The Cheerful Granny Takes Flight, 1953

The cheerful granny, an enduring image in American advertising, gets to take a trip on an airplane in the Saturday Evening Post in June 1953.  Since she was often used to introduce technological innovations to the middle class, like high end radios and refrigerators, it’s no surprise to find her on a commercial airline flight in the fifties.   “They’re having a wonderful time, these folks” the copy reads. “taking life and travel easy.  And why not? Nowadays young and old alike find it’s so easy to go places via TWA.”

Granny is styled in the most conservative way, complete with a crocheted shawl and a cameo pin.  No hair dye for her, and no stylish glasses. Isn’t it nice that grandpa has survived to go along on the trip?  In pre-World War Two ads, granny was often alone or living together with one of her children.  I wonder if this reflects higher life expectancy figures for men.

And no wonder she’s cheerful.  “It’s such a pleasure to lean back in the spacious reclining seat…to nap, read, or enjoy a delicious meal in that exact same cozy spot…”

Those were the days.

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Harford Frocks and the Older Woman

From the Harford Frocks folder, Rubenstein Library, Duke University. Click to enlarge.

The 1947 packet for a Harford Frocks saleswoman contained something for almost everyone in the family, from young children upwards. There were school clothes for girls and boys, outfits designed for teenagers, and even a few things for the man in the house.

Dresses came in junior, misses, and women’s sizes.  Over a dozen in the folder were aimed at younger and older women alike, like the rayon jersey dress above.  These came in misses sizes starting at 14 or 16 and went up to a bust size of 42 or even larger.

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Half that number came only in women’s sizes.  Not only did these outfits accommodate larger busts, but the styling was generally more conservative. Two clues indicate that the dress above was meant for the older set.  First it came in polka dots, a favorite pattern for older women.  Second, it already had a built in lace collar.

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Just four outfits came in half sizes, a category often marketed to older women.

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Since Harford saleswomen were not professionally trained, how did they know what size to recommend?  The packet included a handy “dress size dial,” where the seller could enter bust and hip measurements to get the corresponding size.  The instruction sheet added the following caveat: “When the customer’s measurements ARE NOT OF STANDARD PROPORTIONS, you must set the window on the measurements WHICH COVER HER LARGEST MEASUREMENT…Such a customer MUST BE INFORMED THAT ALTERATIONS ARE NECESSARY AND THAT SHE SHOULD BE PREPARED TO MAKE THEM.”

I’ve always felt that warnings written in capital letters are a sign that things are bound to go wrong.



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Harford Frocks, 1947

When I opened up the 1947 sales kit for a Harford Frocks representative, I was astonished. The cards, housed at the Rubenstein Library at Duke University, looked exactly like those for Fashion Frocks, a much better known company.  After some searching I discovered that this was no accident. The president of Harford, Frocks, Clarence E. Israel, was vice president of Fashion Frocks. Unfortunately I have not been able to discover why two companies were better than one.  Perhaps Israel’s archive  has the answer.

Pittsburgh Courier, February 22, 1947. Click to enlarge

Women who signed up with Harford Frocks engaged in direct marketing, selling clothes to friends and neighbors. (Fashion Frocks had exactly the same system.) Harford ads promised that door to door canvassing was not required.  The sellers received a packet of cards with dress descriptions and small swatches of fabric.  These were shown to prospective customers, and their choices were sent on order forms to the central headquarters in Cincinnati.  As you can see in the ad above, Harford promised dresses as well as money in compensation.

There was absolutely no trace of New Look styles in the Spring and Summer Harford collection, surely not surprising since the styles must have been planned well before the unveiling of Dior’s silhouette altering collection.  Nonetheless, the very style conscious woman would have found the broad shoulders and short skirts on offer disappointing.

Included in the archive was one copy of The Harford Frocks News.  Most companies promise low prices and high quality, but I was very impressed to discover that some of the cotton for their dresses came from one of the country’s premier sources, Hope Skillman Fabrics.

Next time I’ll investigate Harford Frocks offerings for older women.

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Tomeyo Okine—A Japanese American in California

All photos from California State University, Dominguez Hills, Archives and Special Collections, via Calisphere. Click to enlarge

The year is 1940, and the Okine family of Whittier California poses in front of their recently bought car.  In the amazing online collection of family photos, there are many in front of the car, obviously a prize possession.  Tameyo Okine, the mother of two boys and two girls, stands proudly on the right in a patterned dress and stylish shoes. Age 55 in this photo, she was born in  Japan and immigrated to the US in 1911.  All of her children were American born.

Undated photos. Click to enlarge

The Okine family ran a flower nursery. The above photos of Tomeyo are undated, but might have been taken about the same time.  They show that printed dresses might not have been Tomeyo’s regular at home attire.  No other photos in the large collection depict women in pants.

1943. Click to enlarge

After Pearl Harbor, Tomeyo Okine was sent to a internment camp in Arkansas along with her husband and two daughters.  The sons enlisted in the military.  What happened to the car and nursery?  Many Japanese Americans lost their possessions in the course of their internment.

1952. Click to enlarge

In this photo, taken in 1952, the family has been reunited.  One son has married and has a child of his own. Letters show that the parents moved back to Whittier. On this special occasion, Mrs. Okine wears a suit, but it doesn’t fit her small frame very well.  Now in her late sixties, she has switched over to sensible shoes.

1958. Click to enlarge

In this final photo of Tomeyo Okine, taken when she was 73, she is back again in a print dress.  She died five years later in Los Angeles.

