Visiting the New York World’s Fair

The New York Public Library has a huge digital collection of photographs and documents from the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair.  Among the photos, you can find not only the expected ones of striking buildings, but also hundreds of shots of visitors and staff—a treasure trove for those who want to document American fashion immediately before the Second World War.  The fair opened in April 1939 and closed in October 1940. This undated photo might have come from either summer.

At the center of the picture above is a 93 year old woman with her two nieces. Probably this is a staged photo to contrast the older visitors with the ultra modern architecture behind them.  Fortunately it gives us a chance to compare the clothes of a very old woman with her younger (but still old) relatives.

What differences are there? The most obvious is the color of their clothing. The old woman in the center wears all black, including black stockings and a black hat. Her lace collar is a sure sign of age. By contrast, her nieces have on printed dresses, which are not all that different in appearance to the one Vogue editor Edna Chase Woolman wore to work. All have on sensible shoes, but note that the niece on the right wears a summer version in white with a purse to match. She also wears her hat at a jaunty angle. Perhaps she is the youngest of the three?

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5 Responses to Visiting the New York World’s Fair

  1. Nann says:

    Is there a generic name for that style of shoe? I have always called them Enna Jetticks, though I know that is a specific brand. (I knew one woman who wore that style in the 1980’s, an indomitable retired schoolteacher who was then in her 80’s.)

    • americanagefashionco says:

      Hi Nann! I call these shoes lace up oxfords. Although you can find them on women of all ages in the first half of the twentieth century, especially during World War Two, they were beloved by older women because they gave good foot support. See my post here: Now just where did that schoolteacher find them in the eighties? Maybe she had a big collection and a good shoe repair shop.

  2. Susan says:

    One thing many “old lady” shoes have in common is a pattern of perforations.
    They were worn by young women in the 1930s, and by my grandmother in the 1950s; if we knew what they are really called, we could figure out where the indomitable schoolteacher got hers in the 1980s…. (I think the perforated leather was thought to have more “give” or stretch, so they felt softer than other leather shoes.)

  3. Lizzie says:

    My second grade teacher still dressed like these women, especially the one on the left, in 1962.

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