Wednesday, October 28, 2009

28 October 1955 “Question and Answer: Part One of Three”

I received a letter from a follower that asked the following:

As a part of my literary journalism subject, i have to complete a 6000 word feature story about a topic, utilizing both primary and secondary research.

I think that what you are doing with your blog is amazing and i commend you on your efforts! It is quite my accident i stumbled upon your blog whilst doing some research for my story. I want to focus my story on the 1950's fashion and how it was reflective of women's evolution during that time (post WWII). I would love to be able to talk to you about why you are spending the entire year living in 1955 and why you have chosen this year and what you have discovered.

I have a million questions I'd love to ask you - how people have reacted to you doing this, how it has impacted on your life, are you happier etc.

I was honored that she should think of me and I have therefore (with her permission) included her questions and my answers. I found it an interesting way to look back at this year and thought you might enjoy it as blog posts. There are 21 questions in all, so I am going to break them up over a few posts over the next three days.

As you know I can get a bit ‘wordy’ so it is rather long, so I want to do it as three posts of the questions and my answers. I hope you find it interesting and not too long winded.

  • What inspired you to start this project?

Looking back now I can actually find deeper reasons for this need to return to a time period in which I never actually lived. A need to find myself in a way that I did not yet understand. Initially, I found myself drawn to the 1950s through the fashion and pop iconography as well as films of the era. It also has many preconceived ideas, at least in this country when you say 1950’s, many people have similar ideas and images. I wanted to test those ideas and assumptions and see what I found. I was not to be disappointed.

I have always had an affinity for the past. I love history and all its facets. I think many of us have read historical fiction and thought, “What if I could live then?” Although I adore the 19th century, the more I read and looked at the pop iconography and media on mid 20th century America, the more I became intrigued. It became apparent that with a few minor exceptions (computer, modern cars) I could, for the most part, really re-create 1955. Even now, thinking upon the idea gives me goose bumps.

I had seen reality shows address various time periods and was sometimes amazed at how modern the people remained within the constraints of the ‘past’. Somehow, I felt I could do it better. I had actually seen another blog of a young lady trying to relive 1950’s but she found herself really challenged and psychologically I think it was too much for her, perhaps it was because she was also a young mother. For me, I am childless. So, with a pliable husband and a willing friend (she was to become Gussie our sometimes maid) I forged ahead and have not looked back.

Now having lived as best I could in 1955 for almost a year, I have to see this choice had its own elements of psychology for me. It has changed me and challenged me in ways I never thought. Though the initial concern was wearing the clothes etc, the reality of it became the learning and skills involved in being a 1955 Homemaker, skills I now cherish and to which I wish to add.

Why the 1950’s?

Again, as I had initially found, it seemed a decade not too unlike our own in terms of technology. No home computers, but phones, cars, TV, Magazines, Dishwashers, Washer and Dryers.

Of course, this is the American version of 1950’s. I have come to find out how much this decade for Europe and other countries was in fact still very restricted with rationing continuing and very little money. But, in my country, it was  sort of re-birth  or Renaissance of the middle class. A new middle-class was coming of age. A home for every returning G.I. with a postage stamp lawn to garden and barbeque, a new car in the drive, 2.5 kids, a dog, the club, PTA; the whole epitomized reality that we now make fun of or aspire to. This American middle class concept was new and shiny.

There was certainly a middle class in America before that, but the 19th century middle class was vastly different and even exclusive of  blue collar workers or laborers. One needed to be somewhat educated or have a certain type of job. Rather a bank clerk or a lawyer, you could be various degrees of middle class, but in post WWII America, a car mechanic, a laborer, could be middle class. There was an equality to it that had not really existed before the war, I think.

I have  become so intrigued by this decade, as I do feel it was,  culturally and political, a turning point for out country. I have almost become defensive of it and its generation, as we are now mainly lead to believe that the 1960s were the liberating decade. When really the 1950’s saw many changes occur that lead into the 1960s. Rosa Parks this year, 1955, will refuse to sit on the back of the bus. There were already white picket lines pointing out the ridiculous attitude of “no blacks at the counters” in cafe’s. The overall sense of unity and a new world that occurred during this time really was the beginning of the equality we still strive for today.

Certainly, when taken out of context in the modern world, the 1950’s can seem such a time of  constriction and oppression, but put into its place not so far from, say 1900, it was a very free time. Many people were getting better jobs and wages, as I said the middle class was more open and available, and the idea that the color or our skin or our sex determined our abilities was already being questioned in a LARGE way compared to say 1910.

