17 May 2010

Looking The Part of the 50s Housewife

The 1950s housewife had a fairly iconic look – the perfectly coiffed soft perm, sharp make-up and a lovely dress that accentuated a nipped-in waist.

I’ll be going for the spirit of that in the 50s Housewife Experiment, if not the authentic costume. I won’t put chemicals in my hair but I will “do” my hair each day (which, sadly, isn’t the current norm). I don’t own dresses in the 50s style or petticoats, so I’ll sub in contemporary versions.

The beauty regiment of the 50s housewife starts right away. Here’s some advice she received:


I like how the advice above considered whether I had a "maidless kitchen." How thoughtful.

After getting her husband off to work, she then did a 10-minute morning exercise routine:


(Basically, a bunch of bending while wearing a bra, underwear and one of those hair handkerchiefs popularized by Rosie the Riveter and Aunt Jemima.)

She then showered, washed her face, and did her hair and make-up. She went about her day, all the while aware of her appearance. Here are some basic tips for staying 24-7 glamorous:

In addition to the daily maintenance, she had a beauty schedule for maintaining her look. Here’s a suggestion from Today’s Woman Magazine (1952):



I’m a little stumped on the washing of one’s hair just once a week (and scandalized that they mention that someone might not need to wash it that often). I’m not sure if I can handle that. Let me put it this way: You know that scene in the Breakfast Club in which Ally Sheedy’s character created a gentle dandruff “snow fall” on her drawing by shaking her hands through her hair? I’m guessing after just four days of Denorex-free living, I would create such a snow storm that Toronto would be inclined to call the military in again.

Anyhoo – apparently it was quite normal for women of the time to go to the hairdresser each week and have their hair shampooed and styled there – which seems like both underkill and overkill at the same time.

We shall see.

Image Sources: The Bride's Reference Book; Today's Woman, November 1952.

8 comments:

paiiige 10:24 am, May 18, 2010  

re: hair washing... have you tried dry shampoo? i've become a recent convert and where i once could barely last 24 hours without turning into a greasy, flat-haired mess, it actually gives my hair more volume and i'm able to go four days between washes!

i'm pretty sure it was betty draper's secret. maybe.

(anyway, the best brand is Batisse and you can get it at Shoppers for 8.99 a bottle)

Jen 3:25 pm, May 19, 2010  

Oooh - thank you Paige! I will definitely check that out!

Mrs.Wilson 1:06 am, March 19, 2011  

Not shampooing is actually healthier. The natural oils on your scalp where not meant to be stripped constantly- this could be the cause of your danduff. Check out the no-poo routine- you cleanse with conditioner and water. It's awesome!

Andrea 12:32 pm, January 04, 2012  

I have curly hair and only wash once a week....my hair is naturally dry and to wash more often is a curly girls NO NO. It's mostly in a ponytail anyway...I often put olive oil in it as well

Sarena Watts 8:52 pm, February 20, 2012  

So I have really long hair and I do use dry shampoo also but after 1 day, even with the dry shampoo, it had to go up. I want to do this living like a housewife thing so I am thinking maybe I will do nice updos. My hair is definitely longer than they usually wore it in the 50s.

My husband's mom told me that she remembered her mom in the 50s going to the beauty shop once a week and she did not wash it in between. I wish we still used the same hair styles so I could get away with it. At 28 I may look silly with a coiffed hair. Any suggesting for maintaining perfect hair while cleaning?

Anonymous,  5:07 pm, February 23, 2012  

I pretty much only do 50s/60s style, and travelled overseas recently and tried this with success (I have oily, a little past shoulder length dead straight hair and wash it everyday normally) - wash at night and mousse. Sleep in soft curlers, next morning, beautiful 50s style., spray in place. Next day, use dry shampoo on roots, style and spray into place neatly. Next day, wear in chignon, or some sort of up do - 3 days without washing, I never thought I could ever do that. Scalp itched, but photos show it looked good!
There seems to have been a revival in dry shampoo at the moment (Batiste, etc) it's good, but bad for landfill!
I also wore my stiletto pumps everyday, and had my flats in my tote bag in case. Modish!

Sarena Watts 7:43 pm, February 23, 2012  

Thank you. I am thinking that I may be cutting my hair so I can survive housework and look decent. My hair is about at my waist. The texture is wavy if I let it air dry but very straight with a brush and hairdryer. I love my long hair but the truth is...it is up 90% of the time because it is in my way..so sometimes it feels like a waste of time to work on because it will be going up. And once it is up, it cant come down without washing because I get terrible dents. You should e-mail me sarenawatts@yahoo.com and maybe you could share some pics with me. I need all the help I can get. I want to look polished and ready to go out while scrubbing my tubs!

Kate,  8:45 am, July 24, 2012  

My favourite is the part in Secrets of the Beauteous Bride about greeting her husband with joy even if she burns the pot roast, and the next sentence being "she never burns the pot roast" cause it needs to look glamourous too! Hahaha! I've just started reading about your 1950s experiment. I'm looking forward to the rest of it. :)

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