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?