  • What is it that fascinates you about this era?

I really feel that we sort of stood on the precipice of  a great choice in the 1950s. Post war technology and medicine began to grow so rapidly and after all the bloodshed of the war, I think the human condition was uppermost in most peoples minds.

Somehow, though, we had a chance to embrace it all and move towards an equality that I think was very American. Yet, I feel our choice went towards what we could HAVE rather than what we could DO. This was a time when the political world was poised, through tv and such media, to really take it’s control.

It is funny to me that in the beginning of the 1950’s McCarthyism  and fear of Socialism and Communism seems to really have been used to keep we Americans in a state of fear that somehow molded us into consumers. I am actually baffled today that we do not think anything of bailing out huge companies that were failing (though they failed us in outsourcing and closing local factories to move overseas) but we still stumble when it comes to healthcare. The very right of every US citizen to be healthy. It would seem, after the carnage of WWII that healthcare for all would have been important.

Of course, at this point in time the cost of healthcare and the large growth of the insurance companies and the increase mentality of ‘lawsuits’ had not come about. But, it was the beginning.

So, this time almost has a magical moment, I think, particularly for American’s because it seems to be that point in time when we could have taken one of two paths. Yet, it is still close enough to living memory that somehow we could get back some of the good. We could have technology, modern things AND humanity. That is what I hope we can begin to realize and I honestly think study and showing the truth of this decade could help modern people to start making choices that will lead to a better America and one that is in fact more true to our countries original intent.


  • What has the response been from family and friends for your decision to spend the year in the 1950’s?

Well, my husband took it in stride. I have a lucky marriage in that my hubby and I are both creative (he writes and plays piano) and are big ‘thinkers and philosophizers’. We have done various things seen odd by friends. We once both quit our jobs, bought a sailboat and did that for six months. So, this was just another adventure: He as the middle class business man, I the happy homemaker. We have both fell rather easily into our roles, much to the surprise of a few people, I think.

I actually had an odd instance in that one of my close friendships was sort of lost due to my experiment. This particular friend was so excited by my project that she would even visit me in 1950s garb, go  girdle shopping together, and she began to talk of her own wish to be a homemaker. Unfortunately, through a series of events that I am still unclear of, she broke off from me. There was no discussion. I heard through a mutual friend that she was upset about a post I had written concerning modern video games, though she herself did not read it. She took it the wrong way. We are now starting to resume our friendship. I have come to realize that many of the realities of was coming to know questioned her self and place in the world in a way she was not, and is still not, ready to accept or consider. I was surprised by it.

I have also felt sometimes by various friends a sort of “Oh, how cute what you are doing” in a sort of thinly veiled guise of, ‘How silly’. But, as I have stuck to it and really do outwardly act and feel different, I think most people now just accept it as fact about me.

  • What’s the most important thing you have learnt?

I have learned so much. Being rather prosaic, I will rant on about them here, but I think the most important thing I learned was the importance of Self-reliability and concern for the world in which I live. Really, I have learned MATURITY.

In many ways, I feel my eyes are so open to the modern world because of this project. Even my concept of the new “green” way of thinking was challenged. I found the very act of consuming less and really reusing and repairing and saving was just a normal part of the past while our modern response to it is to buy MORE products that will somehow lead us to less waste, which of course is ridiculous.

It is odd that I needed to travel to 1955 in order to better understand 2009. It was a trip worth taking, however.


Tomorrow, I will post more of the questions and answers, I hope you enjoy it and not find it too wordy.


  1. It's never too wordy or long winded... all the more for us to enjoy! Your answers were so well written as usual. You really do have a gift. Intriguing. Thank you.

    What a great match that both you and your husband are 'big thinkers and philosophizers'. Your 'thinking' throughout this year has proven very enlightening and inspiring for us readers. I love too that you summarize what you've learnt as 'maturity and self reliance and concern for the world in which we live'. If the majority of people were so in 1950, no wonder it has the image of a better time and place in which to live. Linda

  2. "...reasons for this need to return to a time period in which I never actually lived."

    This comment is a bit OT but... It struck me... How interesting it is, to read that sentence of yours, above. You did not live in the 50's. I did.

    You had the urge to return to that time period, in which you didn't live... But in which I lived my 13 to 22 years of age. End of middle school, through High School, college and getting married.

