You wonder what they had to be so thankful for in 1947. Were they still toasting the end of World War Two, or was it some private milestone? I know I will be lifting at least a few glasses to celebrate the conclusion of this long election season.
Alcohol aside, it is hard to know what is more eye-catching in this photo, the man’s striking tie or the woman’s ruched dress. Thanks to The Vintage Dancer, I know the man’s tie was right in style. After the war, men’s ties got short, wide, and wild. The one above checks all the boxes.
However, since this blog is about women, let’s concentrate on the fabulous slim dress that this middle aged woman wears. She is right in style with her longer dress length, the New Look inaugurated by Dior only a few months before. What fascinates me is the long line of ruching (a kind of gathering) down the side of the dress. In my resources for the 1940s, I couldn’t find a similar example. I discovered many ruched bodices, a technique that adds volume to the bust. However, probably only a rail thin woman like the one above would risk a long line of ruching over her hips. Maybe she designed it herself.
However you celebrate your Thanksgiving, I hope it is happy and safe.
From the recent showing of The Crown, I know that some older women (Queen Elizabeth, for example) hiked wearing skirts well into the 1980s. However, Elizabeth’s outdoor outfits looked considerably more rough and ready than the sheath dress worn by the woman in the forefront. The trail couldn’t have been all that difficult since her younger companion has on Keds, not great support on uneven terrain. Even so, the older woman looks unusually well dressed for an outdoor adventure.
I’m struggling to make up a story to go with this undated photo. The father and daughter have on casual clothes, suitable for a walk that was not too difficult. The mother, however, looks like she is dressed up for shopping with friends. Did the other two pick her up from some outing, reminding her that she had a pair of sturdy shoes in the car? Or was this her protest against clothing becoming more casual? Did she insist that hiking was only an option in a good dress with pearls?
I welcome your stories—and your ideas about a more precise date.
The current election has reminded us once again that African American women are the bedrock of the Democratic Party. They also did a lot of the hard work of turning California from red (as it was when I was growing up) to blue. Here is a wonderful photo of African American women getting out the vote in San Francisco in September, 1956. It comes from the collection of Frances Albrier, head of the San Francisco chapter of the National Council of Negro Women at the time. Her archive is housed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Note that many of the signs look handmade. I love the one in the middle, which appears to show two women in pants lining up to vote.
And what a wonderful array of fifties fashion worn by middle aged and older women. They range from the shirt waist style in front, to fit and flair dresses, to sheath dresses, to trim suits. There are many shoe styles as well. A few women even wear very high heels, which are not very practical on San Francisco hills. My personal favorite is the white haired woman towards the back in a light colored suit.
I haven’t been to the National Museum of African American History and Culture yet, have you? I’m told by many that it is a life altering experience. What a thrill to discover that some of the collection is on line. Take a look.
“Great Lakes—David and Mother, 1948” is written in faint ink on the front of this photo. It evokes a lot of questions. Why was it taken from the back? Had David been in the Navy during the war, or did he sign up afterwards? Was this a short leave, or was he coming home for good?
In fact, though, I asked none of these questions when I bought the photo. Instead, I was fascinated by the mother’s rear view. It looks a lot like mine. Although I haven’t gained any weight in the last twenty years, my body is shaped very differently than it used to be. My hip fat has migrated upwards, close to my waist, forming what I call a “hip shelf.” I’m fascinated by this feature of many older women’s bodies.
I thought that I had invented this term, but of course I didn’t. Some on line sites discuss the wide high hip as the main characteristic of a common body shape. Perhaps. But I’ll bet that is much more common among older women than younger ones. Perhaps I should seek out photos documented my rear view as it’s changed over time. That would be an education.
What do you with your travel souvenirs after you get home? For me the trick is finding something that I will actually use, something that will remind me in a glance that I had been away. This couple (Grace and Bill Schnoberger according to the photo) obviously loaded up on some stereotypical knickknacks after a trip to Mexico. They are proudly displaying them here, but I doubt that the big sombrero entered Grace’s hat collection or that the plaster bull found a place in their living room.
If you look closely, though, you will see that Grace is wearing silver Mexican jewelry–earrings, a necklace (partially hidden by the hat band), and two bracelets. It’s hard to see the detail and probably the pieces are not valuable collectables from Taxco, Mexico’s silver capital. But if she kept wearing them after this photo session, it does show that Grace had found elements of Mexican handicrafts to enliven her style.
These three women have captured the look of polished sportswear. Thanks to some sainted family historian, I have a lot of details about the snapshot. It was taken in Belmar, New Jersey in July 1960. Although the handwriting isn’t entirely clear, I think that Dorothy Hatler is on the left, Callender Holdes in the middle, and Di Gay on the right. Willie Gay stands in the back.
