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Jun 30, 2011

Let's Take a Trip!

Friends, we're traveling today, so pack you bags.  We're climbing into our trusty time machine -- safety belts, please! -- and traveling back exactly sixty years, to 1951.

Our focus is fashion, but we're going to see much, much more.  Our guide is the October 1951 issue of Woman's Home Companion, a popular magazine aimed at the American homemaker.  Like so many women's magazines of this era, Woman's Home Companion combined articles on fashion, decorating, health, politics, as well as (gorgeously illustrated) contemporary fiction.

I love to read books about fashion history, but searching out primary sources is even more fun, and it's not hard. Vintage women's magazines -- and there were so many -- are easy to find, especially at flea markets, usually for just a few dollars.  Unlike vintage patterns or store catalogs, there's very little interest in old general interest magazines like Woman's Home Companion (which folded in the late Fifties).  Yet they are a treasure trove of information about what life was like back then, particularly for (white, middle class, MARRIED) women.

They are also bursting with unintentionally hilarious ads  -- postwar consumerism was taking off -- classic period graphic design (think, cluttered) and sumptuous color photography.

This October issue is also chock full of fashion.  Let's take a look...

Waists were nipped and skirts were often full, but not as big as they were later to get.  Heightened femininity was the look of the day, with an emphasis on perfect grooming and elegance.

I must make Cathy a lounging ensemble like this...

A great article about separates.  Do you know how to mix and match?

Women were expected to know how to sew, and this 1951 Woman's Home Companion has many sewing machine ads and sewing-related articles...

Fifties advertising is exuberant -- there was so much to buy, so many new appliances and products to make life easier!

The operative word here is exciting -- Americans had never had it so good and life seemed to be getting better and better. 

Many more photos from this issue of Woman's Home Companion are viewable here.

Readers, do you like to look through old magazines or collect them?  Which are some of your favorites?  Which do you enjoy more -- the articles or the ads?

Vintage fashion magazines are wonderful, but I honestly think these general interest homemaker magazines are much more fun.

Lemon Cheese Cake Pie, anybody?

Have a great day, folks!


  1. What exactly is "lounging"? And why do you need an outfit for it? Wouldn't that make it more than lounging if you have to dress for it?

  2. Great point! Actually, in those days, I think lounging meant home entertaining rather than lying in front of the TV with a bowl of Cheetos and a six-pack.

    Lounging outfits could be quite elaborate, especially for women.

  3. General magazines every time for me, I like a bit of everything and sometimes the fashion in the adverts for other stuff are really good!

    I love that lounging outfit, I would love to look so glam to lounge ha ha!

  4. I love these magazines, but they're getting pretty expensive here in London - lots of the vintage stores sell them for £5 and up per issue (that's about $8 I think?). Of course everything in these shops is overpriced.

    My favourite picture is the lady in the snappy brown suit and white gloves - she looks like she's thinking 'Yes, I AM rather fabulous!'

  5. I don't buy vintage magazines myself, but a friend does. I love the ads (did anyone really take all those laxatives?) and the insight into social issues. Unmarried pregnant women look for a place to hide during the pregnancy, hopefully in a family who will adopt the child. Girls write to ask how they can go for walks by themselves in the evening and not be approached by men wanting to buy sex. There is endless concern about the servant problem.

  6. oh YES, Cathy definitely needs a lounging suit! She has the personal style to carry the look off beautifully.

  7. My female relatives wore lounging outfits, along with my Uncle when he could get his hands on them.

    They were solely for hanging out and being presentable when visitors arrived, usually unexpected. I guess people didn't call first when they came around. My mother said, people popped in all the time and you didn't want to be dressed up hanging around incase someone came to visit, but you wanted to be comfortable and elegant. Some women did have very elaborate lounge wear and it could be detachable too, like a top and pants and then a skirt that you can wrap around and tie up if visitors came.

    If people saw what I looked like when they unexpectedly popped around they would turn around and go back home again.


  8. I guess it's like "I Love Lucy" -- Fred and Ethel just popped in!

  9. I think I have that recipe for the lemon cheese cake pie... one of my favorites that my grandmother made. She was exactly the woman who would have bought Woman's Home Companion.

