Sunday, June 26, 2011

26 June 1957 “Children Playing ‘Grown Up’”

While viewing this 1962 Barbie commercial the other day it made me consider that childhood act of playing ‘grown up’. Let’s watch:

We can certainly find that the girls attitudes at the end when they squeal with delight that they want ALL of Barbie’s clothes shows this is a commercial. It’s intent is to get a child to want to buy ALL the products for Barbie. By 1962 Madison Avenue is going full tilt and knows its audience. Yet, the most important element that struck me with this commercial was the context of the situation. Let me explain.

The little girls are in their own dress up dresses yet adorned to play ‘grown up’ with Mother’s hat and jewels, gloves, handbags, and shoes. Their fantasy situation is their being grown up young ladies dressed in their best going to a beautifully appointed fashion house. This really got me thinking on that age old childhood game of playing grown up and it made me wonder, how do children play that today?

Many parents and children are very similiar today. Father and mother play video games much like son and daughter. Mother’s wardrobe is often more stolen from daughters closet than the other way round. T-shirts, fashion easy to wear jersey knit tops, jeans, jeans, and more jeans, Uggs or tennis shoes. The ‘mother’ or ‘adult’ is often trying to look younger and therefore dress younger.

I recalled this change even happening somewhat when I was younger. As I have mentioned before, I have older parents (their being in their 40’s when I was born). So, my mother was for all intents and purposes a 1950’s mother. That is to say, she began motherhood in the 1950’s with my older sisters. So, when I came along in the 70’s she still very much had that same ‘50’s lifestyle. I remember the joy of playing grown up in my Mother’s closet. There were always lovely high heeled shoes, and bags to match. She had all her gloves she had ever owned and coordinating scarves and fun jewelry. Hats, as well, were easily found and so it was a real adventure. While my contemporaries, whose parents were usually the age of my older sister, often did not have this at their disposal. Their mothers, having been teens in the 60’s and early 70’s, had a different idea of dressing. Their closets held very little ‘dress up clothes’. I remember that dress up clothes were usually things bought at the toy store and in awful bubble gum pink with feathers and sequins and made out of horrid materials. Plastic shoes with glittered acrylic slip on shoes. A product to buy and stash with all the other toys rather than something to aspire to.

This also got me thinking that despite where you lived or where you were on the social ladder, a young girl could play dress up in the 1950’s. You could be the daughter of a Farmer with very little money and  yet Mother most likely had some nice dresses for church and functions and she certainly had hats and gloves.

This aspiration to ‘dress up’ when we become adults has all but gone. The idea that when we go or do certain things we wear certain clothes is almost a comfort, I think. It takes away the fear of anticipation of ‘what should I wear’?

Even men’s current continual ‘comfort status’ is almost laziness. Why shouldn’t a man, when taking out a girl, wear a dinner jacket and take his hat off indoors? How much would the girl love that, really? They would feel special. It seems many of these traditions have simply made being lazy for men easier. We ladies can say, “Oh, its easier to throw on yoga pants and Uggs than a dress”, but you know you miss ‘dressing up’ for various things.

The idea of dressing a certain way when we are “grownups” is part of that transition from child to adult. It is something to aspire to. We see that when we are adults we must put away childish things and be responsible for what we do. But, that also looks like fun because we get to wear pretty things and go to lunch with our friends. Our home is a place to decorate and entertain in. Now, it seems, that the activities of an 8 year old are not that different from her mother. They both love being online, computer games, and surely dress and shop at the same place.

I am not saying this is entirely bad, but it does make one stop and consider: if there is no aspiration to adulthood, no step from child to adult, when do we grown up? And, if we aren’t expected to grow up how or why should we ever be responsible for our actions; how we live, work, spend or save our money, treat each other, the planet, our futures. I think, in a way, this type of ‘change’ in the  modern world is simply a tip of the iceberg of many of the changes that have come about that are not entirely innocent. Our need to be always comfortable (i.e. too lazy to dress any other way than easy clothes taken from piles on floors bought for pennies at big box stores) is also a symptom of a lazy mind and attitude. When children play grown up today, what do they mimic? Do they even make toy dishes any more, for most families eat separately in front of the TV, there is no mimicry involved, from cradle to grave we are lazily moving from TV to computer in and out of bed in easy to grab clothes piled in excessively spent piles.

