Friday, January 9, 2009

9 January 1955 "Costs, Facts, Gadgets, and shopping"

Here is a list of average prices in 1955:

House: $10,000
Average income:$4,137
Ford car: $1606-$2944
Milk: $.92
Gas: $.23
Bread $.18
Postage stamp: $.03
Sirloin chops: $ .69 lb.
Pot Roast: $.43 lb.
Eggs, doz.: $.61
Coffee: $.93 lb.
Milk, ½ gal. $.43
Potatoes, 10 lb. bag: $.53
Starkist Tuna, 6 ½ oz. can: $.25
Oreo cookies, 11¾ .oz pkg: $.39
Potato Salad, pint: $.29
Cracker Jack, 24 pac: $1.49
Apple cider,½ gal.: $.49
Gum Drops, 1½ lb. pkg: $.29
Ivory Soap, 2 bars: $.29
Mickey Mouse lunchbox: $.88
Slinky: $.88
Nylons, pair: $1.00
Home permanent: $1.50
Baseball Glove: $9.95
Black and White tv: $99.00

According to a site I found a 1955 $1.00 is equivalent to $ 7.93 today. That would make, for example, the gas of then comparable to paying 1.82 a gallon today. Cheaper then, however sirloin chops would be around 5.47 a pound today, and I pay closer to 2.00 on sale. Bread is around 1.82 in modern money, but I pay around 5.00 (of course that was for whole wheat, now I am buying wonder white which is around 2.00 so close in price, really.)

What is interesting to me, minus some glaring differences like the cost of gas, prices seem comparable today. However, the housing seems much cheaper then. Even with the deflated value of the current real estate market you would be hard pressed, at least where I live, to buy a house for the current equivalent of 79,000.00 Again, this depends on where u live in the country. You couldn't even purchase buildable land for that where I live. The tv would be around 700.00 while today it is easy to get a cheap one, however if u want the latest one they would cost more.

Minimum wage in 1955 was raised to $1.00/hr. Am I wrong, or does that make it higher than some state minimums now? My state has a min wage of $8.25 but I am sure that is not true of most states. I know that women were paid about .70 cents on the dollar to men.

When you see the prices you think, "wow," but once you put it into perspective of current dollars it seems food is cheaper now, while housing is through the roof. How do these costs compare to where you live?

The first microwave was introduce this year. It was made by Tappan and cost $1200.00. That's almost $10,000.00! I think there was an earlier version in the late 40's that they called the radarange, and for as long as I could remember, that is what my grandmother called any microwave she encountered. I don't suppose I will get one of these this year! I mean buy a house or a microwave, u decide.

Unemployment rate in 1955: 4.4% while in Jan 2009 7.1%

Now, speaking of money, my compatriot vintage friend and I went shopping last night. We both wore hats, gloves coat heels and hose. Our main objective was to hit Joanne fabrics. I needed some more vintage patterns and fabric. Although this is a modern store, I felt competely normal there. Other people who make clothes/crafts, seem to bat neary an eyelash at two hot dishes with little hats and heels who squeel at the 50% off bin of fabrics.

"OOh," squeeled I , clutching a bolt of sky blue tulle to my bosom, "wouldn't this be dreamy for my opera dress?" (in a previous blog I mention that we are opera bound in april to see don giovonni. There will be three ladies swimming in tool and vintage fur. There WILL be photos, don't worry)

"Oh, if only they had it in pink for me,"says my friend. She spys a bolt of fabric in the pink she is thinking, though it is not the fabric she would choose. "Can I wear pink?" she asks.
My answer needs a moment. I carefully set down my pocket book, gloves, patterns, zippers, and buttons. "Let me see," I ponder: an artist before the blank canvas, "Hmmm..." my tounge sticks out in contemplation as one hand holds the fabric about her neck. "You know, I do think you can pull off pink. It brings such a lightness to your face". Again, in the moment, it all seems rather normal, but then I stop and think, this is a very 1955 moment. Two chums squealing over fabric and dreaming up dresses that will come into being with their industry and creativity.
So, we spent about an hour looking through patterns, gazing dreamy eyed at the walls of fabric. In the discount aisle we would hold a silence, like a pair of scientist perched on the edge of some great discovery. Then, with a determined stab of our hands, one of us would leap forward with a bolt of fabric and pronounce the verdict. As if issuing some great edict or proclamation, we'd unfurl the fabric from it's bolt, thow it about our shoulder or waist, "wouldn't this make a lovely coat, oooh or how about a vest and skirt, this would be the best lining in a swing coat, how about a dress and matching jacket?" then we would either consider the others opinion with the great seriousness of a supreme court judge, or break into peals of laughter due to the ridiculousness of an idea. An evening dress made of terrycloth? A woolen girdle? Silliness and fun. The whole trip in the fabric store was fun and felt quite 'normal' or what normal is coming to mean to me.

