>What not to wear, 1938

>Last night I started thinking, which is not always a good thing when that happens at night. Suddenly I couldn’t take it anymore and jumped from bed, gathered about ten dress and etiquette books, and rolled back into bed to look through things until the wee hours of the morning, much to my husband’s dismay.
I was thinking primarily of “pin ups” and vintage culture. If you’ve been studying vintage for a while you know that pin up style and vintage style don’t always run hand in hand, and yet, I am amazed at the percentage of women (and girls) getting into the modern vintage scene who are attracted to and aspire to be “pin up girls.” I am convinced that if we really were living in the 1930s or 1940s most people would be shocked to see women made up as much and wearing so little- that was primarily reserved for women of ill repute or Hollywood, or both, I’d imagine. I do realize that modern vintage is not the same as historic clothing of the period, but I do believe the two should not be confused. It was, and is, entirely possible to be physically and even sexually attractive but not reveal as much as modern women- who are aspiring to be vintage women- do. Strangely enough none of my books addressed “pin up” styles or anything similar, but there were some very interesting points.
Here I need to clarify, for I feel I may upset a few by posting as such. I am not meaning to imply that you should mould your clothing and dress to historic standards if you do not care for them. Not at all! Nor am I saying that no-one in the 30s or 40s subscribed or participated in pin up culture. I am merely saying that modern fashion’s take on vintage fashion is quite a different thing than authentic period dress, in context with social situations.
Etiquette of dress is a thing of the past- it has mostly vanished from modern society with the exclusion of the business man or woman or the very wealthy. In the past, however, there were rules of how to dress, where to wear what, and what not to wear. We see, somewhat, a resurgence of that in terms of dressing proportionally to your figure, but it is not always in reference to social situation, time of day, setting, or event. The lines have blurred so much that it seems everything can run together without so much as a thought. While this can be freeing to some, it is detestable to others. Be that as it may, whatever side of the fence you happen to be on in that regard, when presenting yourself in a period of the past the best thing to do is to look to the past for guidance. If you really aspire to a “vintage lifestyle” in contrast with a modern take on a vintage lifestyle (also known, in my opinion, as what film has shown the 30s or 40s as, which can have little to nothing to do with actual life from then) it is best to go to period sources. I think you will find, if you desire it to be so, the advice as good for modern day as it was for back then. It is possible to be known as a well-dressed vintage lady, if you so desire, but it very rarely comes naturally.
Here’s a slight introduction to what not to wear- taken from the book “Designing Women: The Art, Technique, and Cost of Being Beautiful” by Margaretta Byerts with Consuelo Kamholz. Interestingly enough, for you New York World’s Fair fiends, a copy of this book was included in the time capsule buried in 1939. While this chapter does not focus so much on etiquette of what to wear when, it is interesting to see their take on what many, including me, consider staples of their vintage wardrobes.






What are your thoughts on pin up culture in regards to authentic vintage lifestyles? Are there things in the chapter I mentioned you agree or disagree with? I’d be interested to hear your feedback!
I’m considering posting more book excerpts on here on etiquette. Would that be something you would be interested in?

9 Comments on >What not to wear, 1938

  1. reilly
    September 3, 2009 at 7:17 pm (7 years ago)

    >"The arty always seem smarty rather than smart". I love that, haha.I would definitely be interested in future posts of this nature!My only thought is that, even when this book was published, I bet there were women who scoffed at it, broke most rules, and still looked great! I think that is how it goes – anyone can break 'rules' or fashion norms, but only those with the distinction between taste and "being different just to be different/weird" are successful at it. A discerning eye is key.I'm not much interested in pin-up or rockabilly myself, but that's just my personal feeling, and I don't bother myself about what other people choose to do or wear. But, I don't know how authentic I am or any of that. I don't mix vintage and modern, but I do like to dress from the 1930s through 50s.

  2. Wearing History
    September 3, 2009 at 7:20 pm (7 years ago)

    >Thanks, Reilly!I totally agree on all counts. There's a difference between dressing to a pattern because that's supposed to be what you wear and developing your own sense of tasteful style!I mix eras all the time in my personal wardrobe. I don't dress vintage every day, or even once a week on most weeks, but when I go to a time specific period event I like to be as accurate as possible :)You always look fabulous! And you're so darn cute!

  3. AlohaAroha
    September 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm (7 years ago)

    >I wish we could write "what not to wear" books today that were so frank!What I mostly got from this is: buy/wear quality and don't be afraid to be yourself. I can definitely say I do that!I think most pin-uppers realise that they aren't recreating an exactly true look. I do slightly pin up styles, but only for events that really call for them!

