Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: William Shakespeare memorably wrote that:
Brevity is the soul of wit.
The wordsmith Dorothy Parker famously transformed the Bard’s phrase into a humorous and erotic remark:
Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
Several quotation references list Parker’s statement, but the earliest citation I’ve seen is indirect; a friend named Alexander Woollcott attributed the quip to her in 1934. Would you please help me to find better evidence?
Quote Investigator: In October 1916 “Vogue” magazine published a lengthy profusely illustrated article titled “Vogue Pattern Service”. One page displayed drawings of models wearing nightgowns and chemises together with the following caption in capital letters. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
FROM THESE FOUNDATIONS OF THE AUTUMN WARDROBE, ONE MAY LEARN THAT BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF LINGERIE
Dorothy Parker was employed at “Vogue”, and QI believes she crafted the caption; indeed, a few years later she used the quip again. By 1919 she had moved to “Vanity Fair”, and the magazine printed a comical piece she composed titled “Our Office: A Hate Song: An Intimate Glimpse of Vanity Fair—En Famille”. She leveled light-hearted criticisms at each department of the publishing enterprise: 2
I hate the office;
It cuts in on my social life.
There is the Art Department;
The Cover Hounds.
They are always explaining how the photographing machine works.
And they stand around in the green light
And look as if they had been found drowned.
When Parker mocked the editorial group she employed the adage under investigation:
Then there is the Editorial Department;
The Literary Lights.
They are just a little holier than other people
Because they can write classics about
“‘Brevity is the soul of lingerie’, said this little chemise to itself”;
And “Here are five reasons for the success of the Broadway plays”.
They are all full of soul;
Someone is forever stepping on their temperaments.
They are constantly having nervous breakdowns
And going away for a few weeks.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1916 October 1, Vogue, Vogue Pattern Service, Start Page 89, Quote Page 101, Conde Nast, New York. (ProQuest Vogue Archive) ↩
- 1919 May, Vanity Fair, Volume 11, Number 3, Section: Domestic Products, Our Office: A Hate Song: An Intimate Glimpse of Vanity Fair—En Famille by Dorothy Parker, Start Page 6, Quote Page 6 and 8, Conde Nast, New York. (HathiTrust) link ↩