July 5, 2010
tearsheets – Good Housekeeping September 1932
Good Housekeeping September 1932 was another find at the St. Lawrence Market Sunday antique market. Old magazines are hard to find, even slightly old ones from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I’m not a collector in the sense that I’m looking for mint condition magazines – I like the ones with some damage, some missing pages, mostly because they are cheap. Its nice to be able to spend not too much more than I would for a modern issue, and to not have to feel all precious about it.
Usually I am on the lookout for fashion magazines, not women’s magazines, but this one caught my eye because it is filled with beautiful illustrations. Click on any of the scans to see them bigger.
This gorgeous ink illustration accompanies a story about whether work should be distributed according to merit or need. The editor’s note “Living Down to the Smiths” is also very much a meditation on the times, and could just as easily apply to these times, stated with now-uncommon picturesque language.
A few years ago we were all amused by a series of comic pictures called “Keeping Up With the Joneses” — a family continuously in financial deep water because they tried — in public at least — to ape their wealthy neighbors. … The keeping-up families — whose number was legion — had their full share of responsibility for plunging the country into the mess it is now in. … Then came the big scare — and buying power, yesterday a rushing river, dwindled to a midsummer’s creek in dry country.
There are ads for Cadillacs in the front, and in the back of the magazine many small ads offering opportunities to make money in your spare time. There are articles with fine homes and other articles “dressing the young on a reduced budget”.
The most striking thing about old magazines is the fiction, so often lavishly illustrated. The stories tend to be moralistic and romantic, but also reflecting modern times – career women, remarriage and divorce, all played by the most glamourously illustrated figures.
There is a whole series on home renovations and interiors, which apparently were on display for the public at a building in New York. The little dressing room is the same size as my current bedroom – 5 x 9 – but what strikes me is how lovely it would be to have a nice dressing table with a big mirror and a place for all your cosmetics and pretty little things. So small and yet so elegant, whatever happened to the dressing table? I’ve never had one.
The fashion illustrations are much stiffer and more utilitarian than the fiction illustrations. They very stoically display the attributes of fashion and yet somehow don’t convey much attitude. The fashion copy has the character of a wire or a telegram or something, a list of “What To Look For” without the evocative phrasing you read in the rest of the editorial copy. Oddly perfunctory.
The fashion and beauty articles are also somewhat moralistic in a way that seems worth getting nostalgic about. Home remedies for skin and hair using lemons and such are refreshingly non-consumerist, as is “It Pays to be Homely”
“This thing you call beauty — this accidental perfection of nose and mouth and coloring — I hate it! I wish I had been born with stringy hair and buck teeth! … A girl who has been taught from birth to believe herself beautiful becomes a receiving station for idle compliments. Even if she is blessed with generous impulses, she soon forgets how to give. And it’s giving that brings happiness. I learned that too late.”
I really liked the little feature of sport clothes, especially this picture of New York girls dressed for Polo. Would you look at the attitude, and the rakish customization of their uniforms?
I didn’t include the bits on food, though they’re brilliant, and the recipes are much more familiar than I would expect from a 78 year old document. There is the famous Morton’s Salt ad, the one that coined the phrase “when it rains, it pours”. The cosmetic ads are especially interesting to examine, having read “Hope in a Jar”. 1932 was at the cusp of the period where makeup was becoming normalized and corporatized – the language around “painting” and “makeup” is very purposefully being changed in the copy.