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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What Every Woman Should Know

There’s a lot of interest in the 1930s right now, prompted by films such as The Artist and Madonna's W.E. (the story of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson). But what was life like for more ordinary women? What concerned our grandmothers and how did they cope in a world without the convenience products we take for granted? I’ve found some fascinating insights in “What Every Woman Should Know – Lifestyle lessons from the 1930s” a book packed with old photos and articles from the Daily Mail’s archives.

It was a time when women had finally got the vote, and were beginning to have their own money to spend – a trend the paper acknowledged with pages of fashion and beauty features. It makes for fascinating reading. Hats, readers were told, could change a woman’s character (I loved the photos of amazing creations bedecked with ribbons and flowers). Christmas frocks could be ‘frivolous’ and monkey fur was a popular trim. But memories of the Depression were still fresh and housewives were exhorted to sweep and dust their way to beauty (no celebrity diets here) and improve their complexions with an egg mask made from the beaten yolk. Readers asked how to remove butter stains (with petrol), renovate a black and white coat (take off the lapels), restore ebony that had turned brown (rub in salad oil twice a week) and make a black coat smart once the fur collar had been taken off (add a velvet scarf in a bright shade). While beauty concerns mirrored those of today (dry skin, open pores, difficult hair)  there’s a big difference in the food – tips include how to serve sheep’s tongues and prepare pressed beef. Some of the household hints are still valid. But there's one I won't be trying: using sour milk to clean gilt picture frames.
I wonder if Mrs Simpson knew that?

What Every Woman Should Know, by Christopher and Kirsty Hudson (Atlantic Publishing) 128 pp £5.99