Tuesday, December 8, 2015

1952: It's the most magical time of the year...

Today we'll take a time machine back to December 1952 as seen through the eyes of those browsing through the Sears 1952 Wish Book.  Note that it's officially called the Sears Christmas Book and not renamed to become a 2015 politically correct Sears Holiday Book.    From a purely cosmetic perspective, the cover looks bright and shiny with a cartoonishly drawn young Santa, presents under the tree, and a boy and girl eager to dive right into it all.  

The Sears Wall and Winter Catalog of 1952 had included a full-color-page dedicated to getting their customers to vote.  By December 1952, the presidential elections were over and Dwight D. Eisenhower had defeated Democrat Governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson.  "I like Ike" was an irresistible slogan;  Eisenhower had won a sweeping victory.  But scratch right under the surface and things were not quite so ideal for many in real life. Since the end of World War II the American economy had been doing great, but here in 1952 people were pulling back and a little afraid of the future and they didn't know it yet, but financially at least things were soon to become worse when a recession would hit the country the following year.  But more was going on to make people uneasy besides money.   Polio had hit many thousands of families. Television provided a new social expectation for how a middle class white family living in the suburbs should look and act, and how successful they should be, and what items they should possess.

And most sadly of all, many Americans at home had long-ago tired of the deadlocked Korean war which they disconnected from it as best they could, even as American servicemen died.  There is a real reason that the Korean War is often referred to as "The forgotten war."
Korean War Veterans Memorial

The American war in Korea lasted three years, one month and two days and ended in a stalemate on July 12, 1953.  But in 1952, they didn't know that ending date quite yet.   For the soldiers who served and died, and for those who returned home wounded mentally physically, the impacts upon the rest of their lives would never be forgotten. 

Out of necessity to support the war effort, a whole of of social norms had been thrown out of the window during WWII.  Women worked the factory floors and became excellent machinists and iron workers.  Many gay men were not only admitted into the military, but they were often accepted albeit begrudgingly, since every man counted in combat.   So now in 1952 with the war won and the men back and the babies made, it was time for everything to revert back to pre-war society.   Only try as they might, not everything (or everyone) was willing to go back to pre-war roles in society.  By 1952, real anxiety was happening for those who longed for how things had been. 
With baby boomer little boys growing up, uncertainties and insecurities about everything already mentioned played right into the hands of those who were looking for ways to feel safe (and an escape goat to blame).  So it was only five months into the next year (May 27, 1953) when Ike's Executive Order 10450 went into effect, banning anyone engaged in "sexual perversion" from federal employment. Thousands of gay and lesbian civil servants quietly accepted the disgrace of losing their careers which they had built over years of service during several wars.

It also made big news that December in 1952, when The New York Daily News carried a front page story announcing that Christine Jorgensen, a transsexual woman in Denmark, had become the recipient of the first successful sexual reassignment operation.  The story is sensationalized by the press.   Men in locker rooms make vulgar sexual jokes to one another about the Bronx GI turned pretty woman (they do not understand the difference between gender identity and homosexuality).   That same month, the American Psychological Association (APA) released their first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  It's an official list of mental disorders which will be used by mental health professionals diagnosing their patients. Homosexuality is listed as a sociopathic personality disturbance.  Masculinity would become even become more defined for boys after all of this so that they would not turn out queer.

This is also the time when the classic "Dad gets a loud tie for a present which he will never wear" jokes originated.  From a purely male modern perspective, these ties (below) from the Sears Christmas catalog are quite the fashion statement for any era!  
The bold primary colors and geometric patterns along with artistic flairs are something of a surprise, but they were in fact stylish with designers in 1952 and not just here in the Sears catalog.  Garment designers of the 1950s went back to classic 1920 styles in hopes of providing energy and excitement to men's standard gray and black wardrobes.   Given as gifts with the best of intentions, they were not widely accepted by everyday guys, no matter how hard they tried to show their kids how much they loved 'em, and the ties usually found their ways to the back of the closet.  

Men's lounge wear was full of printed fabrics and loose fitting so the family jewels were comfy to self-adjust. The idea was, a man would get out of his work clothing and slip into these outfits to watch television and smoke his pipe.

Men's underwear was standard gear, functional and practical.  For families without a lot of expendable income, getting replacement basics like new skivvies made perfect sense for dependable Dad.  It is of note that like pajamas, shorts were colorful and striped and printed.

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