What's Hot and What's Not, According to 1949

by Elizabeth Ballou

Old issues of popular magazines are an endless source of entertainment — not just from a historical perspective, but from a cultural one. One of my favorite pastimes is browsing my prized 1939 issue of the Spanish magazine El Hogar y La Moda (Home and Fashion), which is full of daintily-sketched pictures of women in pointy bras, cloche hats, and ads for face creams. Lapham's Quarterly has the same fascination with the 1940s, and they unearthed a chart from a 1949 issue of LIFE that declares, in extreme detail, what is highbrow and what is lowbrow. Or, in other words, what's hot and what's not.

If you need a quick-and-dirty guide on how to live the highbrow, upper middle-brow, lower middle-brow, or lowbrow lifestyle circa 1949, these pictures have you covered — forehead shape included. Let's take a look, shall we? (See the whole chart here.)

Cultured items and pastimes included Eames chairs, ballet, and criticism of criticism, which conjure to mind a fabulous, fashion-forward man or woman who had several graduate degrees, lived in a New York City penthouse, and had a fully-stocked wine cellar. And who probably hobnobbed with Olivia de Havilland and went to Birdland.

Meanwhile, the plebes snacked on coleslaw, played craps, drank beer instead of wine, and owned sad, fringed lamps. And OK, I get the beer and fringed lamps stuff, but I thought craps was what edgy people of the 1930s and 1940s played. (At least, that's what being in Guys and Dolls in high school led me to believe. Sky Masterson is not lowbrow, OK?) And what the devil is so low-class about coleslaw? These are the questions that keep me awake at night.

If this piques your interest, you can read the rest of the 1949 issue on Google Books. Or you might jump forward seven years and see if this 1956 issue of Mademoiselle can teach you anything. After all, vintage fashion is never out of place these days.

Images: April 1949 issue/LIFE Magazine; mustachbeardyoloworld, tumblr