Tuesday, July 6, 2010

6 July 1956 “1950’s Models and Our Body Image”

This image of one of the famous models of the 50’s, Jean Patchett, is quite intriguing to me. First off, I adore that suit and cannot see how a body hugging outfit that also stays in place when you move, is not considered sexy today. Or at least, that is what I assume, since modern bathing suits seem to be less fabric than a handkerchief and held up by the grace of God.
Jean Patchett was one of the five or six main models of the 1950’s (their version of supermodel, only better dressed off camera). So, the second thing I find interesting about this image are her legs. In many photos of Jean in dresses, you can see her very thin frame, yet here, in a bathing suit with no girdle and her thighs showing, you can see she has a ‘natural’ thigh. And by ‘natural’ I mean it is not so overtly muscled that one needs to constantly be pounding energy drinks and doing 800 reps on the stair master.modernwoman The ability to maintain this sort of basically male musculature would be all consuming. And I have to say, when I saw the thighs on Jean in that bathing photo, I suddenly felt better about my own legs. That tells me the POWER of media, even here in 1956. To see someone in the high fashion world suddenly have what we would consider in 2010 as ‘thick thighs’ does wonders for a gal.
jan1950vogueJean came onto the scene at the very beginning of the 1950’s in Vogues quintessential 1 January 1950 cover. Her face, with her natural beauty mark, set a tone for make up and the look of the coming decade.
The other main models of the decade were Dovima dovima , Dorian Leighdorienleigh , Suzy Parkersuzyparker , Evelyn Trippevenlyntripp and Lisa Fonssagriveslisafonssagraves
Now, it is clear to see that all these models are certainly thinner than your average housewife, but they have a real body. You can see in Evelyn Tripp’s photo with the cat, her arms are shapely not skeletal. I am sure the sad bit of these women is cigarettes probably paid a major role in their weight and I know Jean Patchet dies in 2002 of emphysema. That is one lie I wish I could tell the ladies here in 1950’s, about the tobacco companies. And, oddly enough, if they simply made a cigarette with tobacco and no tar and added chemicals and bits of minute broken glass so one’s lips receive tiny slits to therefore become addicted quicker, perhaps cigarettes would have taken another turn. The greed and insatiable demand to want more and more money and not be happy with a good income making a trustworthy product has been taking over the American conscious since the turn of the 20th century. The new man, the Industrialist, wanted it all and at any cost. I wish, in any time, we could learn to curb that human trait. But, I suppose, really we are simply using our animal instinct to take and take to survive, but we are meant to be civilized, which means to think and consider.
Well, I am not sure how a photo of a bathing suit made me think of all that. Yet, there it is. I suppose my only point was, then I saw that image of that famous and thin model and saw her legs, even a hint of what we would call cellulite today, I suddenly felt a little better about myself. Sometimes 1956 can be very forgiving and uplifting to a gal.jeanpatchettsuit2 Even here, we can see she is very thin, yet see the softness in her leg. There is a spot where here bathing suit cuts into her leg and has a bulge. This, I think, is natural. The leg is not meant to be a stone pillar. It can have a beauty in its softness. That doesn’t mean be unhealthy, but I wonder, is it healthy for your mind to worry about what ‘squishes out’? And, 2010 fashions, with their low rise and where they hit the body, is just asking to make folds and ‘squishes’, it is a scary cycle of impossible body shape, unflattering fashion, and photo shopped photos on magazine covers.
When Gussie and I were at the 4th of July parade, we made note of many fuller frames that would have looked so good in a simple cotton dress hitting the waist and a fuller skirt to cover the ‘bulges’ and turn them into the lovely soft female silhouette. Yet, these frames, really the average frame, looks like a tree trunk as there is no shape to the tops and the shorts hit below the waist, forming, basically, a large lump with a head. Now, I know it is not everyone’s responsibility to look nice for me, far from it, but I wonder how much better they would feel about themselves. Even without losing weight, that modern game “Oh, I will get that or wear that once I lose this many pounds” would be a weight less wretched with a 50’s silhouette. Why wait? You can always bring in the dress. But, the boon to your self esteem, the way it makes you feel is worth it. And the 50’s shape does not have to be done all out vintage, if you wear a 1950’s full skirted dress without a petticoat, no  gloves or hat and simple sandals, you will not look old fashioned and you WILL look better shaped.
Well, just for fun, here are more fashion shots of Jean to enjoy. Yes, she is model thin, but many of these outfits would do wonders for a fuller figure.
jeanpatchett2 jeanpatchettanddovima jeanpatchett3 jeanpatchett4 jeanpatchett5
Happy Homemaking and Dressmaking!


