Life Magazine Predicts in 1914 How People Would Dress in the 1950s

Though still just with­in liv­ing mem­o­ry, 1950 now seems as if it belongs not just to the past but to a whol­ly bygone real­i­ty. Yet that year once stood for the future: that is to say, a time both dis­tant enough to fire up the imag­i­na­tion and near enough to instill a sense of trep­i­da­tion. It must have felt that way, at least, to the sub­scribers of Life mag­a­zine in Decem­ber of 1914, when they opened an issue of that mag­a­zine ded­i­cat­ed in part to pre­dict­ing the state of human­i­ty 36 years hence. Its bold cov­er depicts a man and woman of the 1950s amus­ed­ly regard­ing pic­tures of a man and woman in 1914: the lat­ter wear but­toned-up Euro­pean street cloth­ing, while the for­mer have on almost noth­ing at all.

As ren­dered by illus­tra­tor Otho Cush­ing, the thor­ough­ly mod­ern 1950s female wears a kind of slip, some­thing like a gar­ment from ancient Greece updat­ed by abbre­vi­a­tion. Her male coun­ter­part takes his inspi­ra­tion from an even ear­li­er stage of civ­i­liza­tion, his loin­cloth cov­er­ing as few as pos­si­ble of the abstract pat­terns paint­ed or tat­tooed all over his body. (About his choice to top it all off with a plumed hel­met, an entire PhD the­sis could sure­ly be writ­ten.)

Any cred­i­ble vision of the future must draw inspi­ra­tion from the past, and Cush­ing’s inter­ests equipped him well for the task: 28 years lat­er, his New York Times obit­u­ary would refer to his ear­ly spe­cial­iza­tion in depict­ing “hand­some young men and women in Greek or mod­ern cos­tumes.”

Even though fash­ions have yet to make a return to antiq­ui­ty, how many out­fits on the street of any major city today would scan­dal­ize the aver­age Life read­er of 1914? Of course, the cov­er is essen­tial­ly a gag, as is much of the osten­si­ble prog­nos­ti­ca­tion inside. As cir­cu­lat­ed again not long ago in a tweet thread by Andy Machals, it fore­sees mon­archs in the unem­ploy­ment line, boys’ jobs tak­en by girls, women acquir­ing harems of men, and the near-extinc­tion of mar­riage. But some pre­dic­tions, like 30 miles per hour becom­ing a slow enough dri­ving speed to be tick­etable, have come true. Anoth­er piece imag­ines peo­ple of the 1950s hir­ing musi­cians to accom­pa­ny them through­out each phase of the day. Few of us do that even in the 2020s, but liv­ing our dig­i­tal­ly sound­tracked lives, we may still won­der how our ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry ances­tors man­aged: “Between meals they lis­tened to almost absolute­ly noth­ing.”

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Author Imag­ines in 1893 the Fash­ions That Would Appear Over the Next 100 Years

Fash­ion Design­ers in 1939 Pre­dict How Peo­ple Would Dress in the Year 2000

In 1900, Ladies’ Home Jour­nal Pub­lish­es 28 Pre­dic­tions for the Year 2000

How French Artists in 1899 Envi­sioned Life in the Year 2000: Draw­ing the Future

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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