We really can see the beginning of the consumer driven world starting in post war USA. We could even say it is the launching pad to today's economy and consumer world. Yet, there is an innocence and a hope about it.
I have said this before, and most likely will again, that the 1950’s USA seems an almost pivotal point in time that one can reference for learning to live in the modern world. It seems to have an almost magical mythical quality about it. In fact, today it is almost an Avalon, if you will. Rather we see it as a time of white bread American elitism or as it truly was: a time when the country as a whole had an almost shared consciousness of ‘let’s make it all bright and shiny and new and forget the past’, it seems to reverberate with most people on some level.
Now,who could blame those new families in the 1950s wanting so much new and shiny and plastic. After two world wars, the Depression and so much loss of life and really a break up of what many had thought was the ‘normal’ world for centuries. Yet, in that hope of new and better, I think we somehow followed the wrong path to where we are now.
Certainly, one could say the paths are relative to your situation, but I don’t believe so. Somehow the newness, the production, the new plastic furniture, medicine, houses, clothes, and toys that were the answer to every problem just got the better of us. I think we began to see the product more than the people. The original intent was certainly to make a better world for future generations, but as anyone can see that is not what is happening.
Christmas is a good example of this. The 1950’s really saw the explosion of the ‘over the top’ Christmas in the this country. Cheaply made goods and toys were flooding the market from war torn Japan (the China of the 1950’s) and everything was easy and new and rather cheap. People wanted to celebrate and forget about the scrimping and saving of the past and to make a better happier future for their children. Unfortunately, I think this only lead to spoiled children who could not understand the context of the immense amount of commercialization of Christmas, as they were not around for the wars and the Depression. Good intentions gone bad.
So today, really, I think it is our responsibility to fix that. I know it is hard, but gosh darn it, it is worth it! And, in many ways, I find myself going back to the 1950’s as a sort of touchstone. A place in our recent past that we can relate to for its TV, Plastics, NEW, and Consumer intent, but yet it was in its infancy. It’s innocence can help us to use this as a guide. Perhaps if we could steer ourselves back to the beginning of the consumerism, than we could get a better handle on it. It makes for an easier transition. I am not sure if I am making myself clear, but by referring to this decade we could use it as a means to slowly taper off the current trend in our country to spend and spend without care of where or how it is made or the expense and loss to our own economy and environment.
A smoker is aided by a nicotine patch. It is a little ‘jolt’ of what they are used to and it helps them to wean themselves off the addiction. I have found 1955 to be a sort of ‘nicotine patch of consumerism’, if you will. There is enough in it that is familiar. There are the TV shows, “Oh, I understand that” there are inexpensive goods available for all, ‘Oh, that is familiar” and then you can sort of walk your way backwards into the decade to see some helpful changes. “Wait, there is no Old Navy to buy endless ‘same clothes’ made by Chinese children, but I can make or buy a vintage dress and wait it has more style? More individuality?” Sure there are McDonalds and greasy food joints, but wait, a post roast Sunday dinner with all the trimmings is so easy and cheap to make. You sort of can wean yourself from some of the ills of today.
I really think there is a sort of prescriptive magic to this decade. It has a little bit of everything for all of us to look to and adjust our modern way of living for the better.
I am going to be getting more into wanting to be self-sufficient. To garden and grow more. There is a movement like that today, yet I feel I want to do that but also have the time to make part of my life ‘stylish’. That is to say, I want to be out there in my Wellies in the muck planting my crops and tending my chickens, but then I want to clean up, put on my prettiest frock and petticoat, a darling little hat and go to town.
I feel somehow that the ‘various’ movements of ‘vintage’ or ‘self-sustaining’ the ‘modern hippy’ they are all separate and feel they need to draw a line in the sand and throw mud at one another, when really they are all of the same ilk. One who cares about fashion certainly can care about gardening and its design, they really share so much. Someone who wants to learn to grow and can and preserve can also find joy in a pretty dress or a moment of personal style our grandmothers did! I think one is not contradictory to another. I think there is as much importance as personal style that could help our consumer driven modern world. It is easy to buy cheaply made things at chain stores, but then one gets slovenly and lazy. I honestly believe there is a REAL tangible correlation between our appearance and how we approach our day and life. If we are dressed as if always comfortable to go to bed, then perhaps we shall all day feel that way. A nice style and uniqueness also leads to one wanting to make up their own look without having to always turn to the mass produced ill made cheap things. Buying hand made, making your own and buying old clothes is also great for the environment and your local economy, as well as good for you own well being and your personal view.
I guess I am saying that as 1955 draws to a close, I am replenished with the idea that it has come to mean a new philosophy of life for me that is all inclusive. We don't’ have to have sides. This modern concept of defining oneself by the ‘group we belong to’: “Oh, I am into this, so here are the things I buy that represent that. Or this is my philosophy, so part of my energy must be spent in talking down those who do not share it or talk of how ignorant they are compared to me.” It is a damaging way to be, but really it just makes us more formed into little product niches. I am a Goth teen therefore I want and do only these things and buy this. We have allowed ourselves to become demographic markets easier to be sold to. Why limit yourself to any one thing? The definitions of ourselves have become marketing tools.
