I’ve been reading a popular advice book from the late 1950s, the fashion designer Anne Fogarty’s Wife Dressing, which has recently been republished. It is a strange book on many levels. On the one hand, Fogarty purports to share her personal experiences with other women who put hearth and husband above all other concerns; on the other hand, it becomes quite clear that the author is a very successful fashion designer who manages her own home with the help of maids and nannies. She tackles a lot of fashion questions that had never occurred to me before, such as the vexing problem of whether your car should be chosen to match your wardrobe. (No, if there is only one family car. Maybe, if you have a car to yourself.)
Fogarty is best known for a slim-waisted, full skirted dress called the “paper doll look,” which needed to be supported by many crinolines. One of the most incredible stories in the book is an elaborate account of whirlwind European trip where her luggage included eighteen petticoats!
However, she wanted to popularize quite different fashion look—the coverall, or what we would now call the jumpsuit. “Coveralls rank with frozen vegetables as two of the happiest results of World War II,” she writes. (I guess the defeat of fascism did not make much of an impression on her.) She got her first pair from a gas station attendant. “I wore them for two summers, with sweaters and scarves, belted and loose, until I adapted them in black corduroy for a story in Life magazine. Since then, coveralls have been part of my fashion story…It’s a garment idea I love and hope to make a classic in every woman’s wardrobe.”
With the benefit of hindsight, we know that coveralls did not make the list of fashion classics along with the trench coat. And why is that? If we look at the silhouette that Fogarty embraced, it is clear that it could only flatter a very limited audience. What older woman would be tempted to squeeze herself into such an outfit, and just how would she ever get out of it?