractive hairpins too. During the first episodes she regularly appears with a row of  'spit curls' against the forehead or temple. This is a feature of the flapper periode (1920's) and became during the 30's rather old fashioned.
We don't get to see her wearing nail polish and in one episode when Captain Hastings has an allergic reaction (supposedly to a strong perfume smell) she tells never wearing perfume at work: "I never wear perfume to work Mr. Poirot, that would be most inappropriate."

Next up in the Miss Lemon wardrobe files: the black outfits!

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