When I am hardpressed to go into modern stores, such as Barnes and Noble to meet our friend afterward, I felt odd. Not at the size nor the books, it could have been a dept store in 1955, but the people. The vast amounts of people in their 'modern' garb. It hit me how sloppily dressed we really are as a modern people. We did recieve stares. No one rude or mean, but I noticed little girls, say between 5-12 really noticed us. My first thought would be they would laugh or think we were silly, but really they just looked, almost longingly. I thought what these girls would be wearing if it were 1955 for them. The full skirts and crinolins. Things now most likely only relegated to halloween or the dress upbox, yet if it were 1955 they'd get to wear it every day. The fun of wearing matching gloves hat and shoes. The prim crisp movement of a full skirt. These are things I KNOW little girls love, at least I did when I played dress up. Now, I know it is just clothes, and it is good that we can be more relaxed in public, but somehow I felt a vast array of fun and pride had just slipped out of everything. That to make sure u had a hat on, or that your seams were straight, that these things WERE important and in them made you feel better about yourself and more likely to feel better towards others, seemed valid to me at that moment. I don't know, maybe I am just a kook. That is how I felt, though. Maybe this only seems relevant now as I am outside my own time. I definitely felt an odd pang of regret, or sadness. Strange, indeed.

Now, for the goods:

These are two of the patterns I bought last night. I know they are from 47 abd 48, but I liked them. The dress is definitely the beginning of the New Look and the fitted jacket it going to be a taking off point for me to make some 'copies' of dior from my magazines. Again, I think I would have done this as I am interested in fashion.

I really needed a good dressing gown, and I like this. I want to make a very full skirted 50's one from taffeta, but figure I won't wear it until it is warmer out. This one I am making out of a nice brown plaid wool. It can be practical and keep me warm. I think it would be a good thing to have on in the mornings for breakfast and such. Also, I like the idea that I have some holdover clothes form the 40s. I mean 48 was only seven years ago! I would have clothes I had made prior to the time I am living in, don't you think?

I got this one too, which is from 54. I like the shorter fitted jacket. I think with this basic dress and the jacket I can also 'copy from the magazines of the day'. I will post pics of my failures and success with these patterns.
I need to end now for the day. I think sometime in the next few blogs I want to address the art world a little bit, and discuss the possibility of a little mini project that was inspired by jitterbug and her 1940s blog. I think I should do a week of laundry with the machine and a ringer (no ring cycle) and hang clothes inside to dry. I would not have to do it now, as I am certain I would have the latest washer and dryer, but I would have had to do it when I was a new wife. Let me know what you think of that as a little project within a project. I just really want to have a good historical perspective and feel I understand what lead up to 1955 for a housewife.
Until tomorrow. Have a vintage day! I know I will...


  1. I'm totally swooning over that pattern from '54... If only I had room for a sewing machine! (and well, if only I had ANY talent in sewing whatsoever...) Happy 2009!

  2. This is only Day 9 of your project, but It seems that you are exploring EVERY aspect thoroughly and with anticipation as to what you will learn. What a well-rounded approach you are taking to this!

    Are there any comments from your husband about the last nine days that you can share?


  3. Honestly, for my husband not much has changed. We are both history nerds so now we have a specific time period in which to discuss the economic, social, arts, politcal aspects of. Our breakfasts usually involve my discussing with him what I plan to blog about and how I want to try this or that. Though my husband is only 33, he is an old soul. He loves to putter in his den with his old typewriters, smoking his pip and drinking his scotch. His daily garb is basically rather 50's, I mean he's the guy who wears the argyle sweater vest and tie and pulls it off anywhere. I think our not having children makes this whole project more of a fun educational way to 'hop into the picture book' if you will. He enjoys his new breakfasts and we just finished doing the dishes together. I couldn't help but think of leave it to Beaver, though technically, I don't know what that is yet. He also loves the fashions on my and he DEFINITELY loves garters and stockings, no doubt there. I was just thinking today how our being childless and somewhat artsy, yet still dwelling in the burbs in 1955, what would that result in? I want to delve into that more and I have a blog post churning away with that in mind. Thanks for reading by the way. SO, yeah, I have a pretty great husband who always expects some crazy thing from me and just goes with the flow.

