Book review done!
Eudora has apparently not been made aware of the word "commodification," and suggested instead
But I learnt some things from the book. First of all, I learnt to read a book all the way through again. Not something you get the luxury of doing every day while dissertating. I also learned that the "rule of two" for book reviews (never do more than two a year) is like red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat. You can break it if you [think] you know what you're doing.
I also learned that it's a nice touch if the journal sends you a bookmark with the book you're reviewing.
But I digress.
Cook argues that the children's clothing industry -- as opposed to an industry that sold clothing to people with smaller bodies -- didn't really begin until 1917. This is remarkably precise dating, but he is quite convincing.
The 1920s saw the industry establish itself, and by the end of the decade a separate children's clothing department was nearly universal in department stores and chain stores like Woolworths.
It was the 1930s that really saw a children's clothing market emerge, with the child's point of view being privileged and institutionalized. Advertisements focused on an appeal to the child as the consumer, and their senses of fashion and practical needs, not their parents' sense of what was appropriate and good value. ("Appropriate"? Well, Cook argues and he's in line with others that the whole notion of age-appropriateness, expectations of what's normal behavior for a certain age, is a pretty recent one. Recent as in since the Civil War.)
To summarize crudely, after World War II changes in the children's clothing industry are mostly a matter of adjusting hem lengths to suit what good thinking suburban folk thought was appropriate in their 7-17 year old daughters. See, it was OK for 5 year old girls to wear above-the-knee hemlines, but not OK for 11 year olds, 'cause that's "suggestive." Weren't the 1950s grand?!
I was particularly receptive to Cook's argument about what a rollicking period of change the 1920s and 1930s were, 'cause that's what I say too in my research. My sense at this early stage of my own research is that married women's work gained social acceptance pretty rapidly in the 1920s.
Let's qualify that a bit. Most people really weren't too concerned that around a third of black wives worked, because domestic service and agricultural labor really aren't much fun, and really don't pay so well. But as much as we can tell, in the early twentieth century it really wasn't the done thing for white wives to go out to work.
So the big change in the 1920s is that it becomes more socially acceptable for white wives to go to work. There was still concern about mothers working, but a young woman newly married no longer had to give up her sales clerking job just because the neighbours would disapprove.
It's not much of a surprise to find that during the Depression there was a lot of hostility to married women working. Maybe this argument is too clever by half (or just dumb) but I think that acceptance of married women's work didn't erode in the Depression that much. My sense is that because more married women were working, hostility was expressed in the abstract. Where people knew of friends or relatives where a wife was working it was harder to damn them all.
People who didn't know a family that needed both spouse's incomes found it easy to rationalize high unemployment by blaming wives working. And many people would qualify their opposition to wives working by saying that "of course, if her husband was sick or unemployed, then the wife could work." When pressed most people who expressed an opposition in the abstract to wives working couldn't name an actual example of a couple who got some sort of unfair advantage out of having both spouses in work.
All of this appears to take us a long way from the children's clothing market in the same decades. Except that parallel with the rise in wive's paid work was a massive decline in child labor, and a rising age at which young people were expected to go out to work.
So, at the same time as you had children earning less of their own income you had stores actively advertising to them as consumers. Their mothers (in the aggregate) were also pulling in more of the family income.
In short, the two decades between the World Wars appear to be when the economic arrangements of the modern American nuclear family really began to take shape. Children up 'til about the age of 15 were supported by their parents, and increasingly both parents were in work. In families where both parents worked -- meaning parents spent less time with their children -- parents substituted things that their children wanted for time spent with them.Posted by robe0419 at January 6, 2005 2:43 PM | TrackBack