Pencil skirt, pearls and high heels

21 Sep 2009

the back yard 1963

The idea that yesterday's housewives dressed like fashion plates to do their housework and keep home seems be all pervasive.
The article I linked to last Friday, much as I enjoy reading it, certainly perpetuates that line. Although I think perhaps Ami is talking more about taking care over you appearance rather than actually donning the pencil skirt, pearls and high heels to clean the toilet.

I spoke to mum some time ago about what she wore and the things she did as a young homemaker in the 1950s.
Mum was married in 1953 at the age of 22, three years later she had her first child ( my brother) followed by two more children, my sister and me , over the next six years.


I was most interested in clothing I guess as so many retro and vintage homemaker blogs seem to really emphasise getting their costume right.
My mum was without the influence of TV as Australia didn't get TV until 1959 and we didn't get one until 1963 when I was 4.
She did like going to the movies but not all the time.

Auntie Maisie, Dawn and my Mum, late 1940s/early 1950s

So I think she was wearing what was reasonable for young Australian women at that time.
Number one that she and my Auntie were very definite on was that they didn't wear any kind of rigid girdle.
They actually said it with pride as in their opinion only fat people needed to wear one and there is almost no greater sin than being fat to those two.
( For those of you who watch Mad Men, my mother is of the same vintage as the fictional Betty Draper and you know what she thought about weight and a woman's duty)
They wore stockings and suspender belts when they were going out - shopping, visiting, to church etc but never a girdle.
I do remember in the sixties that mum wore a panty girdle, just big elastic undies really, to keep her pantyhose in place.
They both agreed that they never wore stockings at home and they never wore trousers either until the 1960s and then only around the house.
Mum also always wore a slip or half slip because that was part of normal clothing, made your skirt or dress hang properly and added an extra light layer of warmth if needed.

Mum and her sister did say that Grannie ( their mother) always wore a rigid girdle until she was in her eighties and I remember that she always wore stockings and shoes with a 1" heel, sensible ones meant for work.


My mother and all the other mothers I knew, remember I grew up in the sixties and we were in and out of each others houses all the time, never wore high heels around the house, especially not to do the housework.
My mum liked to wear flatties as she called them but she always wore high heels when she went shopping in town or visiting.
She did wear more casual shoes to the supermarket I recall. I asked her about the 1950s and she said that high heels were reserved for going out and flatties , sandals or slippers were worn at home.

And as for pearls and jewellery, they were not for housework or home but definitely enjoyed for going out.

My mother never dressed like a slob, she always looked cute and put together.Usually a skirt and knit top or blouse, a dress, she loved shifts in the sixties, or capri style pants.
She always had a woollen cardigan, hand knit or bought, at the ready.
I don't know if she would have worn trackie dacks/ sweats because they weren't available at the time.
She certainly does now, around the house, when she is going a the rate of knots whizzing round doing the housework and gardening.
As very few easy care knit fabrics were available in the fifties and early sixties clothes tended to look more tailored even if they were made at home.
So clothes that we think of as dressy were worn around the home because that was all that was available.
My grandfather always wore a suit and tie because that was normal everyday dress when he was a young man, he wasn't dressing up he was just wearing normal clothes.

all dressed up for church anniversary day, around 1963

When I first became a mother I vowed to myself that I wouldn't become one of tracksuited people.
I mean , if you only ever wear elastic waisted supersoft trackies it's like always wearing pyjama pants all day everyday.
So I wear proper clothes, often a skirt, and I do try to look nice but I don't think I would ever feel comfortable at home , working in a pencil skirt, high heels and pearls.

How about you?