Wednesday, March 13, 2013

13 March 1950 “Lessons for Today from the 1950’s We Could All Use: Part 1”.

1950slessonimage I found myself contemplating life lessons. To consider what we could do, in our modern daily life, to better emulate the positive aspects of the past. A life-rule upon which to measure choices, decisions, and actions; a code from the 1950’s. This need not just be for those of us who find ourselves so attracted to that time, but real and practical advice that could and should be used by all and sundry here in the 21st century. And so I came up with a sort of check list that I thought might be fun to consider.
Dress up for the Movies. I could have called this ‘try and look presentable’ or ‘have an ounce of pride in yourself’, but to me the epitome of that ideal that we owe it to ourselves and those around us to look ‘good and presentable’ is sort of condensed in that act of people dressing up in the 1950’s to go see the ‘pictures’.

There is something to be said to looking ‘nice’ or ‘dressed up’ for our daily life. Doing your marketing or running errands can affect other people and yourself. When you are in line at the bank or happily squeezing fruit at the green grocers, people will smile and often complement you. I have struck up more conversations with total strangers since 1955 simply by putting on a scarf hat and gloves.
As we seem to live in a sea of blue jeans and endless propaganda from the limitless retail chains telling us to ‘be ourselves and hurry up and buy more of their stuff to do it’ we forget to notice how same it all is. Jersey tops T-shirts with pictures, jeans, and the most hideous looking trainers/tennis shoes/sneakers ever. Why is it that we dress now daily like we are in gym class and yet are the fattest we have ever been? But, I digress. We all should certainly express our own styles, but I wonder if any of us really have our own? When we simply buy off the rack or express ourselves through words on shirts, is that style? Is that an expression of what we want to be or how we want to be viewed or view ourselves? Nothing is easier than simply saying what you feel, but music books and art and simply conversation that just tells or shows you is mundane. Here is a piece of fruit. He went to the grocery store and they hooked up, says the modern book or conversation. Here is what I am meant to be represented as says the t-shirt. Subtlety and grace seem to be lost. I know I sound an old fuddy duddy, but I don’t care. I mean, aren’t we all suppose to just say whatever we feel without regard to anyone anyway? That seems to only be the case when what ‘we’ want to say fits the status quo of empty phrases such as “Be yourself” now give me 19.99,. put on this ill made T-shirt that tells the world how I, er I mean YOU feel and come back next week and get another.

Now, back to my point. I often get letters from readers who tell me they desperately want to dress vintage or dress up more but are too timid to do so. One need not only dress vintage to dress up. There are plenty of vintage inspired new pieces that can be worn daily. If you feel better buying a new hat that doesn’t say specifically “I am a vintage hat”, than start with that. I always recommend the good ole’ beret. I call it the “introduction hat”. It is easy and simple to wear. It doesn’t stick out or seem like you are ‘trying to hard” (an element that seems to be utmost in every one’s mind today-heaven forbid you should look as if you CARE about anything). They are 2 a penny, available year round at most department stores and are effortless. This is a good way to start the habit of hat wearing. Now, this is for ladies, of course, for men I always suggest the flat cap. This is a good way to ease into a fedora or pork pie hat depending upon your preference. 

Now with your hat comes scarf and gloves. The scarf is the easiest. Obviously during winter months in cold climates scarves and gloves are never an issue, everyone from the banker to the janitor wear then without thought.  However, all year round, a lovely silk, organza or cotton or any printed scarf can be worn quite easily. These are so easily found at tag sales, antique shops that include vintage clothes and even modern versions in retail and department stores, scarves seem to be having a revival. I always wondered why they weren’t used more, because today fashion isn’t dictated by sexual freedoms and open mores as we may think, but by profit margins. It is cheaper to make and easier to sell to you for less if mini skirts and short shorts are in fashion. Many people believe much of what drives are ‘looser morals’ today is somehow an evil aim, but it really is the profit margin. (Though one could argue that, in itself, can be a sort of evil aim, but I will leave that dissection for another post.) The point being, simple clothes (shirts with printed words and pictures) tops made of jersey with a few cut outs are random sewn on bits and bobs to express the latest ‘change’ in fashion, are simply smoke and mirrors for us to buy and buy the same ill made product over and over again and why not they are so cheap, right? But, are we cheap? Is our sentiment and personal expression meant to be cheap or represented thus? I don’t think mine is, but I cannot speak for all of us. I do know that of all of hubby’s dress shirts I have purchased at good will and the like where they are vintage and had been well made in the past far out live the versions bought at department stores. Unless you have the money to go to a tailor or you sew them yourselves, those well made shirts of the past have made it this long, so 10 to 1 they are going to keep on going.

