The Girl in the Grey Flannel Dress


I’m currently reading Ali Haggett’s Desperate Housewives, Neuroses and the Domestic Environment, 1945-1970 (Pickering and Chatto, 2012) for the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.  Without wishing to pre-empt my review, it’s a great book full of fascinating examples.  Haggett’s discussion of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (p.21) particularly caught my eye.  She astutely observes that this book (1955) and subsequent film (1956) were part of a broader trend of critiquing suburbia and the mass market conformity of the post-war decades.  I had never heard of the film but it piqued my interest because it echoed the title of a pattern featured in Woman in 1960: ‘The girl in the grey flannel dress’ (19 March 1960, p. 13).  It is not clear whether the pattern name was a deliberate reference to the earlier film, but it is unlikely that the staff writers were not aware of it.  It is tantalizing to imagine what their thoughts were: were they trying to evoke the film and if so, why?  Did they share its socio-cultural standpoint?  Were they adding a gendered dimension to its critique?  Or did they just think it was a good pun?  As is so often the case with researching periodicals, we cannot possibly know.  There is no way to find out the thinking behind the hundreds of small decisions that went into producing each issue of a magazine, yet we researchers may spend hours (nay, weeks and months!) grappling with a single sentence, trying to figure out what lies behind the words themselves.  Coming up with some kind of answer to all my questions would probably take more time than it would to actually make the grey flannel dress itself.  Maybe I should give it a go.


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