Older Women in Prints, 1939

Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota

Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota

This evocative photo of the Finnish War Orphans Sewing Circle of Cleveland, Ohio features mainly older women. For the most part, they are dressed quite conservatively in dark dresses with brooches or lace collars at their necks. Some sport a favorite discreet print of the era, the refined polka dot.

However, three in the group have bucked the trend and wear large scale prints. The one in the back, third from the left, has toned down her pattern with stripes. Two in the front row really stand out from the crowd in large scale floral prints. Not only do they ignore common fashion advice for the older set, which warns against large scale patterns. I also thought that they had reached far beyond the normal for their era, which favored small, geometric motifs.

Sears Catalog, 1938I was wrong about that last assumption, though. Take a look at the bold floral design in a 1938 Sears catalog. Maybe these two women were hoping to look more youthful with their choices. Or maybe they just liked flowers.

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7 Responses to Older Women in Prints, 1939

  1. Jen O says:

    Nice photo here, lots of great details to look at. Those rayon print dresses must have been very affordable, and something of a break from the traditional black seen so often in the 30’s. What puzzles me is that those dresses would probably be worn in spring and summer, yet all the shoes are black. Where are the strappy white shoes we see so often from the 30’s and 40’s? Even the Sears page shows those with print dresses.

  2. Carol in Denver says:

    My grandma wore black elevated-heel oxfords all year round. She was a very hard-working farmer, always working at a trot.

    She always seemed so old to me, but she was only 47 years old when I was born. Later in life she moved to wearing tennis shoes. I can almost hear her feet saying “Ahh-h-h.”

  3. Stopping By says:

    Thank you, very interesting.

    BTW, I believe you meant “discreet”. “Discrete” means separate.

  4. Stopping By says:

    I really enjoy this blog and am happy to have found it.

  5. Wonderful picture, and I’m glad it can be enlarged because there’s so much to look at. (Nice to know these ladies came together to sew for charity, too.) Thank you for sharing it! (Great hairstyle at upper left!) I’m always having to remind myself that black and white photos can be very misleading about color. Red, blue, brown, purple, and green all photograph as very dark gray or black. The black and white movie Jezebel, starring Bette Davis and Henry Fonda, never makes much sens, visually: Bette’s character wears a red dress to a 19th c. debutante ball, when custom demanded virginal white. Her escort ends up fighting a duel to protect her honor. In the film, her red dress looks black: https://s.yimg.com/fz/api/res/1.2/iN5gHvH05jVPxqw1tCU_4g–/YXBwaWQ9c3JjaGRkO2g9NDQ5O3E9OTU7dz0zNTA-/http://emmawestwoodauthor.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/bette-jezebel5.jpg

  6. Fabrickated says:

    Very interesting picture, and amazing commentary. I always associated these large prints with the 1950s. Maybe if they were keen dressmakers they may have had more clothes than the average lady and that allowed something sensational as well as a more practical wardrobe. On the shoes my Grandma (b 1880s) always worn this sort of style, laced up and black. In fact the Queen seems to wear black pumps with even the most summery of outfits.

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