Back to my point: take a few minutes to primp before you head out the door. If you are in your old jeans and t-shirt that have at the ready a nice coat a beret and a kicky scarf. Plop that on in the few minutes it takes before you head out the door to do your marketing and you will be amazed at how you feel and how others react to you. We are always up in arms about how we must be respected and we can do whatever we want but everyone else better respect it, though our very act of that attitude is not respectful to others.

Modern man has this sort of chip on his shoulder that exclaims ‘Look out we are gonna be subversive and in your face, like a punk, but you better respect it and get out of our way”. I suppose we have made a sort of Punk Rocker who expects gracious bows and lauded public opinion. A contradiction on so many levels. I think if we spent LESS time worrying about how much others SHOULD be treating us and tried harder to be kind and also to treat ourselves well by taking a few minutes to look good (comb your hair, put some lipstick on, put on a hat) we would be surprised how well others DO just automatically treat us. And if any  wayward youths shout or make fun of someone because they are wearing a hat and nice coat, do we really want to consider their actions as relevant? And in our own action of not caring but simply smiling and saying, Have a good day, to them, maybe it would sink in in time that they too could be a grown up who gets to wear a hat and have the power to not care if someone shouts at them.

We should not aim to hide or be the lowest common denominator. We should not teach and dress towards the worst of society, but instead hope to encourage others to want to have a bit of what we have: style, confidence, and down right common courtesy towards others. We all share the planet, so lets do so with some panache and a bit of good manners.

Put away your things and clean your room. I thought this would be a good lesson for all of us as well. We often see, especially in 1950’s sitcoms, youngsters being told to pick up their rooms or help mother and father tidy up. To not drop their things as they enter the door and to treat their possessions with respect. I think one of the main reasons this general rule of thumb seems to have gone on the wayside is again driven by our economy. Once upon a time things cost more. They were more dear to us. We had a few ‘dress up or school clothes’ a few toys or possessions and therefore had to take care of them. If we destroyed them it would cost us dear to get more. Today, even dishes are so plentiful and cheap people just pile them up, add more and care less when they break.

A story concerning this very act of “it’s so cheap I don’t care so I’ll have far too many of everything and treat it all like garbage” was seen in the aftermath of some tenants we had. We used to have a house we rented out. We have since had to let it go due to economy and our own frustration with modern tenants. Our last tenants were an older woman, her unmarried twenty something daughter and her two children of the ages of 5 and 18 months. Long story short, they stopped paying rent, it took us the requisite seven months by our state to get them out (they were not paying rent that whole time and we were NOT allowed on our own property to address the incurring mess, but did receive a letter from the town that we had BETTER clean up the yard of the house we owned or would be fined $1200 a day until it was done.) After their court ordered departure we went in. It was horrid. The garbage and smell was the first layer of disgust and horror, but as the clean up ensued it occurred to me how much they had left behind. I took out Three baby car seats, boxes of children's books, toys, toys and more toys, dishes, several sets (most filthy and unwashed). And the basement was FILLED with bag upon bag of empty soda bottles and beer cans. How was it that this family could NOT afford to pay ME rent but had the time and money to buy and buy and buy so much that not only did they not bother taking any of it with them, that while there they simply would presumably lose an item like a baby’s changing table and therefore buy another? That when that set of dishes was dirty they simply bought a new set! So, it is very little wonder that the simple task of taking care of your few treasured possessions as they cost you dear and you should make them last has simply gone on the wayside.
Again we see the economy really affecting our human behavior. And as we discuss and debate over and over again about how it is due to religion or lack there of, there real drive and push towards how we act seems to always lead back to our economy and how we buy, sell , and manufacture. Surely it cost us more to buy a dress or dishes when they were made in our own country. But, then we also had towns and cities that thrived due to those jobs and people who worked those jobs spent in their community and it cost more to buy some things but then you had less and worked hard to keep them nice and you instilled in the next generation the need to work hard, buy a few good things and care for them. We can debate until we are blue in the face today, but this simple formula of make it at home, in your community and support one another will always make for a better world than its so much cheaper because we made it overseas, oh and by the way because of the false economy your houses now are %300 higher and there aren’t any jobs. See how a simple lesson from 1950 of taking care of your things and cleaning up your own room can apply on even a global scale?

