logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as an older child

Random recollections
of 1950s England

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I was in my teens when the events and observations of these recollections occurred.

A woman's place is in the home

Women had been invaluable at doing men's work during the war, and indeed for some years afterwards because demobilisation took time after the war ended in 1945. When the men returned to what was known as 'civvy street', they wanted their jobs back. So began a programme of insidious propaganda that I honestly hadn't appreciated until I started comparing photographs from the 1940s and 1950s. Then I remembered the idiom that seemed to be everywhere in my later childhood and teens:

"A woman's place is in the home."
Domesticated feminine looking woman

1950s advert, showing a woman with a nipped in waist and a frilly apron enthusiastically enjoying being in the kitchen..

WW2 propaganda poster to encourage young women to do men's work in the home front

Propaganda poster to encourage young women to take on men's work during World War Two - photographed at Brooklands 1940s Day..

Just compare the two images. The first, from wartime was clearly intended to encourage women into men's work. The second from the 1950s glorifies a woman's love of cooking in her own kitchen.

There is no shortage on the internet of other pictures of women from the 1950s. They show the women apparently enraptured at being at home doing housework, cooking or sewing.

Fashion changed too, towards more feminine sex appeal. Skirts became flared with nipped in waists and bras were shaped to give an upturned and pointed shape to breasts. The fashion was called the 'New Look' and my mother remarked how stupid it was to use all that extra fabric in times of such austerity. The priority, though, was to free up the jobs for the returning men folk.

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Swimming hats and swimming costumes

Swimming costumes and swimming caps, 1950s

Swimming costumes and swimming caps, 1950s.

The only swimming costumes for girls that I ever knew were navy blue with a round neck. I'm not sure what they were made of - probably wool.

Girls always wore swimming hats - known as swimming caps - in swimming baths and at the seaside. I am not sure whether this was compulsory in swimming baths or whether it was to keep their hair dry. If the latter, they were singularly unsuccessful. They were made of fairly thick rubber, did up with a strap under the chin and were closely fitting with insets for ears. They did not stretch which was probably why they inevitably leaked. They did, though, keep dirty hair out of the water - and hair was not washed as often in those days.

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Lift boys and petrol attendants

Tasks which were later automated were done by people employed to do the job.

No-one ever served themselves for petrol, as there was always an attendant who filled the tank and took the money and brought back the change.

Neither did anyone other than the 'lift boy' ever work a lift. Lift boys always wore smart uniform with matching peaked caps, and they worked the lifts and opened and closed the gates. What a boring job it must have been doing this for hours at a time!

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Fur coats

various fur coats, 1950s

Fur coats were status symbols for women, although my mother never had one. They must have been hot things, but nevertheless out came the fur coat, almost whatever the weather, for all events where people would be meeting one another.

The status extended to the type of fur, probably for no reason other than that fur from some animals was more expensive to harvest than from others.

Mink seemed to be the most expensive, and 'a touch of mink' was often used to describe a woman with money. When fashions changed, expensive furs were taken to specialist tailors to be remodelled.

A fox fur, died black; face and snout of the fox are clearly visible.

A fox fur, died black, photographed at Brooklands 1940s day when visitors were invited to wear period clothes. The face and snout of the fox are clearly visible; the face of the wearer is blanked out to preserve her privacy.

Rabbit was at the other end of the scale, and on of the rudest things anyone could say about a woman was to talk about her 'little bit of rabbit'.

Fox fur was particularly common, even to the extent of having the fur from the fox's body draped round women's necks like scarves with the head still hanging on - albeit with glass eyes. I found these things quite revolting but they were relatively common.

There were no particularly vocal animal rights organisations at that time.

Furs were counted along with jewellery for insurance purposes, which further supports their perceived value.

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Formality

Formality was a way of life. Only the immediate family and children could be addressed by their first name. My mother, for example, would even introduce herself as 'Mrs Clarke', and because she had been brought up to formality, she always referred to and addressed all her acquaintances as 'Mr This' or 'Mrs That'. In this she was by no means alone.

Letters to my father went one better. They were addressed as Mr L. G. Clarke, esq. He was very proud of the 'esq' which was short for 'esquire' and meant that he owned property, albeit just an ordinary semi-detached house. Before he bought 9 Brook Avenue, Edgware, he was just plain Mr L. G. Clarke.

The informality of first names for just about everyone came in from America somewhere around the 1960s. I understood that the idea was that a managing director of a company was just 'one of us'. About the same time, the usage of 'esq' was dropped.

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Retail Price Maintenance

All identical items cost the same in all shops, even off-ration goods. This was known as Retail Price Maintenance (RPM), and was an attempt to be fair to everyone during the shortages in and after World War Two. My parents often talked about it but to me it simply meant that I could spend my pocket money wherever I wanted without the fear of being diddled. I had more to do with retail price management in the 1960s when my husband and I were stocking our house.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.