Hilariously Retrograde Marital Advice from a 1952 Modern Bride


Clearly, weddings changed a lot over the course of the twentieth century. But you don’t realize just how much until you crack open a time capsule like the summer 1952 edition of Modern Bride, billed as “A Complete Guide for the Bride-To-Be.”

Ladies, you have no idea how much you need a toaster and an upbeat willingness to entertain in the furtherance of your soon-to-be-husband’s career. Also, acres of chantilly lace and nylon tulle. Cue up “Band of Gold” and let’s take a walk through the bridal styles of yesteryear.

For starters, today’s bridal mags are stuffed with advertisements for national fashion brands. Modern Bride, on the other hand, is full of ads for local stores, like the Halle Brothers of Cleveland, Franklin Simon (with stores on Fifth Avenue and Peachtree & Ponce in Atlanta), L.A.’s “Bullock’s Downtown,” and Schaffer’s Bridal Shop, of St. Paul, Des Moines and Omaha. Late, great department stores Bonwit Teller and Marshall Field’s also make appearances.

In terms of the fashions, “nylon” is used as a selling point with alarming frequency, and you will see not one single, solitary sleeveless wedding dress. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a birdcage veil, despite this being the golden age of decorative hats. There’s also an extensive spread walking brides through the subtle particulars of choosing a “truly formal” approach, as opposed to “highly formal,” “semiformal” or “semiformal on a summer day.”

There’s not a “real wedding” in sight. And since the magazine predates digital photography, much of the advice is dispensed via text, rather than mood boards. For instance, “petal tones” are offered for consideration “for your procession.” Visualize: “Petal frosted…white over layers of palest blue or pink for a young, danceable gown, the instep-length ideal for a garden wedding. The petal-pointed lace bodies releases a cloud of nylon tulle.” Can you even read that without imagining a hat-wearing grandee gesturing with a cigarette?

Good news, though: “Lucky are you, the summertime bride-to-be, for the world at its most benign presents you with a garden-to-sky vista of color to draw upon for your wedding scheme.” Even in the 1950s brides couldn’t escape those goddamn wedding colors.

But the magazine bills itself as a complete guide, so it’s not all just flounces and Juliet caps. There’s an entire spread on gifts with a “B.A.” — that is, bridegroom approved — as well as decorating advice including a lengthy explanation of different types of carpet. There area also several pages of everyday outfits, to help you assemble a “Summer Trousseau,” “for shipboard… traveling… and afterward.” Yes, please:

But the real corker is stapled into the magazine towards the back, on stern, heavy paper. It is “a book condensation of Preparing for Marriage, the guide to marital and sexual adjustment,” snuggled right next to an ad for honeymoons via Greyhound—”romantic travel, planned just for you.” It’s the work of Dr. Clifford R. Adams, a psych prof and “nationally famous Marriage Counselor,” and it is a time capsule.

There are your basic, giggle-inspiring anachronisms, for instance that a girl looking for a date will want a man “who may be a ‘catch’—perhaps a football star or a radio actor.” Then there are musings such as “Intelligence is importance only in a relative sense—relative, that is, to you.” To wit:

The average man marries a woman who is slightly less intelligent than he is. That’s why many brilliant women never marry. They do not come in contact with sufficiently brilliant men, or fail to disguise their brilliance in order to win a man of somewhat less intelligence. College males tell us that they want a girl for a wife who is intelligent but makes them feel they are still more intelligent!

Mutual, I’m sure. But don’t worry, ladies, you’ve still got plenty to engage your intellect. You’ve got loads of important silverware-related decisions to make!

You ladies on the lookout for love are also advised to consider whether a potential mate will meet your needs, such as that for “social approval.” Also important is whether he will be affectionate, whether he’ll work hard to make the marriage succeed and talk things over, as well as whether he will “offer you security” and “help you get ahead.” Brace:

This involves the desire for mastery, which is a universal human motive particularly with men. It produces the urge to succeed, to excel, to overcome obstacles, to keep on fighting, to master situations. It is this desire for mastery that makes a husband take a correspondence course which may lead to a job promotion. The girl wants a mate who will be ambitious, and the man needs a wife who will read books on how to prepare tasty dishes and how to rear children according to the best principles of child care, and who will not become easily discouraged or frustrated.

