Bullock’s Determines Fashion Personality Types, 1920s

Los Angeles Times, November 1928

Los Angeles Times, November 1928

Have you ever taken one of those quizzes to determine your fashion personality? I always end up an awkward mix of sporty (for pants), flamboyant/artistic (for orange), and tailored (for jackets)—not exactly a scientific formula. But according to the fascinating book The Economics of Fashion by Paul Nystrom (1929), some department stores really did think these descriptions had predictive value and used them to categorize their customers and merchandise.

Nystrom tells how Los Angeles’s premier department store, Bullock’s, developed six types of “general but quite dependable” (479) fashion personalities in the 1920s. Here’s a summary:

1)     Romantic—a slender, youthful type favoring delicate colors, taffeta, and parasols.

2)     Statuesque—tall with blonde or white hair, with a love of black velvet, picture hats, and luxurious fabrics.

3)     Artistic—with dark hair and dark eyes, a love of vivid colors, peasant necklines, and bizarre jewelry

4)     Picturesque—a woman with blue or gray eyes and fluffy hair, “or a gray haired woman who is not too dignified.” Delicate coloring, soft fabrics, no eccentricity.

5)     Modern—sleek, boyish, “just now shingle bobbed.”

6)     Conventional—not really a type but a kind of insecure person, a young woman who doesn’t know herself, “the older woman too stout to dare the type things she once could wear. The economical dress. The more than one season hat.”(480)

Some of these types—romantic, artistic, modern—are similar to those you can find today. Although I expect such categories to be shaped by current assumptions about income, ethnicity, age, etc., I was surprised by the close association of personality and hair color/style. Couldn’t the dark haired woman be statuesque? The “fluffy haired” woman dramatic? What about red heads?

And even though Bullock’s catered to a well off crowd, wouldn’t the majority of their customers still fall into that huge grab bag of category six?

 

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7 Responses to Bullock’s Determines Fashion Personality Types, 1920s

  1. I would have been “modern” then, and I’ll stick with it now…

  2. Frances says:

    Fascinating! In Caroline Evans’ brilliant book, The Mechanical Smile, about the first fashion models, she describes how the models themselves were picked out to represent these ‘types’ too. You can certainly imagine the ‘modern’ model or the ‘romantic’ model – it’s harder to picture the models selected to represent the ‘conventional’ type!

  3. Robyn says:

    They’ve worded category six so that anyone would go out and buy things to avoid being classified that way.

    Back in that era, I think people still gave credence to the “science” of reading physiognomies. High forehead = intellectual, close set eyes = criminal, etc. Typing by hair and eye color seems to go along with that kind of thinking.

    • Lynn says:

      Great point, Robyn! I didn’t think of that, but of course people who thought that the size of your forehead determined your intelligence might also consider hair color as a character trait.

  4. Carol in Denver says:

    Category 6: women who were or are the backbone of America, hard-working farm wives, house cleaners, many nurses and teachers, housewives, the 99% in years past. The women in this category may have admired or envied or distrusted those in categories 1-5. Some of us enjoy dipping our toes into all the categories from time to time.

  5. Susan says:

    “Conventional” is what I’ve always been, but now that I’m old, I also see it as a description of an older woman on a limited budget or fixed income. The thing Bullock’s omitted to mention in any of its categories is “quality.” Of course you avoid extreme styles when you know a dress has to look good for several years, but the sensible ‘conservative’ shopper also looks for good quality construction and fabrics. I like Carol’s mention of all of us lifelong budget shoppers. Thanks!

  6. I’ll settle for Picturesque!

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