Wednesday, April 8, 2009

7 & 8 April 1955 “Spring Fashion, a Rant, and a Confession”

trio clothes spring clothes 1 spring clothes 2 spring clothes 3
I thought I would butter you up with pretty fashion pages, skip history and go straight into a rant.

I was thinking today how this journey to 1955 started very immaturely, in a way. I approached it, as most people from 25-45 today probably do, with an almost immature approach. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, but I have come to see our modern group of ‘adults’ as a sort of giant collection of grown children when compared with our 1950s counterparts. Most of us, I know there are many exceptions out there, have never really had to grow up. We wander form our over protected youths to mindless high school to over specialized university. We hold onto our cartoons and toys of youth, or we replace them with new ones. We look around, trying to find meaning and purpose and only knowing, really, that consuming is the only constant. It has always been there. It fills a need. We think, “Oh, I am ‘this sort of person’” and then go out and buy the accoutrement to fulfill that need. Oh, I love comics, or video games, or I love the old toys and things of yesteryear” and we think, in owning these, in somehow having them in our possession we have some holy grail. Like talismans we clutch our items to our bosom and wait for that feeling of worth, of belonging of hope. Only, it never comes. It is just a thing. It might represent something: lost youth, hope for a better childhood than you had, a sense of belonging, feeling that you are part of ‘this or that’ crowd. Really, what is behind any of the trends we need to fill ourselves with is just worth and a sense of self. In the bombardment of consumerism in which we are faced daily, how could we ever feel uniquely ourselves? We try to ‘make’ ourselves through a series of purchases. “I have this or collect this so I am ‘this sort of person’.” But, honestly, we are all just people who are so disconnected.
It is funny to me to realize how many things are at are fingertips. It is so easy to communicate with those we know, email, text, cell, right there at our fingertips. But, now we have all this technology and we find we have nothing to say to one another, we shorten our phrases from their already banal meaning to a few letters or a colon and half a parenthesis. But, are we smiling? Are we winking? ;) Are those two key strokes really expressing what it took poets pages and pain to express? Or, is it our little ‘SOS’ to anyone out there. “help me. I want to feel better. I bought more things and I still don’t feel whole. I am communicating but no one is really hearing me.”I may be alone in this feeling, I know. But, it is still an honest feeling.
So, the point of this rant is that when I first approached this project I thought, “Oh, I really like vintage things. I had always been more ‘into’ the 19th century. Their novels and art and even their clothing, but I am really inspired by the 1950’s so I will try that” When my project began, I promised myself it would not just be about the fashion, rather or not I wore seamed stockings when I vacuumed, etc. And, yet, so enmeshed in my own 21st century consumer society, that my search for the ‘next thing’ was immediately followed by, “alright, I need to buy some vintage dishes and some vintage this and that”. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still doing that. However, now I find I am doing it not only because I have come to enjoy the lines and style of the period, but because they are inexpensive well made things that obviously do not break down in two years like the stuff you usually get at Wal-Mart, target, home depot etc. Now, I am trying to surround myself with well made inexpensive things, to scale down my ownership and to donate all the things I don’t need or want to those who can actually use them. I admit, there still is a certain ‘magic’ quality for me in old items. I do sometimes come across an old appliance or item that I am sure went unloved and sat in an attic and then I remember, it is an inanimate object. It feels nothing. I am merely transferring my own emotional state onto it. I can hold that old magazine that may have sat upon the lap of an old homemaker while she laughed with her children, now grown and smiled at her husband, perhaps now dead and sat at bridge and gossiped with her friends and neighbors, but I do not get to own her. I do not get to just buy something and magically become transformed to her life. WE live in a time of instant gratification. We are told we can solve all of our problems by buying this or that or taking this or that pill or reading this book with all the answers. But, having something easily is not always worth the having of it. How dare I try and have a life that was fulfilling and rich with laughter and happiness, trauma and sadness, loss over war and coming together in a community by purchasing their old things! It should not be that easy! So, what do you do? There you are sat down in your piles of things that you want to co-opt into your own life and it is just so much accumulated detritus.
