Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Something Old, Something New

In going through some furniture, my mother-in-law found an old relic - her copy of Modern Bride magazine, from Autumn 1961. She lent it to me and I leafed through the magazine, thinking it would be essentially like today's Brides, except featuring Mad Men era bridal fashions.
Boy, was I wrong.

First off, 1961 brides were apparently highly concerned about decorating and furnishing their marital home with all the proper items needed for entertaining. Page 168 includes a chart of the thirteen (13!) utensils in a single place setting, plus a list of the 19 serving pieces and 5 carving pieces that every hostess should own. Olive fork, lemon fork, bon-bon spoon?? Couldn't the jam spoon also double as the jelly server? (Can you use a jelly server with a jar of Smucker's?)

The flatware chart is preceded by an illustrated guide to period furniture, so the prospective bride can distinguish between her English Sheraton sofa with spindle arm and the Duncan Phyfe sofa with scroll arms and reeded base. Note - There is nothing resembling the Ektorp fiberboard/particleboard Ikea sofa that we purchased in our salad days.

Among the recommended "Thirteen Aids to Gracious Entertaining," are a cigarette lighter, cigarette box and matching ash trays, which "add to the festivities," according to the article. And all the better to rapidly depreciate the English Sheraton sofa with tobacco fumes and perhaps cigarette burns, from too many festivities.

The titles of the articles indicate that brides in 1961 were pretty naive. In addition to needing help furnishing her home, Modern Bride offered brides advice such as "Good Grooming Habits," "Don't Let Anger Be Destructive," and "The Need for a Premarital Examination."

Say again?

The author, Goodrich Schauffler, MD, has quite a lengthy commentary on his practice as an OB-GYN in giving premarital exams to brides. Apparently he serves as a sex ed teacher, psychiatrist, and counselor in addition to physician during his appointments. He reassures skittish young ladies who are worried about their premarital exam, "I often say that if you brides-to-be can't stand the idea of going to a skilled and impersonal physician for personal advice about these matters, what do you figure your prospects are for a normal seance with an excited and possibly self-centered and inexperienced young man on your wedding night?" Later he tells the reader, regarding the physical exam, "If your doctor is sensitive and sympathetic, he will have persuaded you that he is invading an area which may soon be invaded under far less skillful and rational circumstances."

Oh my. Certainly takes the romance right out of it.

Almost as entertaining as the articles are the advertisements. The late Fifties and early Sixties saw the rapid expansion of chemical and plastic products, I gather, seeing all the scientifically created bridal fabrics. The magazine contains ads for "bridesmaids gowns of 100% Estron acetate" by Eastman Chemical Products. And because no bride would want to be outshined by her Estron-clad 'maids, Eastman also advertises fairytale bridal gowns of Diamond White Chromspun acetate. It is indeed the dawn of "better living through chemistry!"

While I expected to see ads portraying happy housewives, I was struck at how sexist many of them were. On several different pages, women were urged to buy a Borg scale. "Borg is the scale for figure-insurance. . .ounces gained show on your Borg before they show on you." Borg thoughtfully provides a budget model at $7.95, or the golden Flight model, trimmed in 24-karat gold, for $22.50, for those brides who want an eye-catching display of how hard they will work to keep their new husbands home on the range.

Singer, meanwhile, offers ladies its economy model polisher for $29.95 and claims it is "a joy to follow around!" My first reaction is, what exactly am I supposed to be polishing? My second is, there's nothing on earth that is a joy for a woman to follow around, unless it's wearing a cute onesie and Pampers. And that's a joy only about half of the time.

Also predictable are the articles detailing how to be a good wife. In "Campus Bride," the writer advises, "About care of husbands: Keep him happy. If it makes him happier, iron his T-shirts." Yes, because you have so much time leftover after polishing whatever it is Singer wants you to polish. Another column titled simply "Housework," itemizes daily, weekly, monthly, semiannual and annual cleaning chores that wives should plan to do, noting "of course you will keep your kitchen sink gleaming after each use, and wipe spills off stove as they occur." Remarkably, this was printed 10 years before The Stepford Wives was published.

