Wednesday, January 5, 2011

5 January 1957 “1957 Fashion and Hair and The REAL MAD MEN.”

I thought we’d take a quick peek at some fashion and hair for 1957.
collaredsheath A darling sheath dress with the collar that is becoming increasingly vogue. This collar will continue into the early 60’s and actually get a bit taller. I love the little empire waist pleat in the back.
57speigelcatalog 57speigelcatalog2 These great prints in the full skirt, dolman sleeve and no defined shoulder is still going strong. These are from a 1957 Spiegel catalog.
57fashion A Peter Jones dress for this year. Sweetheart neckline and the length is getting a bit shorter.
swimwear I love the conical straw hat.
57hat Speaking of hats, the raised crown is appearing as is the brim. This will reach its peak in the mid 60’s with mod hats that look like 20’s cloche but worn very high.57hat2 This style is becoming more apparent in high fashion. Click the image to get to see more hats from 57 at 57hat3 Though the closer fitting smaller hat is still the dominant look here in 1957. This darling cloth number would be rather easy to make, I would think.
57hair This Clairol ad from 1957 also shows how hair is beginning to lift off the forehead. After the 1940’s hair began to be shorter and tighter to the head. Though this is still a shorter style you can see how it is being lifted which will eventually become the bouffant by the mid 60’s.57clairolad Here we see another Clairol ad from this year. Again, the hair is softer and less rigid than the decade’s beginning. Softer fuller waves, not unlike the 1940’s in some aspects.An interesting point about the Clairol ads, is I found out that their 1949 ad campaign, “It lets me be me” was dreamed up by a woman.
 menwomenmadisonave A few years back, when Mad Men first came out, there was an exhibit at the New York Public Library highlighting ads and the Mad Men of the 50-70’s.
What is interesting to what we are shown on the show, is much as I have come to discover with my own project: what we are told about that time and women’s oppression is often over-exaggerated.
phyllisrobinson A quote from one of the influential women in advertising, Phyllis Robinson,(the woman who came up with the 1949 Clairol ad) was interesting:
“It seemed very simple and straightforward and not pretentious,”(the ad) Robinson, 86, said in a telephone interview from her Manhattan home. Robinson said no one held her back because she was a woman.
“Not in the least,” she said. “I slid right in and did my stuff.”
HERE is an interesting article about Phyllis.
marywellslawrence Another influential Mad Men ‘Women’ of the time, Mary Wells Lawrence, started as a copywriter in the 1950’s and founder her own agency, Wells Rich Greene, in 1966. She said:
“People are always saying, ‘Wasn’t it a male business?’ It was not a male business,” Lawrence said. “You would think that we were all cowering under the desk.”

I think it is just another example of how we get so much of our current knowledge and therefore idea of history FROM TV that we have a distorted view of it. Of course it is more drama to have such a divide between the women and to portray ALL the men as womanizing chauvinists. Yet, we seem unable, nowadays, to really separate reality from fiction. Our real history is almost being re-written by TV/movie fiction writers.
I think that is one reason I am glad I am studying a time when some of the people who lived it are still alive to set us straight. There is something almost ‘whiney’ about a modern person saying, “Well, we couldn’t do that then because it was how women were perceived”. Yet, throughout history there are women who in SPITE of what was perceived still succeeded. And today, the concept of the oppressed homemaker is also a nice crutch for people to feel no need to be accountable for their homes and lives. “I can’t be bothered to be organized or pay attention to what I and my family eat, I’m not a Stepford Wife!” A term, by the way, invented for a film that seems to hold more truth for women today about their history than the actual truth of women who did enjoy and feel proud to have chosen a career as a homemaker. Obviously, women had the option even then to go off to New York and work in offices and, yes, even become Mad Men.
I think we do , we modern people, sometimes have trouble separating TV/movie fiction from reality. In some sense it gives us such a distorted sense of what life should be like, we are often depressed or striving for things unattainable because they are not real. The sad thing is it makes the REAL things not even in our range of decision. I have come to find out by disconnecting myself from that modern machine, the joy and happiness in that actual, the truthful. Odd, then, that I had to find it while ‘playacting’ house wife in the 1950’s.
In a way, that very indulgent aspect of my ‘pretending it’s 1950’s’  much like a reality show even points out to me how much I was and am influenced by media and modern programming. It seemed normal to try such a project because ‘normal’ is skewered towards fictional in the modern world. Though, I am happy for it and in my ‘fictional’ 1950’s actually feel more happy and ‘real’ than I did before the project.
Also, as an artist, walking that line of reality and imaginary is often par for the course. So, in some ways, it was probably just easier for me to do it. But, my point ( I do have one) is that we need, we modern people, to try and appreciate TV/Movies for what they are, entertainment. Yet, realize that real life and living is often nothing like what we are told on TV. And, in that as well, our history is not anything like an AMC Drama. We can appreciate the show for what it is, a ‘dramatization’, but we should also take the time to look at the real history and understand where we came from. It helps us see where we are going and how best to get there.
Happy Homemaking.