Well, I am coming to realize if I want to be, or any of us want to become, more like this or that person or to take on the qualities of vintage times that we admire, we have to work at it. We cannot just buy the product and ta-dah! there we are happy and transformed.  I am finding that what I love and cherish of this generation, their community spirit, their ability to make do and to smile through hardship, cannot be bought. It has to happen. You have to not just wear their fashions, you have to go out and try to make a difference. In your own home and how you respond to things. How you shop. How you connect to your community and family. But, in doing it and failing along the way or being unhappy in it, now you are building character and a real life. I don’t know if I will ever live up to what I think those 1950’s homemakers were, and they probably never lived up to their predecessors either, but in trying, in being self-aware and caring for others, for people more than whether or not you ‘fit in’ or you are part of this or that group or you buy the right things or you wear the right clothes.
Now, I think one of the reasons I have taken to the clothing so easily is not what I originally thought, which was that they are pretty. They are. But, in not having to look at a magazine cover and try to copy it (it is odd as most of my magazines do not have models all over it talking of how great they look, how much weight they lost, or young they look etc) or worry if I need to have this or that style, I feel I have found my own real style. I feel an almost calm about my clothing to know that I can get rid of all those things that are too tight that I ‘might fit into some day’ or things that are sort of crazy that I thought I might wear one day and bought on a whim and it just hangs there with the tags still on. Now, I know I need a certain number of skirts and dresses. Work dungarees. Some nice wool trousers for winter, nice cotton, linen, and seersucker pedal pushers for summer and that is it. I can add to my wardrobe as I like, through my own hand at my sewing machine, or at thrift stores and if I find a deal on eBay. I now can look and feel good and it costs little and I will TAKE CARE of the clothes I have. I actually have a mending basket. Something that never existed for me before 1955. Before, it was just ‘easier’ to toss out socks with holes or sweaters, why not you could buy up some new ones so cheap at old navy etc. But, that is how they get you and that is why we want everything so quickly and then feel empty when we get it without work. There is pride in mending you own sock. I know it sounds hokey, but it is true. There is pride in a neat closet of things you made or take care of and hope to have forever, if you can manage it. The amount of money we spend on ‘just getting some quick things cheap’ add up. We all spend more even though things are so much less expensive today than in 1955. But, this false world of easy pleasure without the work is empty. At least it was for me. I didn’t realize how empty and pointless I really felt until I began digging for this project.
I have come to find the actual processes of 1955 work meaningful. The fact that I can find happiness in shining my coffee pot and canisters. Before, I would not have cared and watched TV instead. I used to play this video game, “the Sims”. I am not sure if any of you know what it is. When the second version came out, I was so excited. It is one of the MOST popular video games ever and even people who don’t normally play video games love it. And, do you know what it is? Simulated living. You make your house how you like it. You go to work and find a career or work at home and raise kids. You have generations etc. Another example of an easy solution to a very natural tendency in people. So, there you sit, your own actual home not being cared for or your friends and family on hold while you slip into the fantasy of this world. Sims 3 is coming out this year and I had to laugh when I heard. This news would have been received with much excitement in 2008, now I wonder, how did I ever have time to play a video game and why waste my time on a false world when I now get to play the “The Sims” in real life. Sure, it is easier to build a house and furnish it in an hour, but it is not as rewarding as doing it over time, with my own hands and mind and then getting to live in it and share it with others. When I heard about Sims 3 coming out, I really thought about it. I realized how far I have come in three months. Who knew this ride would take me to an actual life. This one attempt at trying to buy my way into a new ‘definition of myself’ has lead me to find the real me. I just feel bad to see so many people feeling empty and trying to fill their lives with things or games. Fun and entertainment is important, but all fun and the constant need to amuse or to ‘get away from it all’ is a sad example of a decline of a generation. The world should not be so bad to people that they need to escape into an unreal world or to try and define and make themselves happy through buying things that they think make them into the person they want to be. The real solution is to just work at it. Try and reach out to people and really look at what you are buying. Maybe you want to learn a real instrument instead of playing a video game version. Maybe you want a real family and not just run one on a video game. Just because you dress like Paris Hilton doesn’t mean you will have jets at your disposal and endless travel. But, why settle for a sham life of someone else’s ideal when you can build and make your own so good and so fulfilling and so uniquely your own.
