Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beware Beauty - and Dr. Oz

August 1911 Delineator, clothes for school girls. Caption: the long vacation should help school girls grow tall and rosy. Pretty dresses and trim outing costumes help towards the fun and exercises which they need. The dress on the right is a semi-princess for a small woman. "The model looks extremely well-developed in a foulard, round or sailor collar and cuffs. A feature of the waist (blouse) is the kimono sleeve.

In Threshold Girl  I have Flora Nicholson peruse this very edition of the Delineator magazine. (Indeed, the cover is the cover of my ebook.) I have lots of nice colour plates in the book from various era Delineators.

This is the page that would have caught her attention: She was 18 in 1911, but a small,thin 18. In those days they tried to make thin 18 year olds look bigger. Today, the ideal woman (see Kate Middleton) is so thin she can blow away.

The ideal woman. She is a problem!

A couple of days ago my husband, on vacation, was watching Dr. Oz. He likes the show. But Oz was promoting some silly sounding method to instantly reprogram people (ie, women, his audience) out of their bad habits.

He brought a young woman out. Her problem, she wasn't happy with her looks, her nose, her mouth, her skin, whatever. She was a plain woman.

I turned to my husband, "This woman isn't happy with her looks because she has been bombarded with media images since birth saying her features are NOT the ideal! That's NOT gonna go a way in five minutes. If if did, the stock market would crash. More than it has, anyway."

I write this because the picture above features 'models' all with a certain round type of face. A few months later, Flora, who is not a pretty girl, writes back about a girl at school who is "one of those dolly face girls who pretends to be so terribly nervous." Dolly-faced girls were 'in' I guess.

This woman is popular and has stolen Flora's roommate's affections.

The Nicholson women were not brought up to be nervous, although they were somewhat  vain. Even the middle aged Mom was vain. (I can see she was a beauty in her day, from the early picture I have of her, but in the 1860's and 70's, young women were not bombarded with consumer-age images. That was only starting in 1900, for the middle class and only in these fashion magazines.)

Beauty was considered dangerous by some people, mostly religious types.  "Beware Beauty" advises the 1896 sex hygiene book, Light in Dark Corners.

I put that bit about Beauty in Biology and Ambition about Flora's sister Marion, who was very popular with boys and girls, although not a classic beauty, just a charismatic girl. No shrinking violet nervous Nellie.  I guess women in the era were taught that men liked 'frail' women but all evidence in Marion's diaries proves quite the opposite. No one was more boffo than Marion Nicholson, who rose to be a Union Leader. (And even after that the men liked her.)

All this brings to mind an incident I heard of a few months ago. I was visiting a relation whose daughter was away at college in California. Her daughter was checking out sororities. She phoned her mother to say she was introduced, or whatever, at a certain sorority but she knew she wouldn't get in. All the girls were beautiful.

"And your daughter isn't beautiful? " I asked.
"Not in the right way, " my relation answered. Not tall, skinny and blond.

You see her daughter is a classic Egyptian or Middle eastern beauty. Indeed, when they visited the Louvre a year or so earlier, the Mom and Daughter went around comparing her to the statues there.

A goddess. But not the right kind of goddess!

Take about Dolly type of beauties. Barbie really has become the ideal. And Barbie doesn't exist outside of Copenhagen. Not even in the suburbs of Copenhagen, because there you get Danish peasant stock, or so my sister in law (a Dane) told me.  Well, actually not Danish because the actresses and Kate Middleton are flat chested, pencil thin, modern day garconnes.

I recall a line from the bizarre satire 30 Rock, where most of the women except the protagonist are ideal women, blond pencil thin.  What's her name, Jenna Maroney, the crazy blond lead actress with the pre-teen body, asks Liz Lemon if they can hire a big woman to stand behind her so she looks more tiny and vulnerable.

30 Rock satirizes society's ideal woman while featuring loads of said woman - along with a lot of homely fat men. Kind of cake and eat it too...Like the very popular stage play Everywoman, Flora and sisters go to see in 1911, that proselytizes against female narcissism using gorgeous young actresses in pretty form fitting costumes.

Ok, to the other dresses. The first one on the right anyway: The top is a waist for a small women, resembling a Norfolk jacket . Applied straps, simulating box plaits, conceal the side seams front and back. The waist closes in double breasted style and is particularly smart when worn over a skirt with a patent leather belt. Linen, poplin, duck and serge are used extensively for the design and the cuffs and broad sailor collar are generally made of a contrasting material.

A neckband for wear with different high collars is rather better for the regular shirt waist style, that is usually made with full length sleeves.

If you are going to read any of my three books about the Nicholsons in 1911, you had better get it in your head what a 'waist' is. The women are always writing about them. Waists or shirtwaists are blouses or blouses in a male shirt style.

In the 1910 era, as young women went off to work in the big city, they adopted male dress habits (on top, not below, which was illegal...hence harem pants, ah, skirts) like shirts and ties!! and then they fancied them up!! Below, from the same magazine a 'mannish' shirtwaist.  I have no pictures of Marion or Flora in working women garb, but I do have a couple of Edith, so that's good enough.

Edith, second top. In her Mannish Shirtwaist, 1911 era. Right in style, because she liked to be fashionable to her dying days. The Nicholsons made their own waists.. and wrote about it a lot.