As somebody who spends their days writing and styling for magazines, I’m always fascinated to flick through the pages of vintage issues and have a growing stash of titles from the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
What strikes me is – apart from today’s iPad editions, click-to-buy features and slick digital designs – not that much has really changed, content-wise! Ten of the best wallpapers, how to feed your baby, what to wear this season – most of the pithy topics are the same now as they were then!
Of course, what makes these vintage magazines so interesting is the things that have changed. These publications offer a magical glimpse into a bygone era – the food people ate, the clothes they wore, the way they furnished their homes, and the context within which they lived their lives.
The specific gender roles on the covers of Practical Householder magazine (I have 1950s and 1960s issues) spring to mind; The man of the house is always doing the main task, and his wife (in skirt and heels, of course) is either passing him a tool, bringing him a cup of tea, or simply gazing admiringly at her talented DIY chappie.
It’s hard to single out favourites from my collection, but there are three magazines I always enjoy reading…
In my 1933 edition of American Good Housekeeping, there are romantic short stories, articles about improving your complexion and keeping your husband happy, and hilarious adverts for everything from cellophane to soap. My favourite is the one for Lifebuoy Soap, which features a cautionary comic strip, entitled: PLAY IT SAFE WITH ‘B.O’. The general gist is that, if you smell, you won’t have any friends. It’s a less-than-subtle message that always makes me smile.
The 1957 edition of House Wife magazine (bought in a junk shop in Margate), has a stunning cover that I’ve used on my website and contains a feature about the Duke of Bedford’s home, Woburn Abbey (‘The time is coming when there will be no servants at all and everyone who comes to stay will have to “do” for himself…’) and an article about how to plan meals for a family of four for ‘less than 3.5 shillings a head’.
My 1961 La Maison Française magazine is a Mid Century Modern treat – packed with adverts for pineapple ice-cube buckets, shag-pile carpets and page after page of elegant, designer chairs.
I always have stacks of magazines both old and new on the coffee table and I’ve noticed that, when guests come over and absent-mindedly flick through one, it’s always the vintage ones they choose to pick up first.