The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

S. & S. Mar. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9781982123895. $27. SOC SCI
Several authors have written about the Barbizon Hotel, the most famous hotel for women in New York, but Bren (Vassar Coll., The Greengrocer and His TV) excels with this insightful, well-written account. From its founding in 1927, the hotel established itself as a safe haven for beautiful elite and middle-class white women trying to make it in the world of publishing, fashion, and business. Bren chronicles the hotel’s ups and downs through the Great Depression and World War II, its famous design, and the social rules enforced by the staff. She also details the lives of some of the Barbizon’s most well-known residents, including Molly Brown, Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath, and Joan Didion, and provides historical context about midcentury single women, careers, and sex. Because of the difficulties of finding specific material about the hotel itself, the book often veers into a history of the magazine Mademoiselle and several modeling agencies, where many residents worked. However, these anecdotes provide additional context into the lives of the women who inhabited the hotel and their lasting influence.
VERDICT A must read for anyone interested in the history of 20th-century women’s lives, fashion, publishing, and New York.
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