Lipstick Librarians and Party Girls

(This post originally appeared in the Lawrence Public Library Spotlight.)

Party GirlWhen I told my friend Valerie five years ago that I was going back to grad school to become a librarian, the first thing out of her mouth was “You’ve seen the movie Party Girl, right? You’ve got to see Party Girl.”

Although I didn’t know it then, now I know that Party Girl is a rite of passage for librarians of a certain ilk.  “Lipstick Librarians,” we’re sometimes called, and we go by online monikers such as “ScrewyDecimal,” “LibraryLadyJane,” and “Poesygalore.”  The New York Times once ran a feature spread on us called “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers.”   We take our jobs as information activists pretty seriously, but with a fun-loving retro twist.  And our icon isn’t Marian the Librarian, but rather the reinvented “Mary,” à la Parker Posey in Party Girl.

In Party Girl, the librarian hero has metamorphosed from a meek damsel in distress to a high fashion 90s club kid who gets arrested when she throws an illegal party to help pay the rent.  The film has that same mid-90s counter-culture vibe as Empire Records and Clerks, but here we’ve moved away from the record store and video rental shop, and into the sphere of the public library.  Grudgingly, Mary takes a job in a public library to pay off her debt — and discovers an erstwhile hidden passion for subject headings and card catalogs.  In one of my favorite scenes, she helps her best friend get his DJing act together by cataloging his record collection via Dewey Decimal number.  And gone is the smarmy traveling salesman of The Music Man, replaced by a dreamy falafel vendor that Mary seduces in highwaisted velour skirts with striped knee socks.

Yes, Party Girl‘s free-spirited fashion is as delectable as Mr. Dewey himself.  Vintage Chanel blazers; red bustiers over sequined shorts; hooded leopard jackets worn with fitted jewel-toned pencil skirts; blue satin gloves; red leather gloves; high-heeled black oxford wedges; zany patterned tights; feminine epaulets with black leather pants.  It’s all faux fur and creeping hemlines when Mary goes after her man at the falafel stand, but in the library she switches it up to more demure 3/4-length checked wool skirts, silk front-tie blouses, oversized brooches, and bookish specs.

It’s been almost five years since I was first initiated to Party Girl and an entire clan of lipstick librarians.  This Friday I’m going to round up some of my girlfriends for a happy hour Champagne and Chambord at the Eldridge, and then we’ll head over to the Lawrence Public Library to relive this 90s librarian classic.  Extra points whenever Parker Posey’s wearing striped tights or leopard spots.

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2 thoughts on “Lipstick Librarians and Party Girls

  1. But have you seen Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming which contains both Parker Posey AND a hilarious book club scene discussion of McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses? (“When Grady saw those horses, it was arousing. It was…violently arousing.”).

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