“When was the last time you wore a cape to the opera? Or white gloves to lunch? Why did we ever do away with bed curtains or cuckoo clocks? Whatever happened to parlor games, calling cards, double features, duels, monocles, riddles, turbans and parasols? Well, let’s bring them back!” That’s what the teaser you will find at the back cover of Let’s Bring Back, which I will review today.
Let’s Bring Back: An Encyclopedia of Forgotten-Yet-Delightful Chic, Useful, Curious and Otherwise Commendable Things from Times Gone By is a compendium of “items” (defined as we shall see very broadly) once extant that author Lesley M.M. Blume believes ought to have never gone away and should be revived, at least in spirit (e.g., in the case of deceased individuals). Blume was inspired to create such a list by her irritation that “’Status updates’ have replaced gossiping over cocktails; Starbucks runs have supplanted high tea; synthetic Spanx have taken over where silk corsets have taken off.” This is a function of what Blume calls “modern living,” which has replaced “ornamentation and ceremony” with “convenience.” The result, she correctly notes, is that our quality of life is not improving with the corresponding efficiency gains if they are at the expense of what makes life enjoyable in the first place. Joining in on the fun are guest contributors Kate Spade, James L. Brooks, Nora Ephron, Arianna Huffington, Ted Koppel and others.
Readers will be introduced not only to physical items such as Steamer Trunks, Rolltop Desks, and Standing Shaving Mirrors, but people with style (e.g., Cecil Beaton, Diana Vreeland, George Kaufman), concepts (e.g., Grandes Dames, The Kindness of Strangers, Impracticality), culinary items (e.g., Bon Bons, Pot Au Feu Royal, Milk Toast) and words or phrases that have fallen into disuse (e.g.,Cooking With Gas, Persnickety, Evening News Signoff Lines). Blume sprinkles place references both general and specific throughout and readers will doubtless be inspired to add their own. Each entry is accompanied by one or more paragraphs of background and explanation.
Among the many items that Blume and her contributors advocate “bringing back” that most appealed to me include (in alphabetical order) the use of the term “acquaintance” (rather than calling everyone you know a friend); Fred Astaire; Beautiful Train Stations; Café Society; Libraries; Service; Suspenders; and Tea Time. One glaring omission from her roundup, in my view, is the Bow Tie. Perhaps Blume thinks it’s already back, but until it becomes common enough to avoid explicit notice (“hey, a bow tie!”) it’s not really “back.” While individual tastes and views will dictate which items appeal to any given reader, it would be a very well educated person indeed who did not learn a good deal regarding how things “used to be” and be inspired to at least try and revive a few of these gems in some way, shape or form in their own lives, e.g., watching an old movie, reading a long out of print book, shaving with a brush, etc. The book itself is tastefully retro-packaged in a compact sized dark brown edition with a light blue ribbon bookmark.
Let’s Bring Back does seem to lean a bit towards the more feminine side of the spectrum (although I found it no less interesting because of this). And while most readers of The Gentleman’s Gazette will sympathize with Blume, I suspect many of her complaints have been heard in every previous generation. For instance, I was instantly reminded of the lyrics “It Might As Well be Spring” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 State Fair. The daughter of our protagonist family has just had a visit from her one and only suitor who is bristling with excitement about all of the latest inventions that will modernize farming. When he leaves, she turns and sings with great discontent about her imagined future with him:
In our air-conditioned, patent leather farmhouse,
On our ultra-modern, scientific farm,
We’ll live in a stream-lined heaven,
And we’ll waste no time on charm!
No geraniums to clutter our veranda,
Nor single little sentimental things,
No virginia creepers, nothing useless!
Still, one does not need to believe that we are in a particularly vacuous time and place in order to enjoy and profit by reading Let’s Bring Back. All it takes is an interest in the past and a mind open enough to consider that perhaps we’ve occasionally taken a wrong turn in the way we’ve come to live our lives in the second decade of the 21st century.
Blume is The Huffington Post’s Contributing Style Editor, but her freelance work spans “culture, media, politics and fashion” for such diverse publications as Vogue, Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal, Slate and the Daily Beast. In addition, she has authored several children’s novels. More, related books appear in the works, according to her website. 2012 should see the release of some
topic-specific editions of Let’s Bring Back such as a cocktail book, and apparently some related tie in products are also planned in addition, such as a journal
to record your own musings and adventures (one of the many things Ms. Blume advocates bringing back). Readers will likely find hours of interesting content at her website , which features a good deal of her other writings and further information on her work.
The let’s bring back book can be acquired for just under $14.
This review was written by our fellow reader Alec Rogers. If you want to contribute to the Gentleman’s Gazette as well, please contact us.