  10. I could look at these all day long. Thanks!

  11. I love old magazines, but I have to confess, not for the ads or the pictures, but for the recipes for baked goods.

    Baking ranks right up there with sewing for me. I like the almost instant gratification!

    Going to hit the holiday weekend yard sales. I'll be on the lookout for some old magazines. Great post, as always, Peter!

  12. I remember those days, I was a kid then. I think people had more time in the evening, especially if you were a little well off. Women could get their housework done, with the help of daughters, sons mowed the lawns and dinner could be in the oven waiting for dad to come home giving the wife time to have a quick shower, slip into a lounging outfit and be ready for a quiet elegant evening. Men and women worked more regular 8 hour days than the usual 10 to 12 today. Except my dad who was military and was often gone sometimes for 3 months, sometimes just home on the weekends.

  13. I really enjoyed the magazine pages in this post! Now I wanna make myself a petticoat.

    Regarding the lounging outfit (which I agree would be perfect for Cathy)...My mother used to talk about those days. Back then, while phones were widespread there were households that did not yet have a phone. But even among those with a phone, ladies -- especially the older crowd -- were used to "paying a visit" and no calling ahead was expected. The lady of the house was expected to be dressed and prepared to offer coffee to the visitor. So heaven forbid you should be caught with your girdle down (so to speak).

  14. I've always said vintage food photography is the most disgusting stuff. Man, I have some putrid photos of things that were meant to be mouth watering.

  15. Peter, please share that lemon cheesecake pie recipe as well as the instructions for the petticoat. I love looking through vintage magazines, but have only purchased a few.Thanks for sharing. Bev

  16. I've been buying old magazines since I was a teenager. I don't have a huge collection, but I cherish the ones I do have! Have to say, I'm torn on whether I like them for the fashion or ads... The ads are usually hilarious! (In that mid century way...) Plus you can't beat the illustration styles of the era.

  17. Monika -- I'm curious as to where you're from. The issues that you mention... (Unmarried pregnant women look for a place to hide during the pregnancy, hopefully in a family who will adopt the child. Girls write to ask how they can go for walks by themselves in the evening and not be approached by men wanting to buy sex. There is endless concern about the servant problem.)... would NEVER have been raised in the magazines that my mother bought when I was a kid in the early '50's. Those things were not mentionable in those publications. So I'm curious what magazines you remember and where they were published.


  18. Wow Peter, these are fabulous. It really was the beginnings of rabid consumerism, wasn't it? So many things to buy to make your life better. Not feeling better yet? Buy some more!

  19. ~ * ♥ * ~

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing these gorgeous pictures Peter. I also second Bev; please share the petticoat instructions ~ I would love to make one for myself! ^ u ^

    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  20. Seeing these two days postings reminds me of my mother's interest in all things "I Love Lucy". She watched to see what she was wearing each week and also admired her apartment. She may have used some of the ideas for herself and our house. I know she did paint the living room curtains with
    a cherry blossom design.

  21. 1951 was a very good year since I was born in it! Dirndl type skirts like the striped one would be dead easy to sew and suit Cathy's slim lines (also hide her slight lack of hips). A dirndl was the first thing I ever sewed (in green check gingham circa 1962) and sad to say did not suit chubby round me me at all. Still doesn't after nearly half a century (Sigh.). They are so easy to make and lend themselves so well to big border prints. Mind you I'm not sure that Cathy could lounge in it- they are essentially busy little numbers no matter what fabric you use. Thanks for a lovely trip down memory lane.

  22. Bev, I've added the recipe and the crinoline instructions to the Picasa photo file linked to in the post -- they're at the end. Enjoy!

  23. Peter, it occurs to me that you might like Enid Gilchrist's "books" - look her up on eBay (and probably on Etsy too, but I don't know for sure). They're magazines with pattern drafting instructions for clothes from the 50s to the 70s, usually one book per size range. My mother had (and I inherited) a fancy dress costume book, and since then I've bought a few others on eBay. I made up a pink-sequinned copy of the dress worn by John Travolta in Hairspray, based on one of the patterns given in Gilchrist's book of patterns for larger ladies. Came out beautifully!


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