Packing to ride the Orient Express, 1934

I just finished reading Murder on the Orient Express for the second time. The first time, it was literally the first Agatha Christie book I’d read and I didn’t know the solution. I was bowled over. Ten years and all 80+ AC books later, I returned to it, expecting not to be so impressed–but I was.

Anyway. Throughout most of the book I was thinking, as I usually do, about how I’d pack for that story. The travellers are all going from Istanbul to Paris, a three-night journey, and most of them are returning from a trip to the east. How did they pack? What clothes did they have with them?

No trunks are mentioned, though I assume some trunks are on a baggage car. In the compartments, there is only room for suitcases. There is no bath on the train; people have to make do with “sponge bags” at the small sinks in their compartments.

Soooooo I’m thinking that a female passenger would likely have one woolen suit with a jacket and skirt, perhaps a second skirt to change things up, perhaps a sweater to swap out for the jacket, and other than that they mostly just change into fresh underwear, which for ladies at that time would have been panties and a slip with maybe a brassiere, and stockings. Mary Debenham is at one point wearing a light dress, when it’s hot in the train. They all have dressing gowns (a plot point), and I assume slippers and nightgowns.

Fitted dressing cases are my weakness. The gentlemen would have those in their compartments, I assume. If you’re wearing the same woolen suit day in and day out, you’ll want to brush it, even on a three-night train journey. Ladies’ dressing cases I see less often; I don’t know if they tended to throw a hodgepodge of cosmetics in a train case or what.

Does anyone know more than I do?

Deordorant, perfume. Gonna be some smells on that ride. Men would have to have a shaving kit. Toothbrush. Do they have safes on trains?Jewelry would be at risk. Everyone wore hats then, so hat boxes . There was part of the book where Poirot uses a hat form or box to read the note?

Yes, he takes some wires out of a hatbox. Lord, I can’t imagine the fuss and bother of worrying about hats when traveling!

Was there stick deodorant in the 1930s, per se, or would people just have layered on the powder?

I assume there would be no need for evening clothes on a train, so those would be stowed away in the trunks.

Entertainment would be a concern. One would have to carry books, and I at least would need writing paper–and at that time a fountain pen, or pencils. Knitting. I would have some small-scale knitting. Something nice and tedious, like lace. And a couple packs of playing cards.

Didn’t they have these small writing table/kit thinks with all the needful things for convenience

OTOH, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to mail a letter from a train. I would take snacks and a good book, for sure.I suspect you would be required to pack light for the sleeper units, just what you had to have. I would think comfort would uppermost.

and yes in the first class part of the train you would of still dressed for dinner and cocktails … for the rich back in those days the dining facilities was basically a nightclub on wheels

No, but you could mail it from a station where the train stopped. In spite of the train in question being an express train, even it would have to stop various places, for provisions (fresh food for the dining car, for example), for water and coal for the engine, and so on.

I’ve ridden a train across Canada, and entertainment was a concern. (This was about 2003, before everybody had portable electronics that could store music, movies, etc.) I had a couple of good novels, and a book of crossword puzzles; and there were various activities scheduled for various times (a wine tasting, for example). In one of the lounges, there was a TV with a DVD player and a selection of movies; again, shown at scheduled times. Daily newspapers were brought aboard at morning stops.

But perhaps not surprisingly, people got to know each other. In the lounge car over drinks, or with tablemates in the dining car, faces became familiar, names were exchanged, and conversations occurred. I imagine the same would have happened on the Orient Express, or any long-distance train.

Oh I thought express trains didn’t stop. Now I see why that is dumb, of course they stopped, would the weather have changed significantly over the course of the trip?

The train does stop; a stop at Vincovci is part of the setup, though it wasn’t for long.

A lap desk with a compartment underneath for paper, pen, and ink certainly makes sense, and yes, they used to be made. I had one that I foolishly gave away when I decided email was the way of the future. I’ve regretted it ever since.

I don’t think the weather would have changed much, but a point is made about how cold it is outside vs. how overheated the train is.

I can’t get the little one-line description of Countess Andrenyi’s suitcases out of my head. Blue leather. Now I’m imagining a matching suitcase/suitcase/train case set all in navy blue, with gold fastenings. Rawr rawr rawr.

Deodorant would have been a cream, and a rarity. A few women might have used it, but men of that era probably not.

Deodorant might not have been a thing but fragrances would, for both sexes.

Maybe that is why deorderant was invented. People didnt bathe or shower everyday like we do now. So some enterprising young man brought forth a invention for the masses. The world has never been the same. Also they wore way to many clothes, IMHO.

Yeah, but if there’s no deodorant or bath and you’re wearing the same woolen suit day in day out, lots of lighter layers that you can change every day were what made life bearable.

I’m disturbed by the assertion above that they DID dress for dinner on the train. What a complete and utter crock. There’s limited baggage space and now I have to fit in evening gowns and shoes and the special undies that go underneath them? Crock crock crock. This would be one case in which the men had it worse: they’d need a dinner jacket, which must have required special handling.

Did they have room (berth) sevice? You would have to go out to dinner at least one night, to get the whole experience.

Oh, sure. I would go to the dining car for every meal, just for a change of pace, I’m sure. And if everyone dressed for dinner then I would too. But I might wear the same dress every night, which I suspect was gauche.

I love this type of speculation. This era fascinates me. No one has mentioned so far that the well-to-do would have traveled with a valet or maid, so that would complicate things. Maybe the servant would stuff the extra bags/clothes into wherever they were billeted and bring them out when necessary?

They surely had a laundry place where maids an valets cleaned or ironed.

I don’t think they would have, though I don’t know for sure.

There is a limited amount of space aboard a train. More room than on an aircraft, certainly; but there are some things that just won’t fit, and I’d expect laundry facilities to be among those. You need sleeping quarters, and dining and recreational facilities, but laundry might be a luxury on a train.

Remember, even long-distance train trips aren’t that long, in the grand scheme. Yes, the Trans-Siberian in Russia is extremely long, but most people won’t ride it from end to end. Similarly, very few ride The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver–and even that is only three days, three nights. I’d guess that the Orient Express of the 1930s would take about the same amount of time, and serve the same sort of clientele. Given the fact that most passengers will not ride between the two terminuses, is laundry necessary; can one not pack enough clean clothes for three days, tops?

Although we’re discussing the novel, I find it interesting that the characters in the 1974 film tend to wear the same clothes from day-to day. Oh, there are some slight changes in neckties (for gentlemen) and jewelry (for the ladies), but everybody is dressed pretty much the same throughout the film. This leads me to believe that, when travelling, people made allowances for others who (like them) wore the same clothes two or more days in a row.

And, for the particularly dapper gentleman, moustache wax.

I am reminded of a short film called The Railrodder. Buster Keaton rides the Canadian rails from coast to coast. Despite the relatively spartan accommodations, he seems to have everything he requires.

That’s hilarious! Thanks for sharing.