In many ways, isn’t it odd that with the ease and low cost of clothing today we don’t dress nicer? It is easier today to have your ‘Sunday best’ than it was in 1957, yet we look worse. Surely some may say, “Worse is relative, it is simply style”. But, I am not sure that today’s ‘style’ IS style. I think it is far easier to mass produce similar products out of jersey t-shirt and to continually make jeans. Shorter styles don’t cost the consumer less than longer, but cost the retailer and the manufacturer less. A change of ‘styles’ today is simply the movement of a waistline, the change of a pleat and a new ironic saying on the t-shirt. Easy enough to make at the manufactures level. The fashion move of the late 1960’s may have been more a change in the reality of making more money than any real ‘social change’. Dresses cost more and were made with Less fabric and cut in an easier to sew style.

So, we have given up ‘style’ for the ease of MORE clothing at lower costs, yet we all really look the same. We could easily have 7 t shirts and 7 pair of jeans and that is all many of us would need.  But, is that what we do have? No, the closets are SO full, we have SO much stuff that stores exist simply to sell us things to organize all our stuff. There are shows about how to organize all our stuff.

In 1957 clothing was fairly expensive. You had ‘play clothes’ to keep  your school clothes and dress up clothes nicer longer. There was a definite transition from ‘going to school’ and ‘going out to play’. Even that attitude of dressing up for school puts in a child’s mind that they are to sit up, pay attention. Can you imagine Beaver or Wally worried about how cool they look, or what an ‘awesome’ slogan their t-shrit has? Not waiting to hang out at the mall to buy more ‘cool clothing’. We almost seem more obsessed with clothing today, yet it is all so bland and similar. And then those who wish to really just have a style usually have to buy into one of the accepted ‘on the edge’ styles such as Goth, Punk etc. Really, these people just want to dress up! But, how could they ever have played dress up when Mummies closet looks exactly like their own? There is not transition from childhood to adult, so in some ways the various cliques today are simply defined by ‘what you wear’ and what genre of popular music you listen to.

Now, I am not saying that we have to go to the grocery store in an evening gown. But, would it be so bad if we were expected to dress for certain things. Wouldn’t it be nice if that Saturday date with your guy or spouse was an event to dress up for. Even if it were dinner and the movies, one would dress. I find it interesting that today the cost of a movie is so exorbitant compared to the 1950’s that a 1950’s person would laugh at anyone trying to charge that for 2 hours of entertainment. Yet, it cost less but was still taken more seriously, one dressed up and then often went to dinner (of course you could afford it as the movie hadn’t just cost you a day’s pay.)

Our obsession with shopping could be accompanied by the joy of dressing up for the occasion, but shopping now is so much a normal part of everyday, that we slide out of bed and put on basically another version of our pajamas and head out the door to buy more. Again, I am not saying we all have to dress vintage or wear starched collars, but I think the less formal dress is in fact a symptom of a society that may be slightly ill.

I think we must also be aware that the laziness and ‘ease’ of modern dressing might also allow us to have such an attitude with how we think. When we are always striving for ease and less work, are we not making ourselves pay little attention to our own world. Do we not take less time to concern ourselves about civic matters? Do we not pay attention to this or that politician or this or that law being passed? As long as I have my jeans, my T and my video games, easy internet shopping, and big box stores, microwavable meals and chips and soda, I am happy. But, are we happy? Is this all there is? Shouldn’t we Want to strive to be a an adult?

Why aren’t we adults playing ‘Grown up’ any longer?

Happy Homemaking. There is a new Vintage Daily News today. You can visit it by going to button on right or clicking HERE.


  1. I love what you've said here. I think I'm bookmarking this to re-read over and over again for inspiration.

  2. Great post! Lots of great things to think about when raising two daughters old fashion (maybe not in style, but in values). I really enjoy your site and this was a really great article to read. Thank you!

