Few women in the 1950s seemed to wear a dress size larger than a size eight — that is to say few wore a larger size in a material that would last for more than 50 years.
A few years ago while getting ready to attend a conference of National Federation of Press Women in Virginia, I went on a shopping spree to beat all shopping sprees.
I didn't buy a completely new wardrobe and my husband was glad to read that statement, but I was preparing to participate in a “Bold Women of History” style show and to wear a professional woman's suit and accessories from the 1950s.
I go back a few years before the 50s and thought I remembered what we wore during that era. However, few women in the 50s held leadership positions in businesses that required dress suits and accessories every day. Most were worn by the average woman only on Sunday to go to church.
One of my first jobs that was sometime in 1954 was a clerk for a savings and loan and Mrs. Shelton was in charge of the two clerks. I know that her first name was Helen, but to us, she was Mrs. Shelton.
She came to work every day wearing a suit, hat and gloves and if the skies were cloudy, she carried an umbrella. She carefully removed her hat and placed it on top of a file cabinet, then put it back on when she headed out for lunch or home in the evening.
I cannot remember what the clerks wore, but it was something less formal. Pants had not been approved for working women at that time so we probably wore sweaters or blouses or skirts with flat heeled shoes.
Later when I went to work for the Denison Herald, I wore dresses or skirts and blouses except when I was going out to cover a luncheon, tea or similar function that a women's news editor sometimes attended. On those occasions, I wore a hat and gloves and carried my camera, notepad and purse. I remember coming back into the office and being asked by some smarty “Whose funeral did you go to?” I was really glad to see that style replaced by something more casual.
As I attempted to round up my outfit for the style show, I started looking in antique stores and shops that had vintage clothing. I won't tell my dress size, but it certainly isn't a size six or an eight, which is all they had to offer. Very few of these sizes were suits.
Finally, I ran across a reasonably priced suit from later years that hopefully would serve the purpose. The lined jacket was the Coco Chanel type that was popular in the 50s, according to three books loaned to me by a good friend who studied fashion design.
So I bought the suit and began looking for accessories. I had some white pumps and although they weren't the highest heels with the most pointed toes, maybe I wouldn't fall and break my neck. I wore those pointy toed shoes for so long that my feet rebel now if I even think of putting them into a pair. And those six-inch heels are really for the birds.
I remembered that my mother once had some white gloves, so a new search began. On a day that the temperature didn't go above 95 down here in Texas, I went to the storage house and in the last of several boxes I went through, I found four pairs of gloves. Mother always wore gloves when she dressed up in her younger days. A mid-forearm pair was just what I needed.
I had been spreading the word of my search among friends and one happened to have a pink 50s flowered hat and pink gloves in her car when several of us were having breakfast one morning. She loaned them to me. Then I ran across a small pink flowered pillbox hat that was very reasonably priced in an antique store. So I'll have to make a choice.
It really hurts me to see that the 50s now are considered antiques.
I seemed to recall that when I worked in my dad's drugstore in the 50s while I was in high school, we sold ladies nylons and had a hard time keeping those with seams up the back — or seamless either. So I decided that hose with seams would go well with my attire.
After looking all over town, I turned to eBay and found several pair. Bidding on some was higher than I wanted to go, but I found one pair that was reasonable, so I bid and won. Then I had to find garters to keep them up. Pantyhose had not been introduced in my 50s.
Then I thought about all the weird eyeglasses we wore in the 50s. I had several very interesting pairs, including a pair of sunglasses with small awnings over the glass part. But according to my friend's books, the proper glasses were cat eye. So I started making the rounds again looking for cat eye shaped eyeglasses. I found a pretty neat pair with gold trim that was reasonable and half price to boot. After removing the lens from them, they didn't look too bad.
I had a pink scarf that went nicely with the suit. I remember that we always wore those small neck scarves that we tied under our ear and let the tails flap in the breeze. I once had a drawer full, but that's another thing that went during a garage sale. We have these great ideas about getting rid of all this “old” stuff in sales, then wonder why when the need arises.
With my pearl necklace and pearl button earrings, I was set for the show. It's a good thing that it was all in fun because I don't think my outfit would send the members out to try to buy an exact copy. Besides, it's not a size six or an eight.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.