I found this article the other day when I was going through some old magazines on microfiche. It's the winning entry from a 1952 competition where you had to say what you would buy if you were given £100 to spend on a completely new wardrobe. I thought it would be interesting to see what clothes an average 50s woman would be expected to own, and how much she would have paid for them. I've typed out the article below, adding the current equivalent in Australian dollars in brackets next to each price. I used the Reserve Bank of Australia's Inflation Calculator to get the current monetary value.
Australian Women's Weekly, April 16, 1952
"You are an average housewife running a home on an average income. Your wardrobe is limited, you have a good winter topcoat, but nothing else of much value. Suddenly you are given £100 ($2865) which you must spend all at once on clothes. State what you would buy with that money so that you would benefit not only this summer but for several seasons to come."
Mrs Jenkyns' reply:
"£100 pounds to spend all at once on clothes! What a delicious prospect for any woman! But what a temptation to dash out and buy that ravishing evening gown that you would probably wear no more than twice a year, or that elaborate flower laden hat that seemed to make you look like a film star! However, if I did not want to collect a wardrobe of unrelated and expensive "mistakes" there are a number of basic rules I would follow.
I would draw up a shopping plan to satisfy everyday requirements. I would choose simple clothes, look for quality in workmanship and materials, buy related items that can be mixed and matched, and choose neutral colours for basic clothes and accessories. I would budget for good accessories because they last for years, and a simple frock worn with good shoes, bay, and gloves is better dressing than an elaborate one with tired or shoddy accessories.
I have divided my scheme into three sections: accessories, winter clothes, and summer clothes. The top coat, which was the key to the plan, is a navy one of the tent variety, straight in front with a full swing back.
2 pairs of navy shoes at approx. £3 ($86) a pair 1 pair white shoes - £2 10s ($71)
1 pair black suede 'flats' - £2 10s ($71)
2 pairs sheer nylon stockings - £1 10s ($50)
4 pairs manufacturer's 'seconds' nylon stockings - £1 12s ($46)
1 pair navy skin gloves - £2 ($57)
2 pairs white fabric gloves - £1 10s ($50)
1 navy calf handbag - £4 ($114)
1 white handbag of easily cleaned leather - £3 ($86)
1 metal handbag top and 1/2 yard faille [to make bag] - £1 3s ($33)
1 grey silk umbrella - £4 ($114)
1 silk scarf - £3 ($86)
1 red carnation or a bunch of good lemon coloured flowers - £1 ($28)
Total: £34 ($974)
1 navy wool suit with straight skirt and boxy jacket of fine navy/white houndstooth check - £12 ($344)
1 grey lightweight wool shirtwaist frock with white pique collar and cuffs - £7 ($200)
1 white finely stitched blouse - £2 ($57)
1 grey flannel skirt - £3 ($86)
1 red twin set with long sleeves - £4 10s ($129)
1 navy and 1 red velour beret at £2 ($57) each
Total: £33 ($945)
1 navy faille suit with gored skirt and fitted jacket - £10 ($286)
1 pale grey linen suit - £6 ($172)
1 lemon cotton sunfrock with matching jacket - £2 10s ($72)
1 pale blue cotton frock with a small white pattern - £2 10s ($72)
1 white short sleeved blouse of coarse lace or broderie englaise - £3 ($86)
1 white straw hat trimmed with navy - £3 ($86)
1 lemon straw hat of the forward beret type - £3 ($86)
Total: £30 ($860)
I would make a white pique 'shell' hat to wear with summer cottons, a cummerbund-stole with navy and white striped taffeta, a knitted lemon cardigan, and two pretty aprons to protect my clothes while working.
Cost of materials: £3 ($86)
That brings the total expenditure to £100. However, it is quite possible that my underwear was in a sad and sorry state, in which case out would go the umbrella, the scarf, the 'glamour' bag, and the grey linen suit, and I would try to knit the red twin set, altogether saving about £17 10s ($500). This I would allot in the following way:
1 good foundation garment - £3 ($86)
2 slips at approx 30s ($43) each
3 pairs of panties - £1 5s ($36)
3 singlets or bras - £1 5s ($36)
2 summer nighties at £2 ($57) each
2 winter nighties at £2 10s ($71) each
I love the idea of the mix and match wardrobe, and the prices seems fairly consistent with today's good quality clothing. Although I am a little shocked at how much stockings were! At almost $25 a pair, you would have been seriously annoyed to snag one. I though the repro 50s stockings from What Katy Did were expensive, but now it turns out they are just at 1951 prices! There is an interesting side note that mentions that a twin set is useful for wear "in the house, for golf, or for any completely informal occasion." And they seem so posh to us now!