  4. I'm really enjoying your blog. Good luck with the sewing. A modern book you might enjoy is Coture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer. It details how Dior achieved his architectural dresses. A lot of infrastructure went into making though huge ball gown skirts look effortlessly light. You might want to check it out before starting your opera discusses boning, stays, underskirts and the built-in corselets that dior and other designers used. Sorry to keep suggesting books, but I'm really enjoying your blog, and I enjoy feeling like I'm contribuiting in some small way.

  5. NO, that is great. I LOVE books and study of all kind. I wonder if it is 'cheating' to read that book, tho it is about the time. And I am using a computer right now, so I think I should look into that book. I really want to understand the structure under the new look outfits. When I was buying patterns the other day, in the pattern books, they show the vintage pattern cover and then some times opposite they have a modern photo of a model wearing the dress newly made. For the evening gown I most likely will get to use as a base for my design, opposite they have a modern model wearing it and without the correct underpinnings it just looked like a sad 1980's prom dress, but when u see it on with the merry widow or coselette, it is a dream.

  6. Can you post pictures of the comparison of with and without proper structure? Was it a book you owned or one you can give the title to? That would be very interesting to see how the underpinnings change the entire look.


  7. It was in the pattern book at the store that I saw the without and I have seen many photos with. One good example of how nicely a fitted new look suit can look with the merry widow, watch Black Board Jungle, which came out this year 1955, and the new female teacher in the beginning is quite thing, but you can see how she is corseted into her New Look suit. It looks lovely, I think.

  8. i have that '54 dress pattern... it's fabulous, although i did find i had to alter it a little at the shoulders otherwise the straps keep falling off my shoulders in a most un-lady like fashion...

  9. Wow, this is incredible. I am adding your blog to my blog list and you can bet I will be following you every single day. (no pressure - lol!)
    Anyway, my project for this year is going to be to stop shopping retail for a year and blog about my vintage finds at estate sales, thrift stores, e-bay etc. My friends say I can't do it, but just watch! I, too, will be blogging about my adventures - I will also refer them to your blog so they can watch you, as well. This should be fun.


  10. Egads! You're right that some places minimum wage is lower that what it was (comparably) in 1955. We just moved from North Carolina, and the minimum wage back there was $5.15!

  11. I was a child in the 50's and dressed in the little dresses with full skirts and a bow that tied at the back of the waist. My mom bought the stiff crinolines for me, including one I remember that had a rubber hula hoop looking thing in the hem that blew up to hold the slip out wide. I can tell you I complained a LOT as a child at the scratchiness of the slips, but now I look at the patterns for those dresses and really wish my granddaughter would actually wear them if I made them for her. I also wore ruffled socks and patent leather shoes, and those shoes really pinched.

  12. I remember starting school in 1958 and wearing a "balloon dress" that had a slightly gathered skirt that ballooned out and came back in again at the hem. It was in a light blue buffalo plaid. Our dog ripped it off the clothesline one day and shredded it in the mud and that was the end of my "balloon dress." I was sad. My mother put white tights on me under the dress without underpants and I didn't like that; I did have an undershirt, however.

  13. I am fascinated by your endeavor and the reports you are posting about it, and especially the reaction of those who you encounter in public.

    I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and can relate to a lot of what you talk about, but understanding the specific details of living in the mid-50s is nothing short of enlightening.

    Thank you so much for your initiative and ingenuity.

    I have a lot of your blog history to still go through, and it is one of the few blogs that I care to read in any detail.


  14. Back then in the 50s we had school clothes, play clothes and church or party clothes. We dressed fro school, once home we changed putting out school cloth up if they were still clean and got into our older play clothes. that way our school things stayed nice {and maybe could be handed down later to the next child. :-) } Our church clothes were a bit fancier and less durable fabric at times. For school we might have had a hat but at church or two or wherever we had a hat and gloves. It just was like that. Having different clothe for each occasion made each occasion special too. In 6th grade we were allowed to wear slacks to school but only on girl's gym day and that was half a day once a week. We changed either in or out of the jeans when we went home for lunch on that day,. We loved being girls and boys seemed to really like being boys too!! No a days when you see a women groomed and in a dress she seems almost out of place. Although you look at her and almost sigh. Many a lady has told me they get much more attention when they are dressed like this. People open doors for them and treat them respectfully etc. Used to be if someone was dressed sloppy they would feel and be out of place. Even children. Oh we got plenty dirty when playing..mud pies and all but were clean neat when out and about. Why did things like that change? Casual is fine but has its place. Sarah


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