Fashion Advice from B-A’s Barbara Jean… September 1950

Sept 50 P.10A friend sent me a scan of this fashion advice column from the ‘B-A Commentator’ an employee newsletter for the British-American Oil Co., with fashion tips probably intended for the wives of employees. The columns are by ‘Barbara Jean’, most likely a syndicated writer of fashion columns for small journals and periodicals like this. The B.A. Commentator was in print from 1948 to 1982, but the fashion advice columns petered out in 1952 (according to my friend who has a near complete run.) This column from September 1950 sings the praises of the little black dress and the power of styling via accessories – especially shoes:

B.B.B. – “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is many a girl’s theme song when it comes to fall fashions. She’s bewitched by the fascinating new shades and styles; bothered by the prices and how she’s going to afford anything; bewildered by not knowing what would go best with what she already has.

B.B.B. could also mean “Basic Black is Back” which is a headline in any up-to-date fashion report.

The little black dress, for years beloved by women everywhere for the versatility, is being welcomed back into fashion again this fall. The 1950 revival version is slim and straight lined, simply cut, often with a loose, easy, slightly lowered bodice – definitely a change from last year’s tightly fitted tops and flowing skirts. It may be in smooth wool, in jersey or in silk but it is usually designed to meet any situation, depending, of course on the accessories with which it is teamed.

Worn with a small silk scarf, chamois gloves, tailored gold jewellery, a polished calf pump and handbag and a little felt cloche, your own little black wool or jersey will take you shopping or to business. Shoes are especially important this year, of course, in a season focussed on accessories and shorter hem lengths. With your daytime accessories fashion leaders suggest a simple, polished leather, suede or reptile walking shoe. There are many graceful mid-heel styles to choose from this fall. And don’t be afraid to wear coloured shoes with your black dress. One of the new dark reds makes a wonderful contrast.

For Sunday best and other dressy occasions, you’ll want to change to a pair of suede or velvet pumps. The Spanish influence in dresses is also to be seen in new shoe styles with their richly encrusted braid and jet trimming. Other softly detailed pumps are cut asymmetrically and piped with another fabric in leather, sometimes in kid, satin, velvet or calf.

Come five o’clock and you’re off to a dinner and dancing or just a movie. Your little black dress can undergo a gay transformation with glittery jewellery, long suede gloves, a little feather or velvet cap and a small clutch bag of velvet or faille.

The flattering bare shell or stripling sandal is the perfect shoe to take you partying or off for an evening on the town.

Accessories and a well planned shoe wardrobe to cover all occasions do the trick. It’s fun and it’s easy to be well dressed, just by collecting the right hat, the right shoes, to dress your go-every-where ‘basic black’ up or down.

Shop Windows – Mr. John 1950

Mr. John 1950Hat By Mr JohnWhen I saw the image of the woman with the wicker bag admiring a hat in the window of Mr. John’s on 57th street in New York in 1950 I thought the hat must have been the attraction. However, another photo from a different viewpoint revealed that perhaps it was the rubber snake or dollar bills that caught the woman’s eye!

I have a lot of filing to do before the end of the world on Friday, so this will be my last blog for a few days and if the Mayans were right, this will be my last blog forever!

I’ve heard of Kitten Heels before…but Mouse Wedgies?

1950 news photo of mice inside a plastic wedge heel

Twenty-five years before someone put goldfish inside a platform shoe some shoe designer, probably inspired by the idea of coachmen mice and glass slippers from the 1950 Disney film Cinderella, decided it might be fun to put mice inside a hollow plastic wedge heel. Before you freak out, I am guessing this was a one-off made as a publicity stunt for a shoe convention and, if worn, probably saw one fashion show. I wouldn’t be too quick to assume the worst fate for the mice either – those guys can chew through a wall!

A Working Girl’s Clothing Budget in 1950

Another interesting read from my recent stash of Pageant magazines is an article from January 1951 about how much a young working woman spends on her wardrobe: “How do they do it on their meager salaries?” asked Pageant “To find out, (we) stopped Charlotte Angowitz on a street in Manhattan and asked her. Here’s how she dresses on $30.00 a week.” To put things in perspective $30.00 per week ($1,560.00 per annum) – is the adjusted value equivalent of about $260.00 per week (about $13,500.00 per annum today.)

The article commends Miss Angowitz on her thriftiness, attributing her clever clothes budgeting on several factors: buying separates to alternate with suits, double duty ‘convertible’ garments that can be dressed up for dinner or dressed down for work, keeping an eye out for sales and end of season clear-outs rather than giving into impulse purchases of trendy items, buying three-season clothes to get the most wear from her fashions, and above all, taking care of her wardrobe.

Despite the fact that today’s closets are bursting at the seams with clothes, the average woman actually spends less today than her 1950 counterpart. The U.S. Census bureau calculated that the average woman in 2009 (based on retail reported sales) spent a surprisingly low $14.50 per week (about $750.00 per annum), almost half of what Miss Angowitz spent in 1950! However, a more recent article, based on a survey of women’s actual buying habits rather than reported sales, showed that women spent on average about $40.00 per week (about $2,000 per annum.) The average ranged from women under the age of 25 who spent twice as much as women over the age of 55. Still, with the adjusted dollar value, that is far less than 1950 spending according to our Pageant article. The main reasons for the drop in the cost of clothing over the years is due to the introduction of cheaper synthetic materials, off-shore labour, and casual styles.

Charlotte Angowitz’ working wardrobe for fall 1950, from the January 1951 edition of Pageant magazine.