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The Hester Love Nest, mid 1920s

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This photo is off topic for my blog, since none of the women look anywhere near fifty. However, I was so fascinated by the 1920s styles and the setting that I bought it anyway.  If you enlarge it, you can barely read the sign on the little house that says “The Hester Love Nest.”  Does this document a school play? Perhaps it was an imaginative staging of The Scarlett Letter, featuring the fallen woman Hester Prynne?  A love nest of any kind seems an odd choice for a school filled with adolescents.

My guess is that the picture was taken in the mid 1920s.  Waist lines have dropped and the styles are simple.  Skirts still cover the knees. Most of the young women have cropped their hair and many are aiming for the popular marcel wave.  A few with straight hair perhaps decided it wasn’t worth the bother.

The teachers sit in front, although the female staff doesn’t look all that old.  My favorite is the woman on the left, with her straight hair, dark suit, and tie.  Although she appears out of place among all the dresses and curls, her look was not unusual in the twenties. You could get a similar outfit for $12.98 from Sears.

What do you think is going on here? I would love to hear your stories.

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Friends in Los Angeles, October 1964

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Maybe you don’t dress this way in your garden in October. In Los Angeles, however, the month can be very hot, with strong winds coming in from the desert. This snapshot gives names–Katherine, Ina, Della, and Flo–but no ages. The fuzzy focus makes guessing hard, but the three on the right look to be in their fifties.

I’m fascinated by the lack of sixties style in this 1964 photo. Beginning with their hair styles and (mostly) pastel palette, these women seemed more comfortable with the fashions of the previous decade. Katherine, far left, and Floy, far right, had on the shirtwaists so beloved in the fifties. You could still buy such outfits in catalogs and stores, but they were hardly in style. Della’s sheath dress was more current, but looser silhouettes were more up to date by the middle of the decade.

Only Ina, in her orange and yellow separates, had an air of the sixties. The color combination was certainly contemporary. But where did she find the long vest? Maybe she sewed it up herself.  As far as I can tell, such garments didn’t become popular until the seventies, so maybe Ina was a fashion visionary.

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Friends or Sisters, 1938

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It’s hard to tell ages from old photos, but in a stroke of luck I found the names and ages of these four women written on the back: Anna 46; Margrete 48; Ingeborg 41; Lina 59.  Given their Germanic sounding names, maybe they are related.  They all wear hats tilted in the same direction and have on white sensible shoes to go with the summer season.

If the names go from left to right as is standard, then Lina on the far right is the oldest.  She certainly doesn’t look it. Although puffed sleeves were in style at the time, on her they have a juvenile look. Maybe that’s because the dress has a girlish print and a broad round collar.  Perhaps it was a special dress to her, but she looks much less dressed up (and grown up) than her three companions.

I like the outfit of Anna on the left.  Her crisp summer suit is accented with dark buttons and a dark belt, all matching her dark hat.  And if I’m not mistaken, her skirt is the shortest and most stylish length.  Who is your favorite?

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Mother and Daughter, 1957

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When did daughters begin to dress much differently than their mothers?  You often read that the big dividing point came in the 1960s. Then many young women abandoned the pearls and gloves of their mother’s generation and began wearing clothes that set them apart.

Things hadn’t quite come to that in the 1957 snapshot above.  The daughter, on the left, wears a skirt just as long as her mother’s.  She even has on a discrete string of pearls.

Nonetheless, the daughter’s clothes have a much more casual look to them.  Her mother wears a matching suit, while she wears separates.  Wherever they were off to, the mother put on fancy daywear for the occasion.  The daughter thought a buttoned up cardigan would do just fine.

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The Wearing of the Green

The George W. Bush White House, 2004. Click to enlarge

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m fascinated by the American convention of wearing green for this holiday.  Do the Irish themselves do it, I wonder? And is there any other holiday when a certain color is considered a requirement? When I was in elementary school, it was common practice to pinch those who weren’t wearing green.

I guess Laura Bush did not have much choice when she met the Irish Prime Minister on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004. In her late fifties here, she wears a crisp suit in the color most associated with the holiday, a kelly Green.  It looks good on her, but not on everyone.  If you have to wear green, I say, find your own shade.  That bunch of shamrocks offers many more possibilities.

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Jackie Kennedy’s White House Style

JFK Library. Click to enlarge

What did these two women think of the other one’s outfit when they met? I’ve been preparing a talk on Jackie Kennedy’s White House fashion for a local museum. The research has been a lot of fun.  In the process, I’ve come across many photos like the one above showing a very young Jackie (she was only 31 when she came to the White House) meeting older women.  The fashion contrast is astonishing.  Jackie wore up to the minute style, in this case a sleek dress with few embellishments.  Her companion did not.  Although these must have been her very best clothes, she looks quite weighed down by the past in her flowery hat, mink stole, and brocade dress.

Getty Images, 1961. Click to enlarge

Although not as striking, we can also see the contrast in this photo taken on inauguration day. Jackie wears a sleek coat and hat combination custom designed by Oleg Cassini.  The other powerful women next to her—Lady Bird Johnson, Mamie Eisenhower, and Pat Nixon–look fusty in comparison.

Jackie knew that she had youth on her side, even if her style of dress would soon be copied everywhere.  She forbid Cassini to make copies of the outfits he designed for her.  “Just make sure no one has exactly the same dress I do—the same color or material,” Jackie wrote to Cassini. “[I] imagine you will want to put some of my dresses in your collection—but I want all mine to be original and no fat little women hopping around in the same dress.”


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