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.