Advice to young secretaries, 1964
I am tempted to post this without comment, but decided against it. This was my world as a young woman. Not just for secretaries, but for just about any woman seeking employment. The author, Ruth Millett, was not particularly conservative; she made her reputation early in her career as an advocate for working mothers during World War II. The advice she dispenses here was what we heard from our mothers, teachers, and mentors, because it was just the way things were.
I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton heard this advice at least as much as I did. Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone complain about "her voice, her clothes, her smile".
Questions for North Platte
For the next few weeks, I will be visiting my old home town, North Platte, Nebraska, in search of answers to a long (and growing) list of questions. Some of the questions are personal, and I will be blogging those elsewhere. But they intersect with questions related to my current book project about women, fashion, and identity across the life course. Those questions -- and whatever answers I find -- will be posted here.
Intersectionality -- defined as "the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect" -- has played an increasingly important part in my research. Decades ago, it was sufficient to focus on gender and sexism, but the realities of discrimination and have led scholars to also incorporate racism, classism, and other oppressive ideologies into their work. My interest is in how ageism works in these mixtures.
At the same time, I am fearful of trying to take on too much -- too many variables. So this trip reduces the complexity to the intersectional life courses of white women of my own age, but with whom I share a common origin. I lived in Nebraska for the first eight years of my life, seven in the bustling railroad town of North Platte. How would my life have been different if my family had not moved to the New Jersey suburbs, and then to rural New England? What was it like to grow up in North Platte?
Specifically, I expect to begin with questions like these:
It took me a while, but I have settled on the paper topic I will be presenting (fingers crossed) at the Popular Culture Association conference in San Diego next April. Since I am in the middle of a giant research project, I had lots of choices, but this one kept calling to me. Here is the abstract I submitted. What do you think?
Women's clothing sizes are complicated. Despite decades of attempts to standardize them based on measurements, female shoppers still must navigate a confusing, chaotic system of categories, vanity sizing, and proprietary sizing schemes. In this presentation, I will add to the confusion by tracing the shifting relationship between age categories and size categories (junior, misses, and half or plus sizes, for example).
This fraught relationship dates back to Lane Bryant's maternity designs, which found a market among "stout" women, especially those over fifty. Similarly, junior sizes, once designed for the slim, high-busted figures of women in their teens and early 20s, became the size range of choice for women of any age who retained their "girlish" figures. (Thus "A size, not an age", the theme of a 1957 fashion show at Saks Fifth Avenue.)
I will discuss this quandary from the point of view of women over fifty, who must search for "age appropriate" clothing based on their body type.
Happy 40th birthday, DVF Wrap Dress
First, a quick apology. It's been a long, long time since I last posted. The semester swallowed me up pretty quickly after I finished the book draft. But now I am back and will be posting more regularly.
It's a rare occasion when someone throws a birthday party for a dress. But in the case of Diane Von Furstenberg's 1974 wrap dress, it is well-deserved. The adjective "iconic" is abused and overused, but certainly appropriate in this case.
The DVF wrap dress was influential because it was not just great design, it was also perfectly timed, . Women’s fashions were acquiring a vintage sensuality, propelled by nostalgia for the 1930s in popular culture and design. I believe that Von Furstenberg also found the elusive "sweet spot" between clothing that was flattering and empowering.
Are slacks unhealthy for women?
I can't resist sharing my favorite warning about the dangers of pants for women, from none other than physician Robert Bradley, author of the very-popular Husband-Coached Childbirth.
I strongly feel that the current rash of vaginal infections is related to women dressing in men's-style clothing. I'm an old square who thinks women look graceful and feminine in long skirts with lace and frills to accentuate their femininity. Pioneer women wore long skirts with no underclothes--at least for working--and had far fewer bladder infections than modern women who wear slacks, especially tight, rigid denims, and panty hose. In addition, the exercises of squatting and tailor sitting can be performed so much more easily in a large, loose skirt than in tight-fitting slacks.
This was a popular "science-based"argument in the 1960s and 70s for why women should not wear pants. (Strangely, it was not used to discourage us from wearing underpants!) Later studies found trousers innocent on all charges; instead the major culprits were nylon panties and pantyhose.
I'm a W-O-M-A-N
I've noticed a shift in the mid-1960s away from something I will call “personality dressing”, which is the common women’s magazine trope that asks, “What kind of woman are you?” and then offers style and grooming advice based on the responses. For example, in 1965 Seventeen featured “Personality types and the clothes that go with them” using the categories “dainty vs sturdy”, “dramatic vs demure”, and “dignified vs vivacious for three pairs of outfits. A fragrance ad in 1968 offers a short quiz and three choices, “romantic”, “modern”, and “feminine”. I've seen other writers describe what replaced personality dressing as “event dressing”, but I feel that the “moment dressing” is more descriptive. In the late 1960s and 1970s, there were many choices (minis, midis, maxis, pant suits, jeans, menswear, peasant, vintage...) and plenty of women opted for an extremely varied wardrobe
Which outfit came out of the closet depended not only on the event or occasion, but the woman’s mood at the moment as well. The significance of this is that mood dressing was a rejection of an essentialist view that women came in a few, easily categorized varieties. Like the W-O-M-A-N in the Enjoli perfume commercial who can “bring home the bacon, cook it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man”, the woman of the 1970s could do anything, or least dress for anything.
That's my take, anyway. What's yours?