Brides in 1961 were encouraged to safe-guard their dresses for the future. It seems that the wedding day was supposed to be the peak of a woman's beauty so she'd want to preserve everything from that day that she could. Gown-Craft promised to "hermetically seal dresses . . .air-locked against the ravages of time. Guaranteed to be soft, white and lovely for future generations. . .infinitely safe in a state of agelessness."

Wait, we are talking about the wedding dress, aren't we?

A quick scan of the current Brides magazine shows a far different publication. The table of contents has articles about creating a dream reception, picking colors, themes, centerpieces, dresses, shoes, and menus. In other words, it's all about The Big Day. The only piece that even hints at life after the wedding is the cover story headlined "Sex Gets Even Better! And other secrets of the first year of marriage." Clearly today's brides have no need of Dr. Goodrich Schauffler.

If the 1961 version could be updated - by acknowledging women's skills in all areas of life, not just in housework, and by adding some photos of brides of color or older than, say, 23, whose relatives did not come over on the Mayflower, then it just might be the better version of the magazines. Its content acknowledges that there is a life together after the Big Day, whereas today's Brides is focused clearly on the wedding itself. After all, once you've worn and preserved your dress, whether Eastman Chemical or Vera Wang chiffon, it really is all about you and your partner and your life after the party. The woman who realizes this is the most modern bride of all.


  1. Dear Raining Acorns,
    that is a really interesting short cultural history glimpse of brides!
    I think - wether one likes the magazine or not - in the 70s, my time, Cosmopolitan changed a lot - when I married the ideas for women were career, men of course, sex, independance even when married - but also a bit of housekeeping (and nothing against that). There was the Cosmopolitan book about Alpha Women&Men (I still have it, but cannot find the title now),books like "The Open Marriage", there was dear Irma Kurz with her down-to-earth advise, and Tom Crabtree, the humorous psychologist.
    A lot happened in that time - now I see in many different sections of society a strong rollback to the Fifties!

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed this bit of social history! Many laugh lines, as only you can do, WOS. Perhaps my favorite:

    "Remarkably, this was printed 10 years before The Stepford Wives was published."

    Guess the idea for The Stepford Wives didn't come from nowhere, eh?

  3. Very very interesting!! I love looking through old magazines. What a different life it was, and HOW LUCKY we women are now in so many ways. Thanks for the 60s perspective. I'm sure my 80's bride magazines will make laughing stock for my children!

  4. So funny - so happy I didn't have to put up with what my mother and her generation had to contend with. On the other hand, I agree that the whole "Wedding Drama" of today is incredibly superficial by comparison. Not only is there way too much focus on The Big Day, as you say, the expense is astronomical. My nephews and nieces, my children's friends and my friends' children are all of marriageable age now and I have been to many a wedding in the past few years. Even a modest wedding could bankrupt one these days!

  5. It appears that Brides 1961 forgot the marrow spoon in the place setting! Perhaps too post Victorian and a scant pre Julia Child followed by Martha Stewart.

  6. I am not altogether sure that things have changed all that much.
    It's just priorities that have changed but we are still as easily manipulated. We live within the parameters of what is acceptable or desirable today.

    Admittedly, I hardly ever read magazines of any kind, but TV ads give me an idea of how we are supposed to live. And when I think of the many thousands of pounds a wedding costs, I shudder. And believe me, there are many couples who make 'the big day' a day to remember because they or their parents are still paying off the debt when divorce looms on the horizon.

    Advertisers have always known how to create a fantasy world for those stupid enough to fall for their words.

    Horses for courses.

  7. Loved it JC! As my mother's dress was not hermetically sealed as advised and was of some sort of Chromspun acetate, it disintergrated before her 10th anniversary. How sad I was as a child not to be able to play dress up in that scientifically created frothy number. As I recently bought an Ikea sofa, I feel I have returned to my salad days. Unfortunately, this time around they are more like Bran Flakes Days. However, I prefer to eat my bran in a salad bowl with a serving spoon while hunching in front of the computer instead of sitting properly at the lemon polished dining table (that I don't own). What do you think the "Modern Bride" would think of that? Well, it's time to go spoon out some cat food with the bon-bon spoon.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.