I have so much more to learn and it will be a long time before I can ever fully shake my initial response to things through consumerism. It is so ingrained in all of us, we cannot help it. In yesterday’s blog a commenter pointed out that I said, “Oh I need one of these vintage nut choppers, but I used a knife and board instead” and called me on the fact that I was, at that point, wanting to buy something I didn’t need and in fact felt I did. That is what is so amazing about this project for me. I certainly do not think I am infallible or that I ‘have all the answers’. In fact, I am just learning and in my realizations am probably saying many things some of you already know. But, you see, I am so FAR from where I want to be in this realization that I welcome things like that. On my own I will catch myself in my moments of ‘I need to buy this’, but I don’t always, and that is why I like the community of this blog. I can definitely see, though, that with an actual community of people whom you would be involved with on a daily basis, you would most likely be a ‘better’ person, not because you were trying to be who you aren’t in front of others, but because you are trying to be the ‘best you’ you can and having others around almost fuels you to be ‘good’. It is so much easier to be slothful and ‘bad’ when you are more isolated. Even those of us with busy social lives, compared to 1950’s families, I think there is still a lot of alone time. Today children may have to be driven to soccer and ballet and have this and that and go with friends etc and when they are home everyone is on their own computer or individual TV. That most likely was not happening in 1950’s (especially the computer) there was more together time as you just really had to have it. Even TV time had to be together as there was only one if you were lucky enough to own one.
Yesterday at dinner when I was discussing the new dining room with hubby and gussie they both sort of laughed and said, ‘Until you get sick of it and change everything around again’. Normally I would have laughed and they would have been right. But, I got serious and said, “No. That person is gone now. I am doing this house over both to make a nice place for us to live in as well as a way to just get my life more solid and tangible. After that, I am focusing on my community.” It was odd to hear it out loud. It was true, as well. It is as if this redoing of my home, this settling into this one place, is a sort of cathartic moment to rid myself of all the things I don’t like about who the modern me was/is. I still have that need to consume and shop and collect up things. But, it is becoming less important. Even my decision to construct built in furnishings into each room is almost a physical statement to myself and others that ‘this is it’, this stays here and this is where these dishes go. They look nice and I love them as an object but that is it, I can walk away and care more about other things like people and community. I am hoping, by the end of 1955, that I have done a lot to have my home ‘set’ and I have unfettered myself quite a bit from the modern concept of buy, change, collect up, unorganized and feel better by going shopping and buying more etc. The endless hamster wheel of consumerism is no place to be a real adult or to be a fulfilled human being. I want off, and I am getting off. Who knew buying things could be so harmful and simple things like caring for your home mending socks could be so fulfilling. I don’t want to listen to the modern lie of ‘gimme gimme it’ll make me happy’ any more.
Now, I know, I really do, that I should just leave my house alone and go out NOW into my community. I can harp on about consumerism all I want, but it is a hard habit to break. I honestly feel like my doing over my house (which honestly I sort of had to do as we are turning a duplex back into a single house) is a cathartic moment for me. It is a big part of this year’s project which has come to mean more about changing my personal life into one in which I can be proud. I know that I do not NEED to go out and buy new trim work and paint to make over my dining room. I know I don’t NEED to donate my old stuff and buy ‘new used things cheap’, but somehow I feel like I am in consumer rehab. I am in the rehab center to cure my disease: 21st century consumerism. It is very contagious and it sneaks up on you and it is a monkey on your back and hard to shake.
