Magazine headlines vie for our attention in the checkout line at the store. Which celebrity is in trouble, what's the latest weight loss trick or beauty tip, and what are the latest fashion trends? The year 2012 is not so different from nearly 100 years ago as evidenced in a copy of McCall's Magazine from March 1921. The colorful front cover is appealing with a graphic for a short story called "Anna A Story of Peril and Love" by Mildred Cram.
In addition to other stories, this edition of the women's magazine has a section for fashion, hair, raising and teaching children, advertisements for beauty products, slimming corsets, laundering, the Victor Talking Machine's victrolas and, of course, recipes. What is similar to today is that many of the ads are compelling enough to want to try the product. What is different from today is that this could all be had for 15 cents.
Just as today, flipping through the magazine of 1921 was a source of ideas for fashion for the upcoming season, which of course are found in the McCall's pattern section. The dresses look slimming and graceful. Of particular interest in 1921 were hem lines that were broken and uneven. Hems were described as expressing the latest whim of fashion by going up and down in points and scallops with a tendency to dip on one or both sides on frocks and skirts. The styles appeared feminine with transparent material and laces over silks and satins, as well as over linens and heavier wash fabrics. Some skirts, with cascades gathered over the hips or tiers of fabric in petal-like folds gave the "new" uneven hem appearance. Just like shoes are prized today for the fashion-minded, in 1921, "the continued cry for elaborate trimmed footwear" along with hem lines, were of vital importance. Corsets were tastefully modeled and reminded readers that beauty of dress depended upon the fit of your corset and "glove-fitting" perfection of the best brand would conform to the requirements of your figure. Every woman also needed a bandeau or brassiere for the fashions that required a firm, youthful silhouette because "good taste" demanded it. Even "stout" women had tips for slenderizing with New York and Paris fashions.
Hair has always been given attention and there was certainly a market for hair care in 1921. One ad said that the woman who flaunts hair that has grown gray, faded and streaked, not only forfeits admiration but frequently invokes unfavorable comment. Gray hair "is censured nowadays" but such neglect could be overcome and girlhood beauty restored with Brownatone, a liquid hair tint for $1.50. A fine product, Cocoanut Oil Shampoo guaranteed glossy, smooth, bright, and delightfully fresh-looking hair, no matter how often it was used, although in 1921, often was considered once a week. Know that "without beautiful well-kept hair you can never be attractive" as evidenced by several women in the ad including the likes of Norma Talmadge, an actress of the silent-screen era. An accompanying article about hair styles featured stars of the time such as Helen Hayes with her "curly locks arranged in a girlish way" and Madge Kennedy's coiffure with reddish lights with curls around her face.
A New York hairdresser said the smartest style was fan-shaped and soft about the face. Bobbed hair was as popular as ever as well as curls. Hats of course were very popular and were part of every woman's basic wardrobe. The New York hairdresser noted that because of this, hair styles had to be designed to fit the style of the hats, thus hair over the forehead and ears.
Like today and fashion trends, not everyone or of all ages can pull off the latest fashion and look good. The same article about hair gave warning to the ladies of the day. It said that women needed to think about their own style and not to be fashionable at the "expense of becomingness." It said that with thought, the prevailing modes of fashion could be adapted. Certainly you wouldn't want a fashion of doing hair to "double the apparent size of an already large nose." The styles of the day must have taken time, because it was recommended to sit for an hour experimenting with hair and to write down the directions to duplicate the arrangement in the future. One had to find her style and as noted in the article, not let comments of family or friends disturb her until given a chance to become accustomed to the new style.
No doubt, skin care is a multi-million dollar industry that was well on its way in 1921. A full page ad has an adoring man with "a skin you love to touch" using Woodbury's Facial Soap for 25 cents. The cake was to be rubbed over the face and dried until skin was drawn and dry. Rinsing was with warm water, cold, and then finishing off by rubbing the face with a piece of ice. Various face powders were available and creams could remove freckles in 50-cent jars. Talcum powders could purify and perfume the skin. One brand was touted for "its strange, clinging delicacy that was always a source of delight."
All in all, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. There was an audience for fashion and beauty nearly a century ago and there is one now. The same "yesterday" 1921 edition of McCall's Magazine has what may be considered a nostalgic look at mothering and housekeeping and food products, perhaps to be revisited at another time. Make it a good week and for the fashioned minded, find and enjoy your style for 2012, which may also be examined in an upcoming column.
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