  4. Redhead Sadie's
    September 4, 2009 at 8:30 am (7 years ago)

    >I work at a vintage clothing store, and I can't tell you how many times a week I get girls in (usually rather young) who want "pinup girl" clothes. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what they want is Stop Staring kind of stuff-tight fitting dresses and things that leave very little to the imagination. We don't have things like that-we have the real deal, and I always say that from what I have seen in old pictures over the years, regular girls didn't dress like that-just the ones who, to use the vernacular of the time, "had a reputation". I am not snotty about it-that would be rude, but it is really exasperating sometimes! "Pinup" or "rockabilly" doesn't always mean slutty or trashy, you know? To be honest, I am insanely tired of "rockabilly pinup" girls with a million tattoos, black hair, facial piercings and trashy clothes the end all and be all representation of the scene. That's not what everyone on the scene looks like, but those girls are so good for shock value I suppose that is why they get the press. It's like a uniform or something. I value highly the rare girls and guys who aren't in it just for the attention-who dig the music and the cars. I also love when a girl comes in and wants to know how to wear gloves properly or who wants a nice hat to wear because she thinks they are ladylike and pretty. That always makes my day. I'm all about being who you are, and I do have a couple small tattoos, but I like that I seem to be pretty good at looking like the real thing. I work hard at it, partly for my job but also because I've been doing it for a very long time and I love it! Sorry to go on here-your blog is just lovely and I enjoy it so much! You are so dedicated to this and I greatly admire that. :-)

  5. nancy
    September 4, 2009 at 1:28 pm (7 years ago)

    >I love this post. You've just elegantly said some of what's been rattling around in my head for a while.I'm an art historian. To me, it's important to know where an aesthetic comes from, to give it context, and to then reproduce it or manipulate it from a place of knowledge and respect. (I'm not saying that you should be a purist, but I think you should at least know what the heck you're talking about.) I know that some people don't care about context or history, and that some people are just taking the aesthetic at face value…they're enjoying it on a more visceral level, and don't care to intellectualize it. For myself, I prefer to synthesize the visceral and intellectual experiences, but that's just me.When people think what they're doing or seeing is authentic or is the *only* aesthetic of an era, it does annoy me. I think it's really common for people to miss the point that sometimes what they're seeing is an *interpretation* of a vintage aesthetic. I'm not going to stop and argue with their misconceptions, but Oh! how I do abhor ignorance. As an American, I am always ashamed of how very historically and culturally illiterate we are as a country. (Does that make me sound like an old fuddy-duddy schoolmarm? Oh, well…guess my old thesis adviser's opinions rubbed off on me.)I do find it a bit alarming when young women want to adopt fashions that promote their own objectification, such as "pinup" looks. Call me an old-school feminist, but these girls don't even know how hard their great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers struggled to become something *more* than just a pretty face. They don't see anything wrong with just wanting to be admired for how they look…and that's just sad, because while it's fun to look great, it's not the only thing we're capable of. We are worth so much more than that.All that being said (and I'm being long-winded, sorry) we all know that fashions come back around and are reinterpreted through the filter of the current period. "Everything old is new again," as the song goes; and each iteration of a particular look adds another layer of complexity (and hopefully richness) to the scene.

  6. Wearing History
    September 4, 2009 at 6:44 pm (7 years ago)

    >Reading the responses has been quite interesting! Thanks so much to everyone for their imput! I find it truly inspiring to see so many women who feel similarly to me.I don't mind so much what section of vintage culture people choose to represent, but I think it's important to represent it well. There are some pin up girls who do the period look to a "T" and do it wonderfully! There are also ladies I know who represent everyday or "normal" women of the time and they look like they stepped out of an old photo. And, of course, there are those who choose to do it for fancy dress and don't care whether they are period or not, as long as they have the aesthetic, and those who choose vintage looks to inspire their modern wardrobe. I think it's interesting to see the different takes on it, but I do think it's important, if you want to claim historical accuracy, to go back and dubunk some of the myths surrounding it. And for those of us who are interested in the take on dress from a period perspective these books provide insightful research! It was sort of like their "makeover" shows- if they had them!

  7. reilly
    September 5, 2009 at 2:50 am (7 years ago)

    >Lauren – thank you!! I really wish I could attend some of the historical events you do, and everything you sew is extremely enviable. :)

  8. newvintage
    December 28, 2009 at 8:41 pm (7 years ago)

    >I'm of 2 minds about "pin-up culture". Personally, I love to see pin-up clothing/hair/makeup on other ladies, but I don't generally wear that look. I also don't wear hats and gloves all the time. I have a couple pin-up outfits for conventions and that's it. I'm just trying to find that happy medium between clothing and costume for every day wear. I look horrid in jeans and fab in dresses and I wear dresses sewn from vintage patterns because they suit me not because I want to be a part of a culture. If modern clothing suits me, I wear that, too.

  9. newvintage
    April 7, 2011 at 11:40 pm (6 years ago)

    >I'm of 2 minds about "pin-up culture". Personally, I love to see pin-up clothing/hair/makeup on other ladies, but I don't generally wear that look. I also don't wear hats and gloves all the time. I have a couple pin-up outfits for conventions and that's it. I'm just trying to find that happy medium between clothing and costume for every day wear. I look horrid in jeans and fab in dresses and I wear dresses sewn from vintage patterns because they suit me not because I want to be a part of a culture. If modern clothing suits me, I wear that, too.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close