How teenage girls in the 1950s were supposed to behave

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Compared to now, teenage girls in the 1950s had a lot of strict rules and etiquette considerations. A lot of these “requirements” are easy to laugh off now, but back then, the consequences of falling short in certain areas could have a pretty considerable effect on a girl’s life.

Here’s a look at just some of the kinds of messaging young women got back then.

Etiquette for teenage girls: How gals can be dainty misses (1953)

By Helen Follett – Tyrone Daily Herald (Pennsylvania) February 4, 1953

A gal may be a raving beauty, she may wear the finest fashions, but if she isn’t a dainty miss, all her glamour’s gone for naught.

Daintiness means a number of things. It calls for head-to-toe cleanliness. Clothes and lingerie must be spotless. Soiled white collars, gloves or other accessories detract considerably from a girl’s appearance.

Retro 1950s women and teens fashion and beauty from 1957 (4)

Girls in the ’50s: Cleanliness is necessary

Hosiery must be changed daily; shoes changed every other day. Wool frocks and sweaters should not be placed in closets at night, but before open windows to be aired.

A foot powder should be dusted in shoes — it’s a good means of keeping feet comfortable. This is an especially good hint for the saleswoman or any gal who has a job that calls for a lot of footwork during the day.

Seventeen - October 1953

Daintiness also means a daily bath or shower