1950s FASHION MAGAZINES
A collection of fashion magazines from the 1950s can tell you a lot, not only about the clothes, but also about the way some people lived, in one of the forgotten decades of the century.
The 1950s formed a bridge between two very different worlds. The 1940s were all about war and austerity. Bleak bomb sites littered the urban landscape in Europe, ration books continued to eke out many things that easier times had taken for granted, and women's clothing had a severe, practical look.
By the mid 1960s, everything had changed. Austerity was long gone and there was a delicious sense of irresponsibility abroad. It was an age of plenty when fashions changed, it seemed almost daily.
The 1950s saw the last days of the old order and the birth pangs of the new. Skirts billowed out from tiny waists, and collars, cuffs and neckerchiefs appeared as fashion details, declaring loud and clear that fabric rationing was over.
Couture houses, especially those in Paris, dominated the fashion scene. Their edicts were passed on via the pages of fashion magazines that were directed firmly at the middle and upper classes who could afford the clothes.
In the 1950s the fashion magazines weren't the glossy riots of colour we know today. Vogue and Harper's Bazaar were both printed by letterpress. The finish was matt. When colour was used, it was usually in the form of artwork or retouched, hand-coloured black and white photographs. Colour photographs were rarely seen, even in advertisements.
Fashions were shown for all ages, not just the young. The top magazines continually used just a few top models, such as Fiona Campbell-Walter, Barbara Goalen, Suzy Parker and Bronwyn Pugh. They had relatively long careers, compared with today's models, and were often photographed draped
decoratively against Grecian pillars or descending the steps of a stately home.
Aristocratic ladies at home proved a popular subject, illustrated with photographs of them posed in their grounds wearing inappropriate evening dresses. High fashion was all about glamour, and not for anyone who was likely to have to scrub a floor.
What non-fashion feature articles there were tended to be literary in tone, in keeping with the magazines' up-market image. Food and drink columns were also important, adding to the heavy accent on gracious living.
The advertisements may hold up a better mirror to life and fashion in the 1950s than the articles. They took up a great deal of the space. There were 20 pages or so of ads before you got to the contents page, and a few more before the first feature. These front-of-magazine ads tended to be full-page puffs for perfumes, gifts and clothes shops - though rarely couturiers - while those towards the back were smaller in size and promoted products such as foundation garments, pattern books, holidays, cigarettes and slimming aids.
The two leading fashion titles for women in the 1 950s were Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, designed very much for an upmarket readership that could afford foreign holidays and haute couture. The prose was as flowery and overblown as many of the fashions but the design of the magazines was usually strong and uncluttered.
FASHION MAGAZINE COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Fortunately for today's collectors, fashion magazines were made to be kept. Some women kept them for reference, to copy a hairstyle or follow recipes or instructions for successful dinner parties. Others passed them on to relatives and friends.
Either way, they tended to be kept in neat piles somewhere were out of the way. If you want to start a collection, check first in the attics and under-stair cupboards of female relatives. Second-hand bookshops may sell bound volumes of magazines, while specialist dealers in ephemera and old magazines will also have a few. You might also be lucky at car boot sales.
You could try to collect complete runs, for single selected years such as 1953, when Elizabeth II was crowned, or for the whole decade. An alternative is to follow the covergirl career of a model who interests you.
It's rare to find magazines of this vintage in mint condition, but any faults should lead to a reduction in price. Exposure to strong light may have caused pages - or at least their edges
- to yellow and get brittle. Creases and folds are not necessarily a problem, provided the magazine is in otherwise good condition.
Tears on inside pages don't matter too much, but torn or otherwise defaced covers should bring down price considerably. Another problem - and you should check carefully for this before buying - is that pages or pieces of pages may have been cut or torn out for later reference.
To prolong their life, store your magazines in individual plastic bags or folders, but avoid those with airtight seals. Store the magazines away from direct light or extremes of heat and moisture. Stack them upright to stop them curling and keep them on strong shelves.