The whole world is out there and full of wonder and interesting things. I want to know I can build a house, raise a chicken, plant a crop, but also sew a dress I designed, wear it stylishly to the city, enjoy a concert, read read read and study and write my thoughts down. I don’t want to be defined by a specific point or item, yet 1955 has allowed me to realize this. I know now that I will most likely always refer back to the first half of the 20th century, as it has so much to teach me and us. I just hope that any of you out there who do want a change or maybe you look at your life and think, ‘hmmm, I think I am okay but I feel sort of blah or something is missing’ that you can really take a look back and see that we are not what we buy or spend.
We do not have to be defined by whatever ‘look’ or ‘philosophy’ is going at present. The true core to happiness seems to be becoming a true well rounded person. To cook, clean, learn, study, question, sew, paint, write, garden, build, darn, iron the list can go on. Those things we continually try to find ways to do easier or not at all are really part of being alive. It is who we are as a species. So, the next time you buy that premade dinner because it’s easy, think of what you are doing with the time you are saving by not making it yourself. Are you doing it so you can sit and watch a show you have seen 5 times already? Is that living? Is that life? There could be moments of living and realization in that kitchen when you are reading the cookbook, cutting those vegetables, tying up that bird with string that IS living! Be careful what you so easily toss away to convenience and modern living. If you are bored and feel aimless it is because you have purchased away your humanity, your independence. Why pay to give up the joys of living?
Well, enough of my soapbox, though it does feel good to be on it again!
Now, to brass tacks, if you will. I am STILL ill and can barely talk. Everyday I get a little stronger, but find I need to rest in between my usual daily chores. I have notices that being sick in 1955 after all the skills I have begun to gain and the amount of activity I do in one day is so much more frustrating that the old modern sickness. Then, so what, sit and watch TV and drink oj how much different is that than not being sick? But, now I see all the things I need to do. Then, when I do a 1/4 of them, find myself exhausted from the work of it! It is a sort of fitting way to put all I have learned and now do in perspective, that is for sure. I appreciate where I have got to this year and where I can still go.
It is unfortunate that I am sick this month, however, as I love Christmas. I always have. And there are so many darling ‘home-made’ gifts and food and decorations at this time (1955) so I do want to have a go at them! Let’s see what I can muster today.
In one of my Christmas Magazines for 1955 there is a fun spread of different Kitchen Gifts they are fun and most of these could be had today fairly inexpensive through ebay or local thrift shops. This one is of particular interest as you see the little television making its appearance as a kitchen ‘necessity’. I love the fabric. You can also see as the Decade progresses the mixture of the more sleek modern with the increasing interest in ‘Early American’ or ‘Colonial’ look. The numbering and decoration of the wall clock has a modern antiquity compared with the more straight lined edges of the earlier decade. Also the use of gold tones and brass is beginning to be incorporated into kitchen design. This will of course culminate in what I rather think the most unappealing decade of Kitchen design, the 1970’s when ‘Spanish colonial’ is in vogue with dark stained wood, avocados and gold and overtly turned spindles and overly adorned dark wood plays its role accented by the avocado green shag carpet of the family room. From the same magazine spread comes the color combination I love and is rather modern today: turquoise and brown. Again, you can see the feeling of a slight decorative edge to the modernity, as in the clear glass canister's turquoise design. I actually love these and maybe one day will find them. The heating/chaffing dish in turquoise is also lovely. You can also notice now, halfway through the decade, that the magazines are beginning the layout we still use today, that is photographing items of similar color and utility together into an almost modern composition. This is still done today in many magazines which, for the most part, have become advertising flyers we pay for. Pretty colors, though, are they not?
Now, here are some fun holiday decorations to make 1950’s style: I love this ‘Glass Plate Christmas Tree’. It could really be done up modern or in this fun retro way with things you have around the house. And here is the How to:(as usual, just click on the image and it will become large enough to read) I think you could also use, in place of the disposable pie plates, cute colored cupcake papers cut as flowers and add a petit fors in reds and greens!
I will be sharing my fun ‘how to’ decorations and gifts this month. Do any of you think you might attempt any of these if I were to include more?
Now, though I am excited about my new Dione Lucas French Cooking book and want to make such lovely desserts as Souffle’ au caramel froid (cold caramel souffle’), one cannot but help being drawn into that very American Dessert of the 1950’s: garishly showy, sometimes overtly literal and always creamy and sugared. So, look at these four lovely pies:
Now, as most of my energy has now been spent on this post, I must rest before I attempt laundry (I know it isn’t Monday, but a gal’s schedule is all over during her illness!).
I think I will leave you with this cute video I found on YouTube. It really shows no matter what time or persuasion, the most important part of the holiday or really of your life, is friends and families and the memories you make.