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Clothing Choices A 1941 Survey

Discussion in 'The Home Front Woman' started by I Adore Film Noir, Jul 30, 2011.

  1. I Adore Film Noir

    I Adore Film Noir A-List Customer

    Last edited: Jul 30, 2011
  2. I saw this on another forum or blog also, and thought it was interesting. If you substitute skirts with jeans, and sweaters with t-shirts, I think you'd have an accurate representation of a modern college students wardrobe :)

    Someone stated that a modern student at the end of college hasn't actually acquired a suitable work wardrobe, while the 1941 student has. (They were comparing the relative expensiveness of the '41 student's annual budget to the modern one). I wonder about that. Was a sweater set (college girl variation) considered acceptable work clothes? And was the college wardrobe what a young married woman would wear? I'm assuming that most of those young women were married soon after college, and few of them were expected to work.

    I'm also assuming the girls in Vermont had the most stockings because they were the coldest!
  3. Just the opposite, actually. It's the women who *didn't* go to college who were likely to marry early -- most marriages came within a couple of years of high-school graduation during the prewar era. Women who attended college generally intended to work -- and many of them were so career-minded that they never married at all.

    It was the postwar era, and the explosion of men attending college on the GI Bill, that led to the whole "going to college to get my MRS degree" phenomenon for young women. Prewar college women were far more independent-minded -- for evidence, take a look at the first few years of Mademoiselle magazine, "the Magazine For Smart Young Women," which devoted as much space to career advice as it did to fashion or find-your-man type articles.

    So, a work wardrobe was an essential for the 1941 college girl, and a sweater set might not be out of place in the average business office of the time -- although a simple blouse-and-skirt combination would be more common and more acceptable.
  4. zombi

    zombi A-List Customer

    It certainly is interesting! As for the question about coming out with work-wear, I don't know if sweater sets were considered appropriate for work for a lady in the 40s. I'll bet some other Loungers do, though. I would imagine a sweater-set and skirt would be appropriate for a secretary? But it's really interesting to think about. ETA: I see Lizzie got here while I was typing! A blouse-and-skirt makes sense.

    (I do know about it in relation to my own profession, though -- of course, if a gal wanted to be a nurse back then, she went to nursing school from high school, not college. Back then hospitals ran diploma programs, most of which have been done away with by now here in the states. A gal would live in the school's dormitory and wear the school's issued student nurse uniform. The uniform could change once she won her cap, became a graduate nurse, etc -- but because nursing students learned a lot on the wards, they wore the uniforms.)

    I do see farther down in the comments someone notes:
    And that seems like an awful lot of money! I'm now trying to think about if I add up whatever I've spent on clothing, how much does it come to per year. I don't think I kept track of things like that back then, but I wish I had so I could compare. Someone else notes that women who went to college in the 40s were more affluent than the average gal who goes now. I know I worked 2 or 3 jobs while I was a full-time student.

    I'd agree you'd think the gals with more stockings had 'em because it was colder!
  5. Based on the number of formal dresses, it looks like the girls in Texas were certainly going to more parties. My kind of place:)

    I think I'm movie influenced, but I tend to picture the young college/career gal of the Forties as Gene Tierney in Laura. College educated and career oriented, but with family money backing her as she gets started in life. Which isn't really all that different from what a young man would get.

    But without having anything more than an educated guess to go on, the colleges in the article may show skewed results. I think the schools showing the highest number of articles of clothing were the more expensive schools, and Michigan and Kansas State showed the least number. That $200+ number was the average. The article stated the Texas girls averaged $768 - over $11,000 in 2010 dollars! Why am I picturing J.R. Ewing sending his little gal off to school in style!? But if Vassar and and Smith even came close to the Texas dollars, it could mean girls at some of the other schools were spending less than a $100 a year. It's the old joke of 10 people are at a bar, and one of them is Bill Gates. What's the average net worth in the room :)
  6. Exactly right. Keep in mind that before the war only a very small percentage of Americans attended college at all -- and they were overwhelmingly of the upper-middle and upper classes. The average working class American of the time had no more expectation of post-secondary education than he or she did of flying to the moon.
  7. Zombi and Lizzie, when I saw that article, I mentally subtracted nursing and teaching from the results. I sort of thought I'd read something about nursing along the lines of what Zombi said. And while one of my grandmothers went to college to become a teacher, from what she told me, hats and formal dresses weren't exactly a part of her life. I never heard any of the older women in my family talk about college. My other grandmother and my great-aunt graduated from female seminary's. Gauging from their books, I'd call them humanities focused high schools- heavy on languages and art- not so much on science or math :(. A couple of months in France and Italy for "finishing" (circa 1920's) and THEN off to marriage!

