Let’s Look at 1963: Glamour, Beauty, Housework, Chevrolets and Gin

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I get all excited about Christmas. I start making plans around August time. Right now I can’t wait to get Halloween out of the way so that the rest of the world will start joining in with the christmassing (oh, the snowball cocktails; the consensual glitterfication). I’ve been contemplating layering. How much merino is too much merino? Do patterns clash if there’s nobody there to see them?

It’s lonely when there’s nobody else who feels the same.

So, while I wait for everyone else to get interested, I went out today and bought a a couple of 1960s magazines, from the ever-splendid charity shops of Glasgow’s west end. I’m planning to idle away autumn making Christmas cards in a sassy vintage style, with magazine cuttings of fancy ladies and natty headlines. Some may say I have too much time on my hands. Some may also say I have glue and silver ink on my hands, and now they’re stuck together.

Anyway, when I had a flick through the magazines, they did not disappoint. Here is a quick whirl through the aspirations and anxieties of the early 1960s. I’ve categorised them, as you might expect, to include Horrifying Foodstuffs and Private Trauma, as well as Glamour. That’s the 60s housewife’s lot. No surprise feminism happened, really.

Glamour Like They Used to Do It

As these magazines were aimed at stifled housewives, there’s a cul-de-sac of fashions on show: fifties debutante, prim twinsets and queenly tulle skirts. As if Mary Quant and mini skirts weren’t happening at all. Still, they are irresistibly chic.

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Horrifying Foodstuffs

I say foodstuffs, because I like that connotation of inedible materials. Somehow, to go with these snow-white gloves and perfectly set hairstyles, the ladies of the 1960s were dishing up gruesome spectacles of gelatine, meat salads and wilting cakes. Industrial processed food seems to have reached its fashion pinnacle circa 1963. ‘It looks like food. But is it?’ FEAST YOUR EYES:

Bacon things
Bacon things
No idea.
No idea.

A gelatine and cornflake pie.
A gelatine, ‘nut-meats’ and cornflake pie.

Cultural Pressures and Condescending Advertising

To go with all the wholesome, nourishing canned meat and Crisco oil (1951 slogan: ‘it’s digestible!’ – I kid you not), there are ads for scaffolding-style underwear to hold it all in, and extremely dubious sugar substitutes.

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Bisks sound bad
Bisks sound bad
Biskoids sound a lot worse
Biskoids sound a lot worse

Adverts of the 1960s were also keen to point out the innate pleasure and reward that housework presents for a woman.

Oh, you. You're so clever.
Oh, you. Cooking. You’re so clever.
When she’s not stuck at the sink, he’s making her do stupid kitchen dancing with him. She’s smiling, but hasn’t allowed herself to feel any emotion at all for years.
The intrinsic pleasure in making a teapot really shiny. Dream big.
The intrinsic pleasure in making a teapot really shiny. Dream big.

Private Trauma

And, right on que, following that erotic portrayal of housework, a tiny glimpse in to the acute misery seething inside the perfect housewife’s cheerful exterior. I present Exhibit A: managing an alcoholic husband, and Exhibit B: the neighbours are judging you, closely following by Exhibit C: don’t let anyone know that you’re having murder-spree daydreams. Oh, it was a simpler time back then!

Exhibit A
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit B
Exhibit C
Exhibit C

Moments of Surprising Cool

Despite the glimpses of secret desolation and barely suppressed hysteria, these magazines also include a few moments that are pretty awesome, in a sultry, escapist way. You can feel the rest of the 1960s looming ahead like a cool breeze.

That's it, run away from the housework. Ignore the irate husband following  closely behind.
That’s it, run away from the housework. Ignore the irate husband following closely behind.

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As well as all this, there were a few pages of Christmas ideas, with a general emphasis on not making too much of a fuss because the children will get too excited. As much as I love the demented stepford-wife charm of old magazines, I’m damn grateful I can draw on the resources of feminism. The only thing about winter that’s worrying me is how many big jumpers I can wear at once. No bisks required.

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2 comments

  1. I always wish that I had been born in the sixties, starting to change my mind. I don’t think my inner feminist would’ve enjoyed it so much… Really enjoyed this post, had me proper guffawing.

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