“No girl is entitled to wear knee-length skirts unless she has pretty legs.”
Such was the no-nonsense advice from fashion and beauty writer Helen Jameson in the Aug. 22, 1940, edition of the Lancaster New Era.
Fashion was a popular topic in the women’s section of both the Lancaster New Era and the Intelligencer Journal in the 1930s and ’40s, whether it was for the busy homemaker, the young working woman, the playful little girl or the campus co-ed.
And while there were plenty of ads from local department stores where you could by the latest fashions, both newspapers gave their female readers regular opportunities to make their own. Dress patterns were a regular feature in the classified section of the newspapers throughout the ’30s and ’40s, and beyond, often appearing multiple days a week.
Each feature included a sketch of the dress, along with a description and instructions for sending away for the complete pattern – including all pattern pieces and a cutting and sewing guide – for “15 cents in coins.” More ambitious seamstresses could request a full catalog of patterns, such as “Our Spring Fashion Magazine” or the “Anne Adams Spring Pattern Book,” for an additional 10 cents.
Among the offerings:
- A youthful jacket suit of sportsweight linen with tuck-in blouse of handkerchief linen.
- Smart, floppy beach trousers with snuggly fitting yoke – “youthful and practical to wear over one’s bathing costume.”
- A one-piece jumpsuit for “war-busy” days. (“Trick it out with gay contrast for ‘homework’ or make up the version with large pockets in a good stout denim to wear at the defense plant.”)
- Slim, simple afternoon frock, designed to make you the “the bright star of any social event.”
- Jumper with hip-length box jacket that would be ideal for school, yet take a girl “merrily through the summer.”
- A practical bloomer dress for tiny tots.
- Aprons: “’Woman’s work is never done’ – any homemaker will agree! But how much brighter your household tasks seem in a crisp and pretty apron …”
Along with discussions of the latest styles, the focus of those fashion and beauty pages was often on the importance of looking your best, no matter what you were doing.
Today’s stay-at-home moms might take exception to some of the advice from “beauty experts” in an article titled “House clothes are styled for ego-building charm,” by Newspaper Enterprise Association correspondent Marian Young:
“… the smartly groomed woman becomes less tired during a normal day’s activities than one who ‘just slips on any old thing,’ sticks a few pins in her hair and wades right into the housework, hoping that the doorbell won’t ring.”
The article notes that designers created practical clothes for every hour of the day – playsuits for around the house, skirts to change into when the doorbell rings or the children come in for lunch, shirtwaisters for “marketing and less strenuous housework,” housecoats for leisure and evening time, and tailored slacks and jackets for gardening or the “Monday morning date with the washtubs.”
That’s a lot of outfits for one day.
Whether hand-sewn or store-bought, to make all of these clothes look their prettiest, Helen Jameson advised good posture, exercises to tone the mid-section and a “good harness.”
“Quivering flesh is not attractive,” Jameson wrote. “Tummies, which should be flat, are little shelves. Hips are unconfined. Boozums that should be neatly bandaged look horrid. Yes, my children, a woman should be well-harnessed.”
Jameson lamented that women developed bad posture, in part, by mimicking the “arty pose” of movie sirens, and that caused figures to “go to seed.”
“One’s figure should be alive and alert, one’s muscles strong and resilient. Let the shoulders fall forward, the chest contract and the tummy plops out,” she wrote. “Then what? The mealbag figure is on the way. If there’s anything worse than that, you tell me. Because I don’t know.”