    Mrs. W

  3. I love this post. It reminds me too of Anne of Green Gables, where all the girls eagerly looked forward to being old enough to wear long skirts and to wear their hair up. I had re-read that just a few weeks ago and thought that there wasn't really anything anymore that girls can look forward to being old enough to wear now. I guess a bra? Or makeup? Or maybe getting her ears pierced? It makes me sad that all the "rites of passage" are either obsolete, or pushed so young now that they don't really have much of an impact.

    Not sure if you follow this blog at all, but she posted about this too:

    I loved the point that you can exploit opportunities better if you are dressed well and confidently. Her point about not being ashamed to run into friends or acquaintances and being able to talk really made sense. I do always put on "real" pants (lol!) and a nice top, and do my hair and makeup to go out, and it is reassuring that if I do run into someone I know, I would be happy to stand there and talk to them without being embarrassed about how I look.

    I also really believe that the way you dress reflects how you value yourself. I had read a book about raising daughters in a modern world and the author said that we live in such a disposable culture, that everything gets trashed so easily and without thought...that it's a pretty easy jump for daughters to start believing that they're not worth much either. That makes it a lot easier to compromise on values and morals. I know it might sound silly to someone who hadn't ever thought of it that way, but I plan to teach my little girl that the way she dresses reflects who she is as a no super short athletic shorts at the grocery store (I hate seeing that), no skimpy bikinis, no torn or dirty clothes.

    One more thought (sorry this is so long), but another blog (Vixen Vintage) once posted a couple of months ago about how she hates seeing people in pajamas at the grocery store. She said it looks dirty and lazy. You should have SEEN the firestorm that erupted in her comments. She ended up locking the post because it got so bad. People were honestly so offended and outraged. They called her names and said she was so judgmental, and that she had "no right to judge people because she didn't know them or their situation". They argued that sometimes if a person is depressed, they literally are incapable of taking care of themselves. She defended herself pretty well, and I agreed with her that if everyone at the grocery store wearing pajamas was legitimately depressed, then there are a LOT of depressed people out there. The other funny thing was that a lot of people said that they couldn't afford an expensive vintage clothes collection like Solanah has, so she shouldn't judge them for wearing pajamas. A little ironic that they would say that, given how inexpensive clothes are nowadays! It's like they couldn't see that there is a middle ground between full vintage like Solanah wears and dirty pajamas.

    Thanks for the post today!

  4. You surely can't see or hear it, but I'm giving you a standing ovation! I, too remember the thrill of dressing up,( in mom's discards usually), and how special it felt.

    Living in CA, I see the very worst of the "modern" trend. People coming to work ( in a big corporation) in yoga pants & uggs. Shopping in PJs, walking the streets in costume fit only for streetwalkers!

    There is no sense of pride in appearance or respect for self or others.

    We're a minority, but maybe one day, we'll make an impact & turn the tide back!

  5. You surely can't see or hear it, but I'm giving you a standing ovation! I, too remember the thrill of dressing up,( in mom's discards usually), and how special it felt.

    Living in CA, I see the very worst of the "modern" trend. People coming to work ( in a big corporation) in yoga pants & uggs. Shopping in PJs, walking the streets in costume fit only for streetwalkers!

    There is no sense of pride in appearance or respect for self or others.

    We're a minority, but maybe one day, we'll make an impact & turn the tide back!

  6. I am glad you liked my post. I agree that is seems a bit over the top to attack someones opinion about the pajama's at the grocery store. For me, as well, it isn't about judging others by what they wear but for We as a society to judge ourselves but what it is we are CHOOSING to wear. What is it saying about our culture and what we hold true. And it IS true that clothes are inexpensive and if you can afford pajamas you can afford a nice skirt or trousers. Now are you a bad person if you wear pajamas to the store? No, but what is the reason behind the choice? It isn't harder to put on clothes that are NOT pajamas, is it? And, if those close are meant for bed time, do you wear them out and then INTO your bed and sleep on the dirt of the floors of public places? That also says things about how we view ourselves and the value of our personal space, our homes, and our most private spot, our beds.
    I think today people become so easily offended by the least little thing and honestly, why can't a person simply stop, think, and evaluate their choices?
    As I said, I don't expect everyone to dress fancy vintage 24 7 but to think about what WAS appropriate dress for what occasion once. Why was that thought so? Do those some principals apply today, such as respect for oneself and others, and then go forward with those choices and that set of criteria.

