Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nice Girls Don't Dangle

My husband brought home the first series of Mad Men on dvd last night, which made me very happy, for, as anyone who is even vaguely attuned to fashion knows, this show is visual rapture.

One thing (of many) that made an impression from that first episode: the polish of the women in dress and deportment. Of course this is televised fiction, and period trends will be heightened for the screen, but the late fifties/early sixties truly did see women with carefully curled hair, immaculate manicures, run-free stockings, freshly blotted lipstick, pressed blouses, girdled hips, and well-shined shoes as a matter of course. It helped that wardrobes were far more limited back in those days: with only five blouses and three dresses to maintain, it mattered far more that they were always in good nick.

Little details counted loads. Any deviation from the code of proper dress could mark a woman as a slattern. Here is Edith Head, famed Hollywood costumer, in her book How to Dress for Success:

"As far as shoulder straps are concerned, the sleeveless dress has made it a must that you sew little ribbon 'anchors' in every dress so your slip and bra straps never show. There's nothing in the world that makes a woman look sloppier faster than a dangling shoulder strap, unless it's dirty fingernails."

Whew. I happened to find a Worth dress on eBay a few weeks ago from this very era. Its interior is bustling with hand-stitched details, among them these little ribbon stays that Head dictates.

Looking at them, I reckon they would take about fifteen minutes of sewing time for a minimally-abled seamstress to tack in, with a press snap and thin ribbon. Could you spare fifteen minutes with a needle to eliminate 5-50 instances of self-conscious yanking and tucking under? Our more disciplined sisters, back in the '50s, knew that effortless public poise demanded quite a lot of behind-the-scenes work. [note to self: manicure nails]


  1. Wow. Amazing! To think at how often my straps are falling out all over the place. Hah. Also, that dress is beautiful.

    And of course, Mad Men is my third favourite drama of all time (behind The Wire and the recent, fantastic Breaking Bad heehe). I especially love how the characters ACTUALLY REWEAR CLOTHES!

  2. Thanks, Jozee! Look for more MM posts in the future. Haven't seen Breaking Bad, will keep eyes peeled! xxc