1930s dress and accompanying off-topic rant

Isn't this a cute dress from Revamp Vintage? Thank La Bella Donna for pointing us all toward their site.

This dress, from their 1930s collection, is really adorable, and I say this as an avowed opponent of puff sleeves. Not that I haven't worn them myself, it's just I always regret it later, much like eating Cool Ranch Doritos.

Anyway, it's $150, they make them in limited runs, click on the picture, blah blah blah.

Now for the rant, which the Revamp site reminded me of. Revamp, helpfully, has sections on vintage makeup and hairstyles, so you can get the complete look. I have nothing against the complete look, but I personally prefer to wear my vintage in a completely ahistorical manner. (Not to mention that achieving a totally vintage look is HARD.)

In addition to the 'how-to-do-you-get-a-finger-wave" stuff, Revamp also provides little histories of each era for which they make clothes, thumbnail overviews, really, just in case someone can't quite remember when WWII was. From their 1950s overview: "Certainly some women [giving up work outside the home after the war] were reluctant to give up their newly found sense of independence, but many women were happy to take up their traditional roles again. … The main image for women was of demure femininity suitable for the sober role of motherhood." Now, there are certain arguments that can be made about how the role of homemaker and full-time mother was one that was not really possible for any but a very limited class of women before the 1950s, and, of course, whenever you see the word "many," the natural reaction is to say "HOW many, and how do you know?" But it's (I remind myself) just a quick sketch of a complicated era, put up to sell clothes.

All that aside, I get tremendously irked (here's the rant coming, fair warning) when someone thinks that just because I'm wearing a 1950s dress, I have 1950s thoughts, and espouse the values that are (usually erroneously) attributed to that era. Anyway, excuse my language, but fuck that noise.

I wear 1950s styles for aesthetic reasons, not ideological ones. I just like the way they look. I don't think that a full skirt correlates at all with a desire for women not to work outside the home, for instance. Or that my fondness for little cardigan sweaters, with or without pearls, should be taken as an indication that I disapprove of premarital sex, or that a Peter Pan collar signals "Hey, love those Jim Crow laws!" I know that some people wear vintage as part of a greater push toward recapturing what they consider to be some golden age, but, really, the past mostly sucked. So I don't really understand idealizing that time, no matter how aesthetically pleasing the clothes and cars were.

This correlation of clothes and ideology seems to be tighter for the 1950s, by the way. If you show up in some 1930s silk bias evening gown, nobody assumes that you're pro-Hitler. A cloche hat doesn't signify any opinion, either way, on Prohibition. A 1940s dress isn't read as a silent vote for internment camps. But put on a June Cleaver-ish dress, and all of a sudden you're a sergeant in the June Cleaver Attitude Readjustment & Nostalgia Army.

Thanks but no thanks. I don't want to return to some supposedly more genteel era (all my time-machine fantasies involve me going back, buying out a few department stores after betting on the Kentucky Derby winner, and returning hot-foot to the present day with my trophies). I like it here just fine, thanks, what with the Internet and stay-at-home dads and contraception and cell phones and integration and jetpacks and all. Oh, wait, I forgot that we don't have jetpacks yet. But when we do I'm gonna be wearing a nice full skirt with mine. And possibly pearls.

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0 thoughts on “1930s dress and accompanying off-topic rant

  1. I am so with you on this! I get people asking me if I want to go back and live in the Victorian period or the Renaissance, when I wear costumes of those eras, but really it is just about styles that look good on me. It doesn’t reflect my moral stance. The only costume that I would say is a reflection of my philosophy of life, is Aesthetic dress of the late 19th century, because I actually subscribe to the ideals of that movement.

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  2. I’d love to see a post from you about silhouettes of the various decades and what body types they suit/who can’t get away with them. You’ve contrasted the 1930s and 1950s a lot, but I’d love a full 20th century rundown.

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  3. I can try … I haven’t made a lot of study of the 20s and 40s. (Maybe I like odd numbers?) Anyway, I’ll see what I can do. There’s stuff people of every shape can wear in every era, it’s just harder if you don’t fit into the “iconic” silhouette of that era.

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  4. The whole 1950s housewife propaganda thing is one of my favorite rants — it was a systematic plot to get women back out of the workforce when the men came back from WWII. It’s not like June Cleaver was actually representative of people of the time.I actually just used that as part of an op-ed I had to write for school. Anyway…

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  5. I was reading Vogue a couple seasons ago and two different designers commented on this–one said that they were introducing a little more edginess to their ladylike line “despite the current political climate” (because you know wearing florals with plaid gets you sent to Guantanamo), and another was furious over the retro-1950s trend, identifying it with politics, until the interviewer pointed out the prevalence of Peter Pan collars and full skirts in the designer’s own line. Can’t we hang politics and just look pretty?Love your blog, by the way.Cari

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  6. Love the comment: I agree. The reason to wear vintage is cut and style, and (almost more important) the quality of both the finish and the fabric. I’m assuming that the 50’s is one of those eras that gets sold as a unit: 50’s nostalgia has been allied to a certain kind of conservatism. It’s also one of the few eras that people recognize. The 20’s don’t get sold that way, nor do the 30’s (a much more conservative era than the 50’s, in fact).

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  7. Hey Erin,I love your site so much(and am so lacking in actual work to do) that I’ve gone back and started reading from the beginning.I love your rant and I hope I have your permission to use your words when making snarky remarks to people who comment on my ’50s goodness.Thanks a mil.

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  8. Great article. The thing is, I love Revamp Vintage but I have two gripes:1) Some of the clothing looks a bit like youre wearing a Halloween costume2) Theyre really overpriced. $500 for a 1940s replica day dress? Why would I do that when I can get the real thing from ebay for about $150?!

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