Elderly, Matronly, or Mature? Montgomery Ward Experiments with Names

Montgomery Ward catalog 81, 1912. Click to enlarge

In 1912, the Montgomery Ward catalog went through a major revision that favored women clothing buyers.  Before that year, women’s clothing was scattered throughout the catalog; you had to look through the index to find everything offered to female consumers.  In a big reorganization that year, the company consolidated all of its women clothing in the opening pages of each big book.

In addition, the company began a more careful differentiation among its female consumers.  It was in 1912 that the catalog started to offer “stout” sizes.  Misses’ sizes, aimed initially to teens, were suddenly advertised as fitting “Misses and Smaller Women.” And if you looked carefully in the small print, there were references to older women as well. I caught this hat above, offered to an “elderly woman,” because of the drawing.  The face didn’t look as young and perky as the others, and the hair might conceivably been gray.

Montgomery Ward catalog 87, 1917

Advertising copy for hats was a favorite place to try out new terms for the older set. In 1917, a black hat with an ostrich plume was on offer for the “matronly woman,” visible in the description.

Montgomery Ward catalog 90, 1918

And a year later, the “mature woman” had an entire page of hats to choose from, with a banner headline at the top of the page.

During the 1910s, the company tried out many different adjectives for the older crowd.  By  the following decade, “matronly” had won out as the favored term.  But don’t try it today…

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2 Responses to Elderly, Matronly, or Mature? Montgomery Ward Experiments with Names

  1. Another wonderful post! Costume designers always need to know “who wore what,” and these images of hats for older women are really helpful — especially since they seem to appeal to a range of character types, as indicated by the faces and expressions. The woman in the tall ostrich feather hat looks positively flirtatious.

  2. I hate all those terms, said the Social Security recipient!

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