Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1939 college fads

There was a time--at least, according to this 1939 Life magazine article--that college girls influenced the larger world of fashion.  I'm not sure they still do.  I'm guessing the height of fashion currently on a lot of campuses is pajamas and flipflops.  I certainly wasn't inspired by the clothes my fellow students wore on campus in the late 1980s/early 1990s.  But look how cute these 1939 college students are in their dirndls!  I especially love the dress on the girl on the right.  (Here is a link to the article online that you can enlarge in order to read the text if you wish.)

The article talks about "College Shops" in department stores of the time who sold the fads and fashions popularized by college girls, mainly from eastern schools like Goucher, Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Swarthmore.  Shown above are: Bryn Mawr students sporting imported shoes from places like Mexico and Greece; "strange belts," including this one with a Native American Indian motif (that "tribal" trend is apparently nothing new), as well as belts made of dog chains strung together; white flannel blazers; and my favorite, dress labels sewn on a "Goucher beer jacket"!  The spoons for bracelets like the one this young woman is wearing "are sneaked from hotels."

Some interesting footwear trends.  The white Madeira boots at the top are called "bulky and impractical to wear around campus," which makes me wonder what the writer would think of the look of boots popular now!  These boots look really comfortable.  And I love the bows on the ankle socks.

Scarves tied on shoes and boots are popular, as are saddle shoes--no surprises there.  And those socks with tartan laces?  Love them!  They are called "shag socks" and: "College girls like unusual socks."  Okay then.

Snoods and hair bows are popular.  Bandannas under Stetson hats keep hair dry!

And now the creepy ending.  This gal wears a dirndl, Tyrolean hat, and "German Youth Hostel sandals."  And a Nazi party badge on her hat.  Yikes.

Anyway, despite the differences between then and now, I still see so many "fads" here that would not be considered out of place today:  the folklore/ethnic clothing trend, Native American and "tribal" items, socks and sandals, scarves tied on bags, hair bows.



  1. I SO loved reading this and seeing those photos! And yes, you sure are right about the college kids of today. On our local collage campus, all of the boys seem to dress like Tom Cruise out of Risky Business which always makes me laugh - dress shirts with the collars popped up with shorts and of course, the sunglasses and side parted hair. It's like a uniform. The girls though seem to mostly wear short dresses with cowboy boots - or their pajamas. Or those god-awful sweatpants with something like "JUICY" written across the bums of them.

  2. How interesting. I hope they were all stocked up on their souvenir accessories as the war was to soon put a stop to that!

    It just amazes me how the fad for dirndls and Germanic clothing continued even after the US got involved in WWII. I bet that Nazi pin was removed though!

  3. Super awesome post, Karen! I love the bandanas tied around shoes and the interesting socks!

  4. Fabulous Karen!
    I love the first dress too and "shag socks" are completely adorable. I do however have to say no to the socks with thongs look (even if they are Japanese geisha clogs)!

  5. I loved this post! I think you're right about the campus-wear today consisting of flip flops and pajamas. Well, at least that's what I wore. I actually really like the white Madeira boots. I would so wear that now!

    Also, LOVE your hair!

  6. I think college girls DO inspire wider fashion trends, unfortunately. The sorority girls at my university felt that it was perfectly acceptable to arrive for a class wearing a sorority/fraternity function t-shirt, sweatpants or yoga pants (or short shorts) and flip flops. In the winter they wore those awful Ugg boots and North Face jackets. Of course, their hair, make-up and nails were immaculate. Unfortunately, I see that look all the time out in the real world. If I go to a relatively upscale grocery store in the middle of a weekday, everyone else is wearing the sorority uniform and these are women in their 30s and 40s.

    I'll bet a couple of years after this article ran, it became really embarrassing for that girl to have been photographed wearing a swastika. It is amazing, though, how popular the Tyrolean look was at the time. Of course, I'm a big fan of dirndls.

    1. Yes, I think you're right about that, Lauren...though I wonder if these trends actually originated on the college campus or are just a Lazy American Thing. I don't mind people wearing workout/casual clothes to the grocery store. I do mind people wearing pajamas or public (I see this frighteningly often)...or not wearing pants at all. Yes, I was in the thrift store the other day, and a woman was in there, apparently post-workout, wearing just a leotard, with her arse hanging out. Okay, maybe it's not a fancy restaurant, but lady: you're still in public. Put on some pants!


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