Belmar is a small town on the Atlantic coast, a popular vacation spot. Maybe Willie and Di rented a house for a vacation and invited friends over. Maybe one of them lived there. Whatever the situation, they look well prepared for summer fun.
And look at the array of bifurcated garments! According to this handy guide published in California Stylist in 1964, Dorothy on the left wears Bermuda shorts, Callender in the center has on pedal pushers, and Di on the right wears slacks.
Don’t their outfits look contemporary? The tie waist/knot waist shirt worn by Dorothy and Callender has made a fashion reappearance and Di’s statement sleeves are right in style. They would certainly fit in on the streets of Southern California today.
Although this is an advertisement rather than a real life snapshot, I love the contrast in clothing depicted between the generations. The Library of Congress gives the date as 1965-1980, a very big range, and I couldn’t find it reproduced in any popular magazines. If you have better luck, let me know. However, the clothing on all the participants makes me think this was made sometime in the mid to late seventies. The barely legible subtext—“Anything without it is either non-union or non-American”– points to the seventies as well. That was the decade when off shore manufacturing began in earnest for the US garment industry.
The grandmother figure on the left wears a loosely fitting belted dress with a fairly long hem. Her long hair is caught up in a bun. The look is elegant but conservative, and you can certainly tell that she has the wider waistline most women get as they age.
The daughter/mother depicted next is dressed like a working woman of the late seventies with her blazer and pussy bow blouse. John Malloy’s influential Dress for Success came out in 1975. Can’t you see her as a school teacher in comfortable shoes for all day wear? Her daughter wears a jumpsuit and sneakers, an outfit right in style today. The only clothes that defies time are those on the little girl.
A reader from Colorado sent this wonderful photo along with a story, my favorite kind of contribution. Center and right are two sisters, with facial shapes, hair styles and eye glasses looking very much the same.
However, the similarity ends there. The sister in the middle is a Midwestern farm wife visiting her younger sibling in Oregon. She wears a shirtwaist, the uniform of older women in the fifties, along with a pair of sensible shoes. The dress is not without its charm, trimmed with dots along the pockets at the hips and chest. Nonetheless she looks old fashioned next to her West Coast sister who has on slacks, a knit shirt, and tennis shoes. It shows that style is geographic as well as generational. Don’t you wonder what they through of one another?
On the left is the daughter/niece from Oregon. Although she also has on pants, she seems to be trying very hard to look cooler than her mother. Don’t the sunglasses do the trick?
In the US, most of us have probably come across a bridge or a trail that was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Depression Era government sponsored employment agency. Not only did the program build bridges and sponsor arts programs, it also put women to work sewing. The participants were taught to use sewing machines and and then tasked to make clothing, bedding, and other items that were distributed to hospitals and charities. The Milwaukee Handicraft Project, which included sewing, rug making, and textile design, is particularly well documented.
This 1936 photo shows a racially integrated group of women hard at work. From their faces, it looks like that they range in ages from their thirties at least up into their sixties. You get the best view of their work when looking at the African American woman at the center of the photo. She appears to be constructing either a full apron or a house dress.
These women were likely the main providers for themselves and their families—single women, widows, or wives of husbands who were unable to work. They are all dressed neatly in simple dresses, some with aprons. Four women have on identical white dresses and caps. Were they perhaps nurses or members of a religious order?
I would love to know the story of the oldest looking woman in the photo, third from the left in the second row. While most of the other women have their hair in stylish short waves, she wears her gray tresses pulled back into a bun. Her round granny glasses also mark her as older than her sewing companions. She is hard at work at a time in her life when many others might have hoped to take it easy.
Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. Here’s a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt, then in her mid seventies, with a needle in her hand. She is meant to be sewing in the new label for the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. It was part of the 1959 publicity campaign by the union to rebrand its products as a way to combat the expansion of garment production to the non-union South. Read the fascinating story here. Although union labels had existed before, this is the beginning of the iconic label and the “look for the union label” jingle that many of us remember from our childhood.
What exactly is Eleanor Roosevelt sewing? It looks like a large white collar. Might that be why the women closest to her have on white collars? Although the photo is surely staged, the crowd looks genuinely enthusiastic, including young and old. There are even a few non-white faces in the background.
In the Republican version of the pose, New York State First Lady, Mary Rockefeller, sews on a label. She’s surrounded by men, Ed Koch and Nelson Rockefeller among them. Unlike Eleanor Roosevelt, she really looks like she knows what to do with a needle. Note her little hat—so 1950s.
One could make snarky comments about the photos—the diverse crowd of men and women around the Democrat compared to the wall of white men surrounding the Republican. However, I choose to see a more positive message. Isn’t it wonderful that politicians of both parties could unite around the issue of fair wages for garment workers?
To contribute to this collective history project, send pictures and stories about the older women in your life to firstname.lastname@example.org. The more information you can include (date, place, etc.), the better.