Life Lessons from my 1956 'Mademoiselle'

I have one of those adorable mothers who sends me care packets full of vintage ephemera and strange oddities she's stumbled across at thrift stores. It's not unusual for me to open up a brightly colored envelope only to discover a single vintage glove, a handful of old buttons, or a frightening old toilet paper ad (let's just say it utilized baby talk).

One of the greatest things my mother ever sent me in the mail was an ancient magazine: a very chic, very classy Mademoiselle from August 1956. Oh, and this wasn't just any copy of Mademoiselle — this was the college issue, so the pages are full of chipper co-eds with tiny waists and captions like "Susan rates second glances in her Jameshire 'Secretary' — velveteen collared; vested in check corduroy with a bonus no-iron cotton blouse." The ads alone are vintage gold; the casual name dropping of icons like Andy Warhol, William Faulkner, and Charles Mingus makes this a truly incredible piece of cultural history. (Seriously, there's a photo in here of Andy Warhol pre-wig, being casually interviewed by a college junior.)

Every couple of pages, you'll find an ad that encourages women to, say, knit socks for their man in order "to bring out that 'what a woman!' look in his eyes." But overall, this is a pretty progressive issue, full of pluck and spirit and "go-getters" with "can-do attitudes" and all those great adjectives that characterized chicks of decades past. And can we just talk about the clothes? If you're into "set" hair and nipped waists, this 1956 Mademoiselle is a dream come true.

It's also a goldmine of life advice (and "life advice," wink). I scoured the pages for very important information that may just change the way you think about the world — I'd let you borrow it, but see, it's my only copy.

1. We all need to start dressing like a 1950s co-ed.

RIGHT? The styling in this issue is unbearably adorable. It's all loafers, knee-socks, perfectly fitted sweaters, crisp blouses, and camel coats. I may not want to dress like this every day, but I'd like to be able to pull off the look. By the way, someone needs to bring back wrist-length gloves immediately.

2. You can do a lot of things in your Playtex Living Bra!

Including, but not limited to: photography, perfecting your tennis serve, playing a rousing game of golf, cycling in stripes, and dancing with a man wearing an impeccable white suit.

3. Please, let's bring back the poetry in advertising.

Back then, it was no big deal to spice up your ad with phrases like "arrow-slim lines," "flair and ingenuity," "superlative hand-stitching," and the amazing little poem pictured above: "…the look of lilies and lace, gathered high above a waltz-length drift of nylon tricot."

4. "Cuddle Coats" were the original cocoon coats.

And apparently they made you very, very happy.

5. Clothing is designed to take you places.

Plenty of these clothing ads were surprisingly career-centric for the '50s. One Jantzen ad went with the slogan, "For young women going places!" and featured a Northwestern University music major, class of '57. That's not just a red cardigan, it's the embodiment of hustle.

6. Yardley Lavender had the most terrifying perfume ad of all time.

Oh sure, Yardley is all vintage Brit countryside cuteness today, but back in the 50s, this scent would apparently leave you fresh, feminine, and dead-eyed.

7. Typewriters bring all the boys to the yard.

They also conveniently disguise one's ill-chosen riding pants.

8. Wearing a Maidenform bra is probably a bad idea.

The copy of this horrifying ad reads, "I dreamed I was being followed in my Maidenform bra. And why not…when I've got a figure to purr about."

9. Pajamas = social status.

The multitude of pajama ads in Mademoiselle all had a sort of dog-eat-dog quality about them — apparently ladies back then were consumed by a hysterical need to have the most fashion-forward set of pajamas in their friend group, EVEN IF IT MEANT WEARING REINDEER.

10. Cool girls wear…monocles.

The better to obsessively iron your shirtwaist with, my dear!

11. No friends? No worries! You've got Abercrombie & Fitch!

Why should you open up a mail-order account at Abercrombie & Fitch? Because "on days when nobody else writes you may receive a cheery catalogue of sportswear!" Plus, you can use the pages as spare tissues while you sit in bed alone and weep.

12. None of us are paying enough attention to the way our clothes fit.

The 1950s may have taken the whole nipped-waist-and-pearls thing a little to far, but man, these ladies knew how to find a skirt that fit them. The magazine is dripping with references to fabric quality, tailoring, and wearing the proper undergarments. Be honest: when's the last time you thought seriously about tailoring? I bet it wasn't at Forever 21.

13. Newly married women wore the worst clothes.

Bermuda shorts were the uniform of many "young-marrieds," according to one terrifying article, and as you can see above — unless your eyes just fell out — this ad shows a young newlywed couple in matching snowflake sweaters. Once you catch a man, you have to keep him…too humiliated to ever leave the house!

14. Daddy will fund your husband-hunting.

"Girls leave home to knock men dead in other parts—and to learn," begins this confusing ad, in which a young woman sweet-talks a "fiver" from Dad in order to buy more clothes in order to knock more men dead? This is what happens when you educate women: TOTAL CHAOS.

15. The 1950s invented the best abbrev ever.

Stop laughing, ladies! Here it is: "EXTRACURRIC." Did you ever?