    I can imagine that attending a well-regarded university attracted a different type of young woman- especially by the 30's and 40's.
  8. RodeoRose

    RodeoRose A-List Customer

    As a current college gal myself, this is most interesting, and pertinent as I start back-to-school shopping. I'm actually surprised how much these girls had (10 pairs of shoes, 11 blouses, 13 day dresses!). I always thought my overstuffed closets were thoroughly unvintage, assuming actual closets held just a bare minimum of pieces. Though of course, the college set generally wasn't as strapped for cash then, as mentioned here.

    Yes indeed! This article was just the validation I needed; I really never will have too many pairs of stockings for our bitter winters lol.
  9. At first I thought those numbers just had to be off. I grew up in a house built in the 1800's, and the closets were miniscule! And my dorm closet was similar in size. A rod about four feet long, plus whatever I could cram in the shelves above, and into my dresser. How could those 40's era gals have much bigger closets?

    But.... If you consider those numbers as a total of what a girl had, then some of it was off-season. I could easily fit one season's worth of clothes into my closet, at home and at the dorm. The rest was in the attic or a spare bedroom closet. Admittedly my closets were still stuffed, especially when I threw in my ROTC gear, but but it was doable.

    Now, these days- absolutely no way. My HATS need their own closet! But I'm not a college girl:). I'm a mature career gal- with stuff, lots of stuff. And I have a spare bedroom that's just dying to be turned into a dressing room. Nothing but closet, vanity, perfume, cosmetics, and HATS. Red velvet accessories included!
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2011
  10. I agree with this, at first I was like, "wow!" But if you think about the blouses, that meant that a girl had 10 blouses for summer, spring, fall, and winter. That means 5 short-sleeve blouses for summer (a week's worth) and 5 blouses long-sleeve for winter (a week's worth). The same with the skirts. That's actually not that many clothes, especially considering the average cost spent- those must have been very nice pieces and I imagine they lasted a long time.

    When I went to college, I also had a small closet. My dorm had been built in the 1920s as one of the first men's dormitory on campus, before that men lived off campus and women lived on campus (the women had a new dorm built at the same time as the facility I lived in). Men and women's dorms were originally physically on different sides of the campus (West and North). I had a three-foot closet, originally intended for two men. I easily fit all of my clothes, luggage, and junk into that and a dresser. I went with a 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of pants, 3 skirts, 14 t-shirts, 4 blouses, a vest, 8 sweaters, 3 sweatshirts, and 2 or 3 dresses. I also had 3 or 4 outside jackets. I had several sets of mittens and winter hats. All that clothing got me through 4 years of college. It always seemed like I had way more clothes than anyone else I knew too, at least when I had to pack up my car! ;)

    I find it interesting the colleges chosen. Two of my alma maters are listed (which makes this peronally fascinating), both of which were co-ed, although one was historically originally a men's seminary and still is private. The other originally was co-ed and has both state and private colleges.
  11. Frk.W

    Frk.W New in Town

    I think the relative cost of clothes was different from today as well, that's one thing we tend to forget today - we generally don't pay what clothes would cost to make in the same economy that we live and work in, and much of the new clothing people buy and wear is constructed much more simply, with cheaper materials, than the clothes people bought and wore in the 1940's. The difference is even greater if you go back to the 19th century; clothes were serious investments for middle and working class people, because it's a very labour intensive product, from harvesting raw materials to dyeing to weaving to cutting to sewing, and it's an investment you have to make. Especially men's clothes had to be invested in, because they lived a greater part of their lives in public.

    There's a very comprehensive French study, made by an anthropologist in the second half of the 19th century, which lists the value of all the items owned by French farmer, working class and lower middle class families. Clothes make up a huge portion. There's no getting around it, you have to have clothes, even if you're poor, and you have to have proper clothes too, clothes that (at the very least) maintain your position in society. It's not as frivolous as many people tend to think at all; being less than properly dressed in the public sphere has real consequences. I think that might be part of why the average amount of money spent of clothing is high, too - class is definitely a factor, but the simple fact that clothes are worth so much less today also plays into it.

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