“Hello, I am 50’s Gal and I am a consumer” I seem to be saying, here at my meeting of Consumer Anonymous. It is not easy for me to shake what I really feel has been a part of my physical and emotional makeup. It is such a part of me that I have to do a sort of personal lobotomy to loosen myself from the grip. I am sure many of you are not as bad as me, perhaps and I am asking for you patience. I will slip up. I will make mistakes and I will fall back into the ‘Oh, I need to go buy that”. It is a hard habit to break, but honestly I am trying. I am doing it because I have seem moments of my life when it has been better that I wanted to do something on my own instead of having someone or something do it for me. That I have felt good, walking through HomeGoods, filling my cart with this or that for a few dollars and then stopping myself and saying, NO and walking out. I like the feeling. When I would spend an afternoon shopping now I spend it in my yard or tearing down a wall or simply shinning my coffee maker. Maybe I am still a product of ‘things’. Maybe in my need to make my home a certain way to feel I am in control of it is still a part of a society based on things, I don’t know anymore. I just know that I do want my home clean and organized and free of unnecessary clutter. I want to be able to go out and be a part of my community. And, please, be patient with me in that respect as well. I want to and need to, but I am a little afraid almost. I tell myself, “when I get the house done I will do this” and I know I should not say that but do it anyway. I do need to and I will try. I think having this project to hold myself accountable for is a major aide in helping to change my life. I think many of we modern people have very little accountability. I am finding when that is gone, many people won’t do or act or live the way that maybe they should. I used to think, modern girl that I was, ‘who cares’. I have no specific beliefs and I felt that most of the roles and rules had broken down and for the better too. You can do what you what, have fun, there really is no ‘right way’ to be. But, I am finding, even if that might be true, there should be a right way. Without structure we can feel disconnected and with no connection we feel little accountability for our actions. Perhaps much of the breakdown of society as we know it IS due to that very fact. What to do to change it, I don’t know. All I know is I have turned to the 1950’s as a sort of guide. A wiser older woman as mentor who does not judge, but by her actions, her clean home, happy smile, nice meals, pretty and clean appearance makes me want to live up to her. Who do we have to live up to now? The other day I saw some modern magazines, women’s magazines, and they all had various stars on the cover in skimpy outfits with headings about who was heavier or whose body fat got caught on the camera. WHO CARES! Honestly, who cares, but many must or they wouldn’t be putting it out there. Maybe, if anyone wants to change their life, they should find that accountability factor. For some it might be religion, for others perhaps the ideals of the past could stand as a guide for them, an older wiser person who, by their example, you want to live up to. Would this person do this or that? No. I admire and respect that person, so I am not going to do it.
That is probably why this project is so good on me. I am and have been such a consumer and a person who wanted and reveled in instant gratification, that this trip to being a responsible homemaker of another era is that much more a stark contrast for me. I am sure there are plenty of you who already ironed your sheets, shopped locally etc, but I didn’t. This somehow makes me a good guinea pig, I think. Speaking of being a Guinea pig in my own experiment, I was a subject of such an experiment:
Yesterday I was hurled into the 21st century. In the moment of it, I first felt guilty and then thought, ‘well this is fun anyway so who cares’. Here is what happened, and this is my confession.
What is a vintage girl to do? Honestly I am not a true time-traveler but in the sense that I am one, I was suddenly rocketed to the modern world in a rush. I felt that at that moment I was a true time-traveler and here is my journal entry from that moment:
“I had spent the afternoon working in the house, as was normal for a Tuesday. The ironing basket called out to me, it’s contents brimming and waiting to be pressed. The day was sunny and I was going to allow myself some garden time as a treat, in between making dinner and my other daily chores.  Then, like a flash of light, I was teleported to the modern world. There were loud noises, flashing lights, and laughter. A group of people were apparently plugged into some odd machine and staring at a wall filled with images as one would see at the picture show! The colors were vibrant and they danced upon the wall. The people seemed to gyrate and move with the rhythmic music that was more noise than song. They pressed their fingers and beat upon a strange series of circles, there were mutterings of “dang, oops I missed’ mingled with laughter as the pulse , the cacophony of noise and sound washed over me. The scantily clad cartoonish people on the virtual stage seemed to mock my crisp ponytail and neat skirt and neck scarf. Where had I landed? Was this some strange new world? Was I even on earth?”
