You think life is hard nowadays? You don’t know what hard is.
I am a Baby Boomer. My father helped win World War II in Europe while my mother kept the home fires burning. My father was discharged from the army, and I appeared about nine months later. Anyway, I grew up in the 50s and came of age in the 60s. So pay attention. I was there.
In an earlier piece, I introduced you to party lines, rotary telephones, black and white TVs with unreliable reception and clamp roller skates. I will now show you some of the torture devices that women had to use in order to be considered presentable.
Nylon Stockings, Garter Belts and Girdles
Women, and teenagers trying to look like women, wore thigh-length nylon stockings. Most of those stockings had seams up the back. We had to keep the seams straight. To be seen with crooked seams on the backs of our legs was a disgrace to us, our families, our country and our ancestors. We could only have crooked seams if we were drunk, and a lady was not supposed to get drunk (at least not so it showed), so crooked seams were forbidden, period. It was almost as bad to have a run in one of our stockings. We were on constant run patrol, ready to stop an incipient disaster with an application of nail polish. Clear nail polish was best, but more often than not we would use whatever color we had in our purses. Some of us had stockings with tops looked like Jackson Pollock’s floor. If a woman was seen trying to pull her skirt down over her knees, it was probably because she had a run in her stocking and she was trying to hide both it and the bright red nail polish that was holding it at gunpoint.
Our stockings were held up by garters, attached to either a garter belt or a girdle, both of them instruments of Satan. The only thing a garter belt did was hold up the stockings. A girdle was supposed to make us look thinner than we were by pushing everything in. The fat was still there; it just didn’t look as flabby. By the time you had been bound like this for a few hours, you would be ready to streak down the street screaming and stripping. To add injury to insult, no matter what we used to hold up our stockings, the tops would always roll down a little and threaten to cut off the circulation in our thighs.
Both girdles and garter belts made going to the bathroom an operation right out of Mission, Impossible, especially on those occasions when we really had to go. Have you ever tried to cross your legs, bob up and down and peel a tight girdle off your hips at the same time, while trying not to pee your pants? I don’t recommend it.
Knee-Length Straight Skirts
Knee-length straight skirts were a norm. They would not have been bad if it weren’t for the nylon stockings. (See above.) We had to be really careful about the way we sat, so that nothing showed, including the tops of our stockings and anything else. Pulling a Basic Instinct, even with underwear on, was something only a skank would do, and nobody, even a skank, wanted to be branded a skank. This meant finding some way to sit for hours with the knees together, which is possible, but about as comfortable as strapping a metal rod to your thighs with duct tape. In the meantime, the guys, who were wearing pants (at least in public), could sit any old way they wanted. No wonder my generation grabbed onto the Women’s Liberation movement the way we did. We wanted to be comfortable, dammit!
To keep the skirt smooth, and make sure nobody could see up the sides of it, we would run our hands under our butts before sitting down, then tuck the sides of the skirt under our thighs. Then we had to sit with our knees pressed together (see above) until we got up.
Curlers and rollers were probably the primary cause of sleep deprivation in females. We would put those little rubber curlers and those big round rollers into our hair at night, sleep on them all night, take them out in the morning and brush out the curls. If the hair was still a little wet, we would be stuck with the droopy, lopsided look the rest of the day. The effort of sleeping on wet hair with little hard things stuck all over our heads was draining, to say the least.
Then came the 60s, and the revolution was on. That’s a whole other story for another day.