Mema’s Grandmother, 1954

Oma2_54A German reader and sewing blogger, Mema, sent me a photo of three generations of her family taken in 1954. She is in her eighty year old grandmother’s arms, with her laughing mother in the background. They lived in a small town in the western part of what was then West Germany. Her grandmother ran a farm when she was younger. Once she was widowed she moved in with one of her sons and helped him manage his restaurant and inn until she died at 86.

Mema writes that all old women looked like her grandmother when she was growing up. “The black dress, the hair style with a bun at the back, the sturdy shoes were all typical of that time and place. The widows wore black.” Those whose husbands were still alive wore similar dresses, but in lighter colors.

The outfit looked old fashioned to me. Were there eighty old year American women in the early 1950s who looked similar?

OmaCompositeThe answer is yes! Mema’s grandmother is featured on the left, in her black dress, granny glasses, and sensible shoes. On the right is “Aunt Nellie, who was 80 years old on December 24, 1952,” a snap shot from my photo stash. Aunt Nellie has the same hairstyle and glasses. Her sensible shoes appear to have small heels and she wears transparent stockings instead of black ones. Her dress has the sheen of silk (it might be her birthday, after all) but I’m guessing that is black. Their poses and even their furniture look very similar.  Might there be an international language of dress for the “old old” in the fifties?

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3 Responses to Mema’s Grandmother, 1954

  1. In the few photos that I’ve seen of one great-grandmother, she is always wearing black, and the shoes, of course. She was widowed in the 1920s, and wore black until she died in the 1950s.

  2. A distinctive style for widows may be cultural, too. My widowed grandmother, born in California in 1875, wore up-to-date clothes in the 1920s, as well as the 1950s. But when I attended a “Greek association picnic” in California with a college friend in the 1960s, all the older women were dressed in mid-calf black — and a few teenaged girls, too. At a costume fitting for a production of Galileo set in the 1950s (the director’s idea) the actress playing his widowed housekeeper took one look at the rack holding her potential costumes and said, in her character’s Italian accent, “What’s I’m goin’ t’ wear today? I know! Blaaaack!” She was right — there were no other colors on the rack.

  3. Jen O says:

    Your German grandmother reminds me of a flock of older ladies I saw 10 years ago while waiting for a bus on a country road about an hour south of Rome. They had come from working in the fields, dressed in black with the study shoes and all.

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