October in the 1950s: Woman’s Own Magazines

It was like revisiting some old friends when I found these magazines out of the attic earlier this evening. It’s literally been years since I looked through any of them. I’d forgotten about the soft focus fashion, housewifely advice and gorgeous illustrations accompanying the obligatory romantic short stories. It seems a gentler, easier world than the one of today… but d’you know, the same pressures still seem to be there. Babies, housekeeping, keeping a boyfriend/husband and looking glamorous while doing it… before I had kids and became a SAHM, I used to find it hilarious and ever so slightly strange that this is what the focus of all these magazines was. Now, I’m like, “Hmmm, yes I do seem to spend an inordinate amount of my time washing up and washing clothes… would this Daz really make my whites ultra bright?”

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Nope. I don’t even really care that much. I don’t care if the whites aren’t totally bright white because I’ve realised (finally) over the last few months that I’m not staying at home with the kids to be a housewife/cook/clean and so on… and yes, I do seem to spend a large proportion of the day tidying up, washing up and chucking things into the washing machine. But the reason I’m really at home is to spend as much time as possible with the kids before the treadmill of school properly kicks in. To try and give them a whole host of lovely little memories and tasks to remember and do; to share a bit of time with each other and just enjoy their company while they’re still cute and little enough to love everything that we do without question. Yes, there are tough days (and weeks), tantrums, tears, crappy freezer teas and days where too much time is spent hiding in the toilet or mouthing swear words silently into the air. But there’s also lots of fun, daft questions, funny pictures of racing cars that look like penises (penii?), Dexter calling for, ‘Corrreyyy, Correeeyyy!’ in his cute little voice, and a whole host of other little things that I can’t remember at the moment because I’ve had a glass of wine.

Funnily enough, most of the short stories in the magazines do not focus on the everyday drudgeries of being a stay at home mum – the overwhelming majority are about romance in various situations. All the typical cliches appear: secretary in love with her boss, filmstar choosing love over fame, nurses and doctors… Cliched stories they may be, but the accompanying illustrations are gorgeous.

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Illustrated by Kenneth Kirkland

I don’t think I’ve ever looked that glamorous whilst on the phone… I’m usually trying to use the time to tidy up, put stuff in the bin, shoo a child somewhere else, wipe up something…

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She’s clearly just spotted a small child pulling out a box of crap moments after she’d already put it away. Classic mum side-eyes.

I also used to look at amazing knitting patterns in the magazines and wish I could recreate them. Finally, I have the skills to do so, but not the 34″ bust that would allow me to even bother trying. I want a ‘Gay Dog Jumper’ so much, I can’t even begin to tell you. Although, I’m not convinced what Aidan would think if I knitted us matching waistcoats sporting stags. Actually, the sizing for these means I’d have more chance of them fitting Corliss and Dexter.

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When did people do this kind of thing? Sit around, playing cards while other people made commentary on a random painting. I only ever play cards when we’re camping, and I can tell you now, I’m not wearing a strapless dress with matching nails and lipstick while I’m doing it.

These are a little more practical. Perhaps I could attempt one of the knitted hats rather than a teeny tiny jumper. Although, perhaps they had tiny heads back in the ’50s as well as their tiny chests. I do actually have one of those tiny woollen scarves – it’s exceptionally useless and Corliss thinks it’s her scarf. It’s like a scarf for an elf. Which would go nicely with that blue hat.

When I started digging out these October issues, I was hoping for pictures of autumn, Halloween and cosy knits. The cosy knits seem to be there in abundance, but there’s a distinct lack of anything dowdy, drab or dreary. I suppose, if you were the kind of SAHM in the 1950s who really was doing everything and above each and every day, expected to look perfect while you were doing it, these images were aspirational. Inspiring perhaps? The mid century equivalent of ‘Outfit of the day’ on 2016’s Instagram feed? Either way, I’ve enjoyed looking at them whilst sat in my baggiest pyjama bottoms, swigging wine, thinking about when my tinies were really tiny (not talking about my boobs: the kids, the kids are what I’m referring to) and imagining myself the subject of a ridiculous story about love in a hurricane or Antarctica, wearing cocktail dresses and playing Yahtzee. Or backgammon. I think they played a lot of backgammon back then.

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Imagine that face with giant Gringo trousers on. That’s what I look like right now. Honest.

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