Colors for the Mature Woman, 1920s

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This small pamphlet comes from the Women’s Institute, a correspondent school for sewing, millinery, and cooking, run by the famous Mary Brooks Picken.  Thanks to Lizzie Bramlett for sending it on from her large collection.  On one side it offers a chart of the best colors mainly for white women (although maybe the “olive brunette” would encompass Latinas).  On the other side is a long testimonial on how the sewing school changed one woman’s life, along with an application form. There is no date, but the drawings place it firmly in the 1920s.

I was overjoyed to see that the long list of “types” included two slots for the mature woman.

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While other types were defined by hair color, mature women with gray or white hair only had two choices—“fair skinned.” or “sallow.”  I was puzzled by the “sallow” description—what is a complexion without color? Translating the color recommendations into current categories, I am going to take “sallow” to mean warm colored skin, and fair-skinned to mean cool.

So what colors suited the older woman in this 1920s list? There were many restrictions.  The cool toned older woman was warned against black unless she wore white or ecru at her face.  She could only wear dark browns and greens.  She was advised to choose blue grays and dull purples.  No reds suited her.  Only the palest yellows and pinks should go into her closet.

But the poor sallow toned older woman, a category to which I belong, was the saddest of all the categories.  She could not wear brown, green, or yellow.  The others colors were extremely restricted—only cream white, only midnight navy, only dull purple with some lilac accents, and only old rose.

And did you notice that only a handful of types, young or old, got to wear orange? (Thanks to Carol from Denver, I discovered oranges in the yellow category.) I was surprised not only because I love this color, but also because the blog Witness2Fashion has shown that orange was very popular in the twenties. See here, here, and here.  Apparently the Woman’s Institute was on a campaign to change current tastes in color.

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3 Responses to Colors for the Mature Woman, 1920s

  1. Paloverde says:

    This is so sad! They seem to be trying to make older women as dull and nondescript as possible. Nothing light or cheery; just stick to a darkish and restricted palette. (And I’m not fond of the choices suggested for other categories, either.)

  2. eimear says:

    I find myself gravitating towards these lists all the time – especially when I decided to grow my colour out – a lot of colours did not work anymore, and I do find myself going for blues a lot more and certain shades of pink- I will wear red a bit still (although that list is rather clear on this shade – Avoid!!!

  3. Abbey s says:

    Hi, as always I am enjoying your blog. With regards to the type indicated as sallow, I have always understood that to mean “yellow” skin tone. Abbey

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