  1. I'm going to have to look up Phyllis Robinson and Mary Wells Lawrence... huge Helen Gurley Brown fan. Also, I'm nuts about the dresses in the second and third images. Good golly. Great post.

  2. This reminds me of an incident that truly shows how the school system is letting Hollywood dictate the past. My niece and nephew (about 6 years ago) were riding home from school and were talking about an activity they had done during the day. My nephew asks "And who was the first black President?" My niece responds, "Abraham Lincoln!" "Right," he says. My brother begins to question them. Apparently they had watched a filn on the history of Lincoln and the film protrayed him as a black man. And they were told that is how it was....???? Not only my brother, but numerous parents contacted the school. the kids were told the correct history. At least I know my niece and nephew were by my brother for sure. Sad.

  3. Amen! I am interested in talking to the women that were housewives in the 50's. I too don't believe every man was oppressive. DH and I agree that feminism has gone way too far, because society now doesn't accept homemaking as a real full time job.

  4. very interesting info about the mad men. i figured as much. side note~i thought maybe i was missing something by not having cable to see that show. so i reserved season 1 from the library. i was all thinking i might really love it, what w/all the historically accuracy they were supposed to have. well, i found out the accuracy was only in the fashion dept. my husband and i made it through the first episode. ugh. not what i expected. at. all. it went straight back to the library unwatched.

  5. Excellent post!! All through my college years in the early 80's I was told time and time again how oppressed, miserable, and poorly treated women were in the 1950's/early 60's. Yet this contradicted what my own mom, aunts, other family and their friends all said about that time in their life. Were there women in '50's who were caught in terrible situations? Yes; however that is also true today - that isn't a strictly decade-related issue. At any rate, I *love* your statement "And today, the concept of the oppressed homemaker is also a nice crutch for people to feel no need to be accountable for their homes and lives. 'I can’t be bothered to be organized or pay attention to what I and my family eat, I’m not a Stepford Wife!' " Amen!!

  6. Maybe some/all of you have already seen this page [from 2004] but I ran across it the other day and would like to share - the blogger experiments with being a "50's Housewife" for 2 weeks - and the results surprised her, especially since she started out feeling sorry for the 'oppressed' women of that era.

  7. I lived in the 50's and don't remember women being so oppressed. They had the phrase "hen-pecked" back then -- apparently many men were bossed around by their wives (not good, either). I loved this post. Loved the pictures and dresses.

  8. Oh don't you just love the fabric prints of the dresses? I will look for fabric for some vintage patterns and retro ones I have bought. I have not been faithful to the dress challenge, so I am planning for spring. Great post.

  9. I think it's great to see more people becoming more accepting of the choice to be a homemaker. At least from what I read on the internet, more women are being vocal about supporting the idea. I also think it's important to bust the myths of the "oppressed housewife" just like you're doing here.

  10. Nice post! I love the 60's picture of the mother and son. The hair is similar to mine now that it's grown out.

    Full house, that linked blog is hilarious! Thanks for posting.


  11. That gray plaid dress with the black accents and bow is to die for! Love it! Want it!

  12. thanks to fullhouse for a good laugh! that blog is funny!

  13. I was happy to see another mean clever girl willing to try time travel. I would like to start doing some guest blogs, so I think I may ask her if she would like to do one for us.

  14. I was not a housewife during the 50's, but I was growing up back then. In 57 I was 13 and saw nothing oppressive in my mother's situation. She was an RN, worked outside the home and ruled the roost. My father went to work, brought home the money and my mother took care of all the financial stuff. Since I didn't live in her skin, I can't say whether or not she felt oppressed. If she did, she never gave any indication of such. I can say that one of my aunt's probably felt oppressed, but that was because she married a jerk. But we have that in every age and society.

  15. I think with white women who married well, had good jobs; if they knew the right people (not every man was into the Hefner lifestyle) some women WANTED TO BE HOMEMAKERS because they were close to their kids. What we have today are women who can't find guys to marry today because many don't know who they are--men wouldn't have been so horny and out of control if WE WOMEN DIDNT LET THEM!!

  16. Howdy - I'm the fellow "time traveller" who Fullhouse linked to in her comments. Thanks for passing along my blog and for the kind comments, everyone!

    I only recently discovered your blog, 50sgal, and am definitely enjoying reading through your own finds and insights!

  17. Jen-Maybe you would like to do a guest blog for us sometime?
    It's always nice to meet fellow time traveler's. Maybe we are a growing breed.

  18. Jen - hello! OK, I see now that your blog is NOT from 2004, it's 2010. I misread the date! Ha Ha! When I posted your link here I also shared your blog with some friends, and everyone has enjoyed it!! I'm still catching up on parts. Just like here with your site, 50sgal, - I check in every so often and there's always so much new stuff! Thanks for taking the time to put all this together!!!

  19. Hi again! 50sgal - I'd be flattered and honoured to post a guest post! If you like, shoot me an e-mail at jenbutneverjenn [at] gmail [dot] com and let me know what you had in mind.

    Thanks again, Fullhouse! I'm totally small potatoes, so I appreciate any sharing of my blog! :)


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