If that wasn’t enough of a flashback to season one of Mad Men, this really ought to get you nostalgic for yard-pigeon-shooting Betty:

Will this mate embarrass you by nonconformity? The man wants a wife who will not act unbecomingly in public, who knows how to say and do the right thing when other people are present, who will conform to the customs that will cause their neighbors to think well of her. The girl wants a man who is not discourteous or sloppy, who will get to work at the time he is supposed to report, who will not embarrass her in public that will make them criticized by others.

You should also make sure to find a man who likes sports. You wouldn’t want to end up shackled to some kind of goddamned pinko, would you?

Men and women who make good mates are sociable and extroverted. They like to entertain friends, to raise money for charity, and they are interested in sports. Such girls enjoy party activities and try to see that everyone as a good time. While talkative and carefree, they are not aggressive.
Men are not quite as fond of social functions as women. But they have a greater liking for athletics. Their recreational activities are wholesome and varied. Although a wife is chiefly responsible for the couple’s socializing, she needs her husband’s interested cooperation.

No, seriously, it is of the utmost importance nobody get any Revolutionary Road ideas around here:

“Is He an Agreeable Person—Or An ‘Individualist'”? The agreeable person tends to conform to the norms set by society. Particularly this is important in a girl. For example, she favors prohibition and opposes burlesque shows. She finds it easy to accept leadership when it is directed by ethical considerations. Not liking to be ‘different,’ she wants her marriage to meet community standards.”

By the way, do you like old people and dislike poets? Otherwise, I’ve got bad news:

Similarly, girls who will be happy in marriage enjoy teaching children and have a fondness for old people. They are not strong admirers of musicians and poets though they may like good music or poetry. They believe mates should be virgins at marriage and faithful thereafter.

Oh, this? [Tosses copy of the collected works of Lord Byron over her shoulder.] Nothing, honey! Just paging through the latest Bonwit Teller catalog!

Forget all that, though. Let’s talk about sex, baby. Specifically, how can you find a mate who’ll keep you happy in the bedroom? Because heaven forbid you take him for a test drive:

Beware a person who shows a neurotic tendency, unconventional behavior, a craving for excitement, an urge to be constantly on the go. Beware of both the prudes and persons who seem preoccupied with sex. Beware of indications of jealously and possessiveness, or coldness and aloofness.

Be wary of any man insufficiently Brylcreemed into emotional constipation. How many times does he have to warn you about those damned radio actors?

A girl should be wary of selecting a mate who is very emotional. Such a person thrives on ‘thrills’ and may be much too interested in sex. Not uncommonly he works in some job like radio or the movies where he hopes to find glamour and excitement.

Once you’ve landed your up-and-coming accounts manager at Grey Flannel Suit and Co., you’ll of course begin looking forward to the wedding night. Your groom can help the proceedings along like so:

Often a husband can make that first night easier for a wife if he finds an errand to perform while his bride is preparing to retire. He may even suggest to her that he will be gone for fifteen or twenty minutes, which will give her a chance to be in bed when he returns.

Let a thousand Mad Men fanfics bloom. Just don’t get your hopes up:

Most young wives do not have an orgasm in the early days of marriage and so should not be distressed if they do not experience it on the wedding night. In Terman’s study of several hundred wives, less than twenty-five percent said they experienced it within a few days or weeks.

The good professor is not without advice, though:

Phase two is the actual coitus. In the early days of marriage this should be engaged in gently. Later both may be able to enjoy the tumultuous vigor of unrestrained outpouring of love. The husband should not forget during intercourse to tell his wife how much he loves her, how wonderful he thinks she is, how much delight she is bringing him.

It’s not all hopelessly dated and buckling under the weight of postwar conformity, though. The author comes down firmly on the side of make-up sex: “Married couples should not forget the importance of climactic sexual relations as a means of reducing tension.” Now there’s a solid piece of advice you won’t see in The Knot any time soon.

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