    Not sure if I'm conveying the uniqueness of how this makes me feel? It's interesting. And it's a wee bit weird too. ,-) I lived in it. You did not. But are drawn to it.

    Sorry if none of this makes much sense. But I thought it and so, I'm commenting it.

    Aunt Amelia

  3. Haha...I LUV Auntie Amelie...she and my Auntie Toni are twins, they just don't know it!!
    I here what she is saying and I understand it as well. She's walked in those 50's shoes and we would like to have walked in those 50's shoes, so we "play dress up" so to speak...the difference, I think, is that doing it now, we can "opt out" of those things we don't care for from that time, while she couldn't.
    One of my conversations from Auntie Toni was about ladies dressing, wearing gloves and such. She said, "Then we HAD to wear them, now, now you CHOOSE to wear them. There is a big difference in being expected to do or wear something rather than to do so because it pleases you".
    I think she is right and I appreciate your Q & A here because blogs and web sites are where I learn more about those mom lived then, but she is not fond of recalling that part of her life. So by your blog and a host of others, I am enjoying getting to "play dress up" as an has always been one of my favorite pastimes!!!
    Keep up the lovely work !

  4. Fascinating. Wonderful answers

  5. Linda-thank you for the compliment!
    Aunt Ameila-not that I would dream of askin you your age, but 13-22, does that mean you were 22 in 1959? Intersting. Yet, it would have been your mother, then, I suppose who would have lived in the Depressiona and through the War years and been a war bride. How differnt the world must have seemed just between your two generations, very interesting indeed. Curious, though, are you, as someone who was there as a teen and young adult, still drawn to that time as well?
    Mrs. Bee-so true that we can Choose to wear them. I only hope those who would like to choose could feel they could do so and not feel afraid or chastised as 'weird' to want to wear vintage fashion or to use the practical as well as fashion choices of covering ones hands from germs and their head from the sun. I wonder why your mother does not remember that time fondly? And certainly, we who choose to look back and try to 're-live' a time we were not has the advantage of choosing. But, really I think that is the best way to make the present and new future, though using the wisdom and knowing the mistakes of the past. Thoughout the centuries great poets, painters, and thinkers have always looked to a past in which they were not privy to have lived. There is almost a certain magic to it, a sense of ancestral 'voices' if you will to lead us in a better future if we only listen and look.

  6. I really enjoy reading your blog, I find it very very interesting,because is something more than fashion, I mean, me, I love 50's fashion and I have always been atracted by 50's living style,all that "perfect family" style but I never would thought in try to live that way.
    I have learned a lot about the 50's thanks to you. Learned more than I see on 50's films and now I know things more realistic about that era.

    And all your answers are very good!

    What are you gonna do when you fisnish your 55's year? are you going to continue living this way or will you leave it?
    And if you decide to live 45 year be sure I'll continue following you!

    Thanks for doing this project because not only you enjoy it, all your followers do it!! =)

  7. I have been reading your blog, and loving it! That you have been able to "re-create" the past and use the good and wisdom of that time is so wonderful. You said "knowing the mistakes of the past I think that is the best way to make the present and new future" - that is also, so true.
    I am a homemaker and a homeschooling Mom to two little girls, our family chooses to live by 50's ideals - breakfast with Daddy and send him off to work - I work and play with the girls, my girls play outside with other neighborhood children on the afternoons we don't have dance - we always eat dinner together.
    I admire your dressing vintage, I have not as of yet. I would like too, my girls wear lots of dresses and people always ask if we have just had pictures made. Funny.
    I love reading everything you post and the comments.
    Thank you.

  8. Samantha-thank you so much. I am so glad this project has begun to build this community of women who also enjoy the past and think using it as a scope to make the future is a sound decision.

  9. How wonderful and fascinating! I'm curious to know if you will continue this after the year is over?

  10. Some like it vintage-I am going to continue on for the most part. I will most likely restrict less modern things, but because of how I have been affected, I will most likely reinterpret things into the vein of a 50's homemaker. There is too much learnt and still to learn to just suddenly return to modern girl who shops and wear jeans. I think that person might be gone forever.

  11. You are resuming your friendship – congrats on that. That really warmed my heart to know. And thank you for a fabulous post, I enjoyed it from start to end. You are a gifted writer, and you should take it further – how about writing a book? You can even draw sketches for it too. And please, please, please make an “apron revolution” network. I cannot, will not, even consider living without your great inspiration.

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