No, I was in my friends living room and they were playing Rock Band. I am not sure all of you know what that it is, but it is a video game that allows you to ‘play’ on instruments that are plastic controllers molded to be like a guitar and set of drums and a microphone etc. I was lured in with the siren song of bad music, flashing lights, and laughter of my friends. I thought, “Oh, well. I don’t get to see this friend very often, so I’ll just join in and that way we can hang out”. Two hours later we wondered where the pretty sunny day had gone and I said maybe 20 odd words to my friend. There was a pleasure to it, but it sort of represented all I had been thinking about that day. The no accountability and instant gratification. Why learn real instruments or just hang out and talk with your friends when you can be a group of grown people ‘pretending to play in a rock band’. It should just  be a simple fun time, but I thought of what I had missed. I had let the rest of my day go. My shirts went un-ironed. My dining room missed a day of my redo schedule. The garden sat, wondering where I had gone, as the sun set on it. Did I have fun? I had the sort of fun I have had in the past, which was actually the future (21st century) but now that sort of fun is ruined for me. I don’t think it is bad, but I cannot enjoy it. There is so much I would rather do than that. At the end of the day of even a simple day of cleaning and decorating, I feel good. I have an exhaustion and happiness and can see and live in my results. After a few hours of such a video game I felt tired, dizzy and dreaded going home and working on dinner. The thing I actually enjoy doing. I can see how easy it would have been to just order pizza, let the house go and continue on. I can see the lure of the modern world and it’s ease, but now I see the result of it. That person I was in 2008, I don’t want to go back. I was a child, I had fun, but now, I actually LIKE being a grown up. I am sure this sounds silly to many of you who are much more advanced than I, but I know for me the realization of adulthood is new and I strive for it. IT will be a long a rocky road ahead, but by the sweat of my brow and the use of my brain and intellect I will build a better me and not be made by the things around me, what I put in the shopping cart and sit back and idle in.
I am not really sure where I am going with this rant other than I want to change, that I know I do, but realize what a long road ahead of have. It will be hard work and I will slip up, but I think that will make the voyage the better and me a fuller more real person at its end. Easy is there for any of us. We can be a rock star with our friends, just plug in watch the screen and push the buttons. But, we can also learn the guitar in real life and play it quietly for ourselves or with our friends around a fire or even put a video of ourselves up on youtube for others to enjoy, but we don’t have to all be famous. I just think that the marketing plays into that need and makes us feel that way. How will we ever be truly happy if we want to chase a false dream and only fulfill it in a false reality.
I hope I can be forgiven. I am back, safely in 1955, but bruised and battered emotionally. You see, I have to realize how much of the modern consumer and instant pleasure world is a part of me? When I begin to strip that away, what will be left of me? Am I person under all my objects? It is truly, sometimes, frightening, but I don’t want to turn back. I realize, as well, that I cannot honestly just live safely as if it is 1955. I am going to continue this year to adhere as much as possible to it, as it is this which is helping me to realize the truth of my modern time and to be a better person, but to be able to touch up and brush up against 2009 whilst living in 1955 is more educational than just closing my eyes, shoving my fingers in my ears and shouting “I’m in 1955! LA LA LA”. I am glad that yesterday happened. It made the things I am finding and learning sparkle a little more today. I felt a little bit more grounded in the present while surrounding myself with the past. This is becoming an interesting ride and I am glad you are all along with me.
I never want to seem like I am trying to tell anyone how to live. I am only just discovering these things new myself and am finding a new sort of happiness I have not felt before. I am not perfect and I have so much to still learn. I really do feel, though, that I cannot go back. I have gone too far in now. To use a modern comparison, I have taken the red pill (whatever color pill it was, I don’t recall) in the Matrix and now I see the reality. I don’t want to go back and lie down in the goo and be plugged into a false world. I think I would rather be isolated and feel what I now feel than to feel connected to others through things that don’t honestly give me any true happiness or fulfillment. That is not for everyone. Many people need that feeling of ‘belonging’. I just wish that feeling could come outside of some of our modern ways. I have not found such a group as of yet and who knows, maybe when I start my vintage club I will meet others as wholeheartedly committed as am I, but until then I feel I may have to bump up on those in the modern plugged in world for moments of that sort of happiness, but like a foreign friend I will be able to visit a little but then must again return to my native land. As I said, this land has a very low population right now, me and I do get visitors, but maybe someday I can increase the population. I cannot completely not be connected to my current friends, but there is a part of me, now, that makes me unable to be wholly there with modern fun. I hope I have made the right decision, but I know I cannot turn back now, I have looked behind the curtain. I know the wizard is just some guy pulling levers and I cannot close the curtain and pretend to believe in the GREAT OZ. Have I ruined myself? Am I becoming an anachronism to my life? Who can tell. Only time will tell. I do appreciate all of you coming along for the ride. 
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