  1. Hi there, found you through "Story book ranch" because the blog title intrigued me! I love it! I am a 1957 girl and this is a darling blog! I am now you latest followere and would like to extend the invitation to come follow along with another "boomer" on my blog. Would really love to have you along for the ride...I'm looking forward to reading more on your little place in life here as well!

  2. I believe that some time ago I was reading about Marilyn Monroe's size etc. and the article stated that by today's standards she would have been considered fat. She was 5'5" and weighed abour 145-150. What a pity? We put such emphasis on weight and size in our society after all this time. I agree with what you said about the style of clothes today. I don't wear shorts unless I'm working out and then rarely. I don't think they flatter my figure. I think most women today really don't understand how to dress for their figure type. They don't really style themselves at all and have no idea of how to put things together. I think that's one major difference between the generations. I feel lucky because my grandmother raised me and she was a true woman of style. Even when she wore slacks she always wore a jacket and a pin.

  3. I really love your blog! It is so true that nowadays models look so terrible thin and sometimes even arkward. A friend of mine's sister started modelling a while ago and when my husband and I saw her setcard, my husband said: she's looking like a robot not like a pretty woman.

  4. Great post and very true. The "muffin top" does nobody good. Whose idea were those short waisted pants. It's funny in the 60's when they were called hip-huggers, you don't see photos of the "muffin top". Girls who should not wear hip-huggers (due to stomach buldge)didn't..or did they?

    I love the soft flowing fashion of the 50's, although when sewing patterns the waist is always a bit too small.

  5. Wouldn't you think, if for no other reason, women would embrace vintage styles, as we have? A full skirt looks much nicer than tight jeans or shirts if you carry weight where most women do.

  6. It is just true that a fuller skirt is not only a good camouflage but also quite comfortable. Even on a hot July day, a breezy cotton dress is more comfortable than shorts for a 'fuller figured' girl.
    Terry-Welcome, only I am not a BOOMER. And my 'persona' 50sgal is definitely not a boomer, my 1957 ME would have been a teen in the Late Depression and a married gal during the War, my children, had I any, would be Boomers. I am glad you have joined along, though welcome.
    American girl primative- I was thinking if Marilyn was 5 5 and 150 that means a 6 foot woman with the same weight proportion would be 220. Today she would definitely be considered fat. Back then, the models were rather thin, yet movie stars had more actual bodies (such as marilyn) today actresses also seem to be dangerously rail thing. I was amazed, though, how in an instant seeing the 'thicker thigh' on Patchett made me feel good, in that moment without any thought. We really don't realize just how much the media (and boy oh boy is the modern woman surrounded by it) affects our body image. We are expected to be kept in a perpetual state of 'I have to lose this and then I can do that'. Even really thin women are also obsessed as well. It can be a scary slope and I know I often find myself on it as well. But, since 1955, I feel better about my body. I want to be thinner and am working SLOWLY on it, but in the mean time I am happy with my clothing and how I look and present myself.

  7. I absolutely love the picture of Jean Platchett in the purple dress at the bottom of your post! It's just beautiful. And the boatneck? collar is wonderful. I will be looking for a pattern like this one. In the summertime especially, I mostly wear dresses or a-line skirts and summer tops. It's really the most comfortable way to dress for me in the hot weather.

    By the way, I use to be very thin, my mother says I was too thin, but even then I had real woman thighs. I would have had to really starve myself, work out all the time, or get liposuction to get rid of that extra cellulite. Our bodies are supposed to look soft and curvy, not masculine.

  8. I was trying on some jeans today and it was so depressing. I'm in the midst of losing weight so I wanted a cheap pair since I'm not intending being that size for long so I went to the dreaded Old Navy. I usually buy a Levi's or Lee low rise style because I'm short so the low rise hits at my natural waist. I grabbed a pair of their Diva style which is low rise with a slimmer thigh, necessary because I have quite slim thighs compared to my waist measurement. They fit fine until I buttoned them up and realized that they were what I call Brazilian cut i.e. you'd need a brazilian wax to be able to wear them! Even without bending over I would have been exposing a couple of inches of my bum. I think not! Who buys those things? Such a pity because they were actually pretty well cut for my figure other than the fact that they needed a few extra inches of fabric up top.