  7. I am bookmarking this post, too, Donna, because it is one of your best. Children today certainly do miss out not aspiring to be grown up. But, like you said, there is little difference today between adults and children. I used to love dressing up in my mother's and grandmother's clothing and shoes!

    People looked nice back then. They even dressed up to ride on a train or plane. Nobody would have thought of doing otherwise. People are comfortable today, but what they have sacrificed in the way of politeness and civility!

    That is too bad Vixen Vintage was so horribly trashed.

    Yes, the Barbie doll ad is trying to get kids' parents to buy ALL of the clothes. Speaking of Barbie doll clothing, I recently bought the nurse's outfit shown on e-bay for $10 -- needed a little mending and cleaning, but I love it and put it on my old Barbie doll from when I was a child.

  8. Joining in the chorus cheering your thoughtful post! I honestly think people do wish they could dress up still... I wore my derby hat to a conference recently as part of the introduction speech and everyone woman wanted to try it on and get photo. Absolutely love your parting observation - many days I go out and wish the people I run into would play grown up and dress with more pride.

  9. I am so happy you have all chimed in with such thoughtful comments. I, really I should say 'we' as I feel this blot/site is all of us: a community, are so lucky. Because we have such wonderfully grown up and well behaved ladies and gentleman who comment. I feel bad that poor Vixen should be so treated. I am not sure what it is about the internet that breeds such blatant rudeness, I am sure it is the anonymity
    of the thing, but honestly people do say the cruelest and most appalling things online sometimes. Of course, this tends to overall steel peoples nerves and sensibilities to reality and wash over into real life scenarios. As I have seen exchanges between customers and poor shop keepers, employees that is often times jaw dropping.
    The other day at the bank, a man with his young daughter literally cut in front of me at the bank and began demanding and getting a long drawn out banking need. I merely had to make a deposit. I kept my mouth shut and quietly waited. Another teller, a darling girl, came over and said, "I am going to open a window and help you. I can't believe that man cut you off" To which I said, "Oh, don't worry about it, I am not in a hurry" and she said, "But you are so nice and so nice about it, you deserve it." I felt rather good and thought, "See, sometimes being the nice guy Does pay off". I love moments of civility and kindness, particularly in this increasingly cooler modern world.
    Concerning the hat situation that DHD mentioned: Isn't it funny how when you dress lovely or vintage other women almost always are covetous and seem to think you have some magic power. "Oh, I wish I could wear that or I wish we could still wear hats". I am not sure what is stopping women or men for that matter, from just dressing in lovely things, if that is their actual desire. It is odd how strong today peer pressure is, particularly for we adults.

  10. Since I have a son I don’t don’t know about playing dress up, but I suppose you’re right. I am happy to say that the sloppy attitude and no dressing for the occasion isn’t my world. I dress up for everything, also the movies. :)

    Great post as always.

  11. Europeans dress up a lot more; looks nice.

  12. As usual, love your blog (I have been catching up with the old ones first, so this is the first new one I have read).
    I have three daughters (14,9 and 6), who have all loved to try on my high heels, scarves, handbags and jewelry (so have my two boys when they were little!) Their dress ups are usually old scarves and nice pieces of fabric, with which they 'design' their own dresses, with old op-shop hats and bags and smaller size heels.
    They do look forward to turning 10 - time for ear piercing and learning to use the sewing machine. Real hair cuts at the hairdresser for birthdays from 8 (yes, I cut their hair). We have glam make-over days with rollers and lip gloss, and we have manicure and pedicure days fortnightly. They are all waiting for being old enough to wear stockings (or pantihose, as I wear now, but I am so looking forward to swapping!)and heels out - which I have said is 14. I remember my first heels at that age. I dress up for work and going out for dinner (rare with 5 kids), and always wear lipstick, usually red. Saturday morning shopping is not so glam, but definately smart and no tracks or uggs! I am still working on the hats, but you have inspired me.xxxx


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