Monday, 29 April 2013

Wardrobe Update - Organizing, Planning, Budgeting

It's time to clean out my wardrobe, again. It's the end of April and although we are still having hot days, I am sure the weather will cool down soon.  I am also planning a trip to colder Victoria in June, so it's time to put away the sandals and get out a cardigan or two. I am also back at work three full days a week, and helping out at school the other two days, so I need to look a bit stylish and not just wear my favourite 'house dresses."

Mary Mirota, private secretary, circa 1940
This is what I have at present.  Horrible I know, I am being brave showing it (there's more on the other side too). Time to list everything on ebay I think.

But what do I need? What do I need to keep, and what can I get rid of?  Ideally I would love to have a wardrobe that fits into two suitcases. Shoes included.  And a smaller 'beauty case' for makeup, perfume etc.  Makes it much  easier to pack that way, and I would actually wear everything I own, rather than having it sit in the wardrobe for months on end.

What would the wardrobe of a working woman in the 1930s have looked like?  Of course she would have been young, as most married women did not work in the 30s, especially those in the middle or upper classes.  I imagine though, that my life would have been similar to now - working with my husband a few days a week to answer phones, book clients, do the books and make tea, while the children are at school.  I probably would have had a maid, or at least a girl to come in and clean and do the laundry, and even cook,  so I would have had more free time than now.

A maid could even clean the children (1930)
In 1935 Australia  a male manager, clerk or teacher would have earned about £364 9s 2d, a female about £145 13s 9d (£=pound, s= shilling, d= pence). According to the Australian Reserve bank, today that's equal to about $27,000 for a male, and $10,760 for a female.  They also have a five pence loaf of bread in 1930 being equal to $1.54 today - I know I can't get a loaf for under $2, so  I am not sure how accurate their inflation calculator is.
Teachers at Market Lavington School in the 1930s 
At the same time in America, the equivalent wage would have been about $1455, a figure which is easier to deal with the American book I am using, ‘Clothing’ (Latzke and Quinlan, 1935). It lists the estimated annual budget a single working woman needed to live on in New York in the 1930s, along with what was seen as her minimum wardrobe requirements. This minimum ensured a good appearance, something that was vital to maintain her present position and to help make professional advancement.   The budget set about $200 for clothing and $50 for upkeep and personal care per year, which I am assuming includes haircuts, make up etc.  To put that in perspective, a bicycle in 1935 cost around £3 -4, or $30.

If we add inflation from 1935, that $200 has the same buying power as $3,400 in 2013, and the $50 works out to around $850.  That means you could expect to spend about $284 for clothes per month, and $70.85 for personal care.  The clothes budget I am pretty happy with, but I am going to have to stop getting my hair coloured to stick to that personal care budget!

By modern standards this wardrobe list is quite basic,  but it was built on each year.  Dresses and suits would have been altered and repaired each season, not simply discarded.  Older dresses became house wear.

The Wardrobe

  • 2 cotton, for summer street wear 
  • 4 rayon, 3 fair quality, one inexpensive house dress
  • 1 wool dress
  • 1 rayon party dress
Other - buy another every other year
  • 1 wool skirt
  • 1 sweater 
  • 1 blouse
  • 1 smock (to wear over dresses while at home)
  • 2 under-vests, rayon or knitted
  • 3 knit rayon bloomers
  • 2 panties, 1 rayon, 1 silk
  • 4 slips, 3 rayon, 1 silk
  • 2 corsets or girdles
  • 3 brassières
  • 3 nightgowns, 1 cotton, 1 rayon, 1 cotton flannel
  • Flannel bathrobe (every 3 yrs.)
  • Rayon kimono, every other year
  • 20 pairs medium silk stockings
  • 2 pairs medium quality street shoes
  • 1 pair medium quality dress shoes
  • 1 pair evening slippers, every other year
  • 1 pair inexpensive white shoes
  • Rubbers/sand shoes 1 pair every other year
  • Overshoes (galoshes) 1 pair every other year
  • House slippers 1 pair every other year
  • Medium quality fur-trimmed coat, every 3 years
  • Wool spring coat, every other year
  • Raincoat, every 3 years
  • 3 pairs gloves, 1 leather, 2 fabric
  • Umbrella, every other year
  • 3 handbags at $1 each (or fewer and better)
  • 4 felt hats, two heavy, two light
  • handkerchiefs, dozen per year

I notice that there are no pants listed, or even a suit.  Designer Elsa Schiaparelli thought a suit essential for all women in the 1930s, and even designed a pant suit for her fall/winter collection in 1939, so I think I will add a suit with skirt and pants, and another pair of pants, to my list.

 Secretary Mary Mirota, on the right, in a suit, with her employer and her children, 1939

Instead of bloomers and girdles, we now have body shapers - I like those thigh length ones, or bike shorts, for under dresses to stop that thigh rub.  It's so hot here that I only wear stockings in the dead of winter, so ten pairs would  do me. Although I may cheat and use pantyhose too.

Elsa Schiaparelli in a suit, 1930s

Being an older working woman, I would have had at least twenty years to put a wardrobe together, so I can start with more (yeah!), but not buy more than indicated. At present I have one coat, no felt hats (only sun hats and one winter turban) and only one pair of gloves - I may have to change that before I head south. I would also love that suit I have been dreaming of!

So this week I am sorting out.  I am listing lots of things on ebay, which you can see here.  Next week, I will hopefully have photos of my cleaner, emptier wardrobe and what I kept  (and what didn't sell so I had to keep too).

To end, I just have to share my favourite page from the book, on dressing the mature figure.

Apparently pointy hats make you seem taller and thinner.  I think I need one!

Deb xx


  1. I loved this post. Not surprising as I love ALL your posts! I have been working on gathering items from a similar list...but from 1949. Slowly I am getting there. I have had no luck in finding any 40/50s suits in my size (that I love) so I have found a lovely lass who makes custom "vintage" (from vintage patterns/styles) suit.

    Another great way to have a smaller wardrobe is to stick with a small colour pallet. I don't know how it came about but I have lots of shades of blue and cream and almost every top goes with almost every bottom. Makes packing for holidays fabulously easy.

    And you MUST get some hats. Hats make everything FABULOUS! (I am starting on my first felt hat on Thursday in my Millinery eggplant cloche...I am terribly excited).

    Pack warm when you come to Melbourne - you will need more than a cardigan ;) it's already getting super chilly here.

    1. I found a hat today - unfortunately it as squished at the back of the wardrobe. I should have cleaned out first. Turns out I have lots of black, grey, beige and silver! I also found a black jacket I op-shopped last year, and my fav leopard print vintage jacket. Thanks for reading. I love all your posts too - the being yourself series has kept me inspired. Sending you healing good wishes, Deb xx


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