    I don't think I look good in shorts but I hate wearing skirts, especially in summer. I just feel like I get so sticky and sweaty when I wear them and they're not comfy to walk in. I have discovered that I actually look better in a mid-thigh short rather than a bermuda short, makes my legs look much better.

  9. I say as long as you look good in what you wear, and you keep your body type in mind when you're shopping, that's what really matters. We should all be dressing to accentuate our figures, not hide them. Whether that be shorts or jeans or the perfect dress. The key is always to dress according to your body type. What looks good on my 5'10" sister does not necessarily look good on me at 5'7".

    I wear a little bit of everything. I do wear skirts more in the summer. When I was a tour guide at a local plantation, for 7 months out of the year I lived in skirts. They were always perfect to wear at work since I was outside as much as I was in. Right now all my skirts are in New York, but I'll have them back in a month and I'll go back to wearing them a lot.

  10. I find your point about women no longer dressing for their figure so spot on. It seems most just follow the "fashion" or whatever is being touted as a good deal. Really pathetic.

    But I'm optimistic in seeing so many casual skirts and dresses available this season. I agree the classic 50's full skirted dress is flattering on most figures, regardless of size. I wore this type of cotton dress yesterday and felt pretty and cool in the hot weather we were having.


  11. Your comment about softness reminded me of a wonderful interview I once saw of Jamie Lee Curtis about why she doesn't do much acting anymore.

    She said that she decided she liked gray hair (no more dyeing) and that she didn't want to diet anymore. When asked why about the dieting, she said she had fond memories of hugging her grandmother--a full figured, maternal sor of woman--and as Ms. Curtis aged, she realized she wanted to be that kind of older woman, one that children would want to hug. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she couldn't see that and she decided to change it. Granted, she's naturally lanky, so there are limits for her that way, but softness is a good thing.

  12. Great blog topic and everyone has such wonderful comments. Couple of things - the "hip huggers" in the early 70's, the tops that went with were longer and very fitted. Some even snapped at the bottom (think of a baby's "onesie"), which kept them absolutely tucked in no matter how hip huggy the pants were. It wasn't a very forgiving fashion, just like the low pants today. Regarding dresses - I've noticed SO many more women and teen girls wearing dresses! It was so hot out the other day, I threw one of my summer dresses on to run errands - it was also quite windy, so while I was loading bags into the car I had to hold onto my dress, ha ha. Anyway - I looked around and all around the parking lot were other women/girls doing the same thing. So many dresses! I've noticed more dresses on the women in TV ads as well. Dresses - so comfortable, so easy to wear, so figure-flattering, so feminine. Perfect!

  13. what a lovely post. And on the Marilyn being fat thing... I think this has become a bit of an urban myth. The often quoted'fact' is that Marilyn was a size 16, but they forget this is a vintage 16, which according to the measurements makes her an modern US 4 or an Australian 8. Certainly not fat, but not twig thin either.. just healthy.
    Anyway, I thought you might enjoy having a look at the vintage swimwear parade I did recently showcasing suits from the 1930s to 1970s, and all modelled by girls of regular proportions. :)

  14. I'm not sure I believe that marilyn Monroe was a us size 4 that is a very TINY size. Just looking at her hips, tummy and thighs, I can guarntee she would not fit in any us size 4 I have seen. At my thinnest, though I am almost 6 feet, I was a size 6 and I was quite thin and I was not full busted nor big hipped, so I could be she would most likely wear a modern 14 or so.

  15. The models of today look mannish, not feminine.

  16. The looks today are 'mannish', slutty, or sloppy, nothing like the 50s, but i think the 80s 'tried' to bring back the look---I also wonder what to wear under a skirt when its 20 degrees outside; how did women dress in below 0 weather when they wanted to look feminine.......FELIZ NAVIDAD

  17. Today as I read this in the college library, I'm wearing a waist-hitting dress with flip-flops, a jean jacket and my mum's earrings from the 80's. Don't worry, there is hope for the younger generations.


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