Now we can see too how on a very personal scale this affects our daily life. Articles about organizing and keeping your things ordered only began to appear in the 1950’s and even then they were more scarce or not on the scale of today. Why? Because we didn’t have so many blessed things! Our economy gives us cheap easy to purchase little things yet over prices large things like housing and cars. So, perhaps to deal with the stress of paying for the big things, the house, we feel the need to use some “shop therapy” to fill it up.

“Wow, this entire set of dishes is only $20!”

“This shirt is marked down to $3, I can’t afford to NOT buy it”

We might seem to say as we bring it home and leave it in the bag and simply push it into the ever growing pile. Then we worry about cleaning it up or organizing it so we go to another store that simply sells plastic bins to store away the things we have far too many of, all the while being worried about the cost of the big things and having to work more to pay for them, so we don’t have time to eat, so we buy the cheap easy meal, which in turns makes us fat and now we are depressed because we can’t lose the weight, our homes are messy but really expensive to pay for and now we are depressed. Solution? Good common sense of a 1950’s mother saying, “You have too much, you have not balanced your checkbook, where is your savings, and clean up your mess!” No, the modern solution: You have a disorder, here take this prescriptions you will feel better. You won’t fix any of the core reasons for you unhappiness, but you will need to keep purchasing these pills though, so that will add to your bills, but don’t stress just take these pills they will make you stress less” and the cycle continues.

I don’t want to seem to make light of complex problems, but it does seem to me that many of our ‘problems’ could be fixed with some good old-fashioned lessons from the 1950s. We make our messy lives, blame others for it, are not accountable for it and also then don’t expect our own government to be accountable for their actions and wonder the whole time why everything is going down the drain. But, I digress.

I will leave off here with more lessons for the next post. And I would love to hear any of your ideas on the lessons we should and could apply to today that are simple life lessons from the past. Next Time:

Wash your hands before dinner & A penny saved is a penny earned.

Let’s close with this lesson we could all use from the short film “Appreciating our Parents” This could easily be entitled “How to appreciate ourselves and our home”. Enjoy and as always Happy Homemaking.


  1. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

  2. Amen! Looking forward to your next piece. Thank you and keep writing :-)

  3. I am so happy to "find" you back in the 50's...your posts are always interesting no matter what year you are exploring but these recent posts, especially this one, have been such a welcome balm to my soul. Lately I have been feeling like my job as a stay at home mother and homemaker is so unappreciated and worthless, and I am so grateful for your affirmations that what. I am doing is important.

  4. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout this post! Thank you!

  5. Great post. I would love to get dolled up more, but seing a stay at home mom, I will freshen up when I go out with my son. When I go out to a friend's house or we meet up woth people we know, that is when I wear my "good clothes" and it feels wonderful too.
    I always love how "hokey" the videos from the 50's sound, but regardless, the message rings true and could stand up today. Too bad more people do not see the value in repairing things as opposed to just toss it and buy new. I mean, unless you have to of course. I have shoes that needs repair and finding a shoemaker by me has been an arduous task, but I found one and am looking forward to fixing my boots that I bought in 1995 :)

  6. YAY..... you must of been reading my mind! great post!! :)

  7. This is the difference between the US and Scandinavia. Apparently we already live the fifties way - I'm glad. Great post, as always. I love you in the fifties. :)

  8. I loved your post!! Looking forwared to the next one!

  9. I absolutely love your blog.It is good for the soul!

  10. Great, insightful post! I too found myself nodding my head in agreement, and saying "yes" and "exactly". Thank you for putting into words what many of us have been thinking. Looking forward to reading more.

  11. Thanks for sharing the video - I love watching them! I esp. love looking at the furniture and wallpaper and things. Mother's kitchen and apron were lovely, but I wish she'd replace Tommy's bedspread! I also love how simple everything seemed - Father gets a stack of cash for his paycheck, and shares it out. You posted another budgeting one once (the kid had to stop buying the fancy sundae to save for a camera) and it was all so uncomplicated - wish it were like that in real life!

    -Robyn V.

  12. If anyone is afraid of looking too vintage just wear a skirt and a twinset with loafers or mary janes. At the very least you'll look feminine but not out of date.


  13. This is soooo GOOD! I've come back twice in order to read it. The film at the end is wonderful too. It's a shame that they aren't teaching these types of things to children in school anymore.

    Something else I noticed was how graceful the mom was when she moved and as she did her work. I realize she was acting, but still...even actresses today aren't that graceful. So lovely....


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