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Jan. 21, 1917: How long does it take your wife to dress?

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: February 9, 2013 - 3:19 PM
 
Christine Frederick was a distinguished home economist of the early 1900s. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Northwestern University, she founded a laboratory that analyzed many of the products and processes used in American homes. Her goal was to identify and promote more efficient ways of keeping house. She was the driving force, for example, behind the standardization of kitchen counter heights. She served as a consulting editor of a number of publications, wrote several books and penned a series of articles on "The New Housekeeping" for the Ladies' Home Journal. This piece, originally written for the American Weekly, a  Sunday newspaper supplement, appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune.
 

 

Mrs. Christine Frederick, Efficiency Expert, Holds the Stop Watch on Women to Find Out Just How Much Time They Can Save in Lacing Their Corsets, Buttoning Their Shoes and Hooking Up Their Gowns.

 
 
  Christine Frederick
By Mrs. Christine Frederick
Household Efficiency Expert, Author of “The New Housekeeping,” Etc.
 
The hoary joke of the cartoonists on the number of hours a woman keeps a man waiting while she dresses to go out with him was flattened by the recent announcement of a prominent woman that she could dress in exactly fifteen minutes. But instantly this claim to feminine speed championship was disputed by other claimants, who respectively announced thirteen, ten and even two minutes as the time limit required to clothe themselves.
 
In view of all this discussion it is worth while putting the stopwatch on the subject and settling by seconds “how long does it take a woman to dress?”
 
Are you fat, or are you lean? Are you orderly, or the reverse? What kind of clothes do you wear? All these factors greatly influence the time required to dress.
 
Here, for instance, is a time study I made of a young girl as she dressed completely for the street:
 
Dressing Time Study No. 1
(Thin Model) in Afternoon Street Attire.
(Subject ready in bathrobe and slippers – all garments needed arranged conveniently near dresser.)
 
 
Min.
Sec.
Cold cream and powder face ……………..
1
20
Put on union suit ……………………………
 
15
Put on shoes and stockings
(17-hole lace shoes) ………………………..
 
3
 
Corset (“sport” type) ………………………..
 
15
Camisole …………………………………….
 
35
Silk petticoat …………………………………
 
5
Arrange hair .………………………………...
2
15
Put on one-piece dress …………………….
1
 
Hat ……………………………………………
 
10
Coat …………………………………………..
 
25
Gloves ………………………………………..
 
20
Total time …..……………………………….
9
40
 
Another girl of the same age and type was ready for the street in 13 minutes, 40 seconds, the additional four minutes being the time consumed by her bath.
It will be noticed here that the lacing of the shoes and the arranging of the hair took the longest time. Contrast these figures with this second time study, in which the subject was a more mature woman:
 
Dressing Time Study No. 2
(Mature Model). Afternoon 3-Piece Costume. (Subject was before in bathrobe and slippers.)
 
 
Min.
Sec.
Get into union suit …………………………..
 
10
Put on stockings .……………………………
 
20
Shoes (15-button boot) ...…………………..
1
10
Corset (20-hook front lace model) .……….
1
10
Camisole …………………………………….
 
25
Bloomers ….…………………………………
 
20
Hair arranged ..……………………………...
3
50
Skirt …………………….…………………….
 
30
Waist …………………………………………
 
50
Hat ……………………………………………
 
15
Coat …………………………………………..
 
30
Gloves ………………………………………..
 
30
Total time ……………………………..…….
10
 
 
Comparing these figures, it will be found that the corset of the stouter woman is her bête noir in dressing. In the first case the young woman with the girlish waist, wearing a short six-hook “sport” corset, was able to put it on in fifteen seconds. It took the more mature woman, with the fuller curves and the twenty-hook front lace, one minute and ten seconds to do the same trick.
 
For some women, squeezing into a corset took more than one pair of hands. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)
 
From three to five minutes is usually required for even a simple day coiffure, and this means that the possessor of the locks has practiced the same style until she almost unconsciously finds her hands taking the right motions – for she who hesitates is indeed lost, and a slight wrong start in hair dressing never seems to come right.
 
The fact was clearly brought out that in order to dress quickly clothes and accessories must be well arranged, and in definite places so as to prevent all “fumbling.” Hunting uselessly for the right pair of gloves, or finding buttons loose, or that a new collar needed suddenly to be sewn on, are all details unpardonable if quick time is desired. Of course, in this connection, the services of a maid would be a help; but the woman who is her own valet can be just as well dressed and in as rapid time if she has a place for everything and everything in its place.
 
It is almost startling to note the change that has come about in the kind of fastenings used by well-dressed women to-day, as compared to those of a decade ago. For instance, the newest union suit, or chemise of the moment, boasts not a single button; the clumsy drawstring is now a thing of the past, and is replaced by a neater, more efficient band of elastic which “gives” with every movement of the figure. Even the popular buttonless camisole is fast replacing the starched “corset covers” and brassieres with many hooks.
 
From the tests I made, it was clearly proved that the kind and number of fastenings has a great deal to do with the rapidity possible in dressing. Just for the whim of it, did you ever know that:
 
 
  A 1918 ad in the Minneapolis Tribune showed what women were up against in the shoe department: A pair of these boots -- available for just $4.45 at the Leader, "the Great Economy Store" at Third and Nicollet -- featured more than five dozen eyelets.
Shoes have from 10 to 25 buttons or eyelets.
 
Corsets have from 6 to 20 fastenings or eyelets.
 
Gloves from 1 to 20 buttons.
 
Union suits, underwear, 1 to 12 buttons.
 
Camisoles or Brassieres, 1 to 20 buttons or hooks.
 
Bloomers, only elastic.
 
Skirts (outer), 1 to 12 hooks or snaps.
 
Waists, generally 6 to 18.
 
One-piece dresses, 6 to 12.
 
Evening dresses, 12 to 24 snaps and eyes.
 
Petticoats, 1 to 4 snaps or a string or elastic.
 
Naturally, the fewer the fastenings, and the easier they are to adjust, the quicker the time that can be made. In the above tests the most modern and approved garments were used – bloomers, camisoles and underwear all having only elastic fastenings. The one-piece dress takes about half the time of a separate skirt and waist.
 
Evening dresses, oddly, were not as complicated as most fussy “afternoon” frocks which have underseam fastenings and hidden hooks and eyes generally in more difficult places. The evening dresses, made by good modistes, while with many clasps, were so modeled that they were easy to slip on and fasten securely.
 
In passing it should be said that the fewer buttons and strings the better dressed the more safely dressed the modern woman will be. Why stick to a stiffly starched corset cover when a silk camisole will answer every purpose and have no buttons to come off in the wash or hooks to be flattened by the iron? Why trust to tapes and knotty strings when elastic is so much better?
 
The third study, which follows, was made on a mature woman, who dressed in an elaborate jet and satin evening gown in exactly 26 minutes and 30 seconds.
 
 
Min.
Sec.
Laying out clothes …………………………..
2
 
Bath .…………………………………………
4
 
Face and neck creamed and powdered ….
2
 
Put on union suit …………………...……….
 
10
Stockings and pumps ………………………
 
40
Corsets ….…………………………………..
3
 
Silk bloomers ..……………………………...
 
20
Silk camisole hooking in back .…………….
5
 
Hair .……………………………………………
5
 
Evening gown ………………………………
2
40
Jewels and ornaments ……………………..
 
10
Finishing touches to the arms, etc. ...……..
 
20
Long gloves ………………………………….
 
30
Cloak and scarf ……………………………..
 
40
Total time …………………………………….
26
30
 
This was a most elaborate toilet, elegant in every accessory – one suitable for the opera and dance. It included every detail, even jewels and bath. The subject did not hurry, but took her own time, except that she concentrated her thoughts on dressing and nothing else. This toilet, if repeated at more frequent intervals, could certainly be done in 20 minutes, and without complete bath could have been finished in 15 minutes.
 
To the figures given above should also be added the time required to undress in order to get into the costume, and the time required to arrange or lay out the garments and put the other clothing away. We can average the time to lay out a complete set of apparel as 2 minutes; the time to lay the present clothing away about 1½ minutes; average bathing time 5 minutes. And the average dressing time (exclusive of bath) for the street, 10 minutes, for the afternoon function, 15 minutes; for the theatre or dance, 20 minutes. From all these figures there would seem to be no excuse in the world why any woman, at any time, in any costume, should take more than one-half hour to dress from the “skin out.”
 
If a motion chart were prepared of the movements women make in dressing, it would appear like the path of an equatorial storm, of circles within circles and concentric dotted lines. Very roughly, indeed, we can say that to dress according to Study 2 required the following convolutions, even under the most efficient plan, with everything laid on one chair.
 
 
Motions.
Get into union suit ....…….
    4
Each stocking ……………
    2
Each shoe ………………..
 40
Corset …………………….
 24
Camisole …………………
    6
Bloomers …………………
    8
Hair ……………………….
 60
Skirt ……………………….
 10
Waist ………………………
 30
Hat …………………………
 20
Coat ……………………….
 10
Gloves …………………….
 30
Total ……………………….
244
                          
Here are the seven rules which the woman who wants to be efficient in her dressing should be careful to observe:
 
1. Select or have your clothes made with the fewest buttons, hooks and fastenings.
2. See that clothes are constantly in readiness, with no loose buttons or need of adjustment.
3. Arrange them in definite places, easily accessible.
4. Before you begin to dress, plan and arrange every detail of the toilet as compactly as possible.
5. When you dress, “dress” with your mind concentrated on this subject.
6. Work out what seems the best, least awkward order for your particular needs.
7. Practice dressing daily.
 
The sixth of these rules is of the greatest importance.
 
Which is the quickest and least awkward, to sit down on the floor when putting on shoes, or to stand and place the foot on a chair? Do you put on first one stocking and then one shoe, or first both stockings and then both shoes? Do you put on your corset before the shoes, or vice versa? Whatever you decide, do it that way always, so that deftness results.
 
Efficiency in dressing is demanded of women, just as efficiency is required in other needs and work. And efficiency does not mean “slammed together” dressing, but that which proceeds from the right clothes, conveniently arranged, and concentration during the dressing process. There is no need for the woman in ordinary life to rival the speed of the actress, but that she should be able to dress well, and yet quickly, will enable her to have more time for outside pursuits and work more valuable to herself, her home and society.
 
This helpful illustration accompanied "How long does it take your wife to dress?" Nearly a century later, the bath time looks suspect. Have you ever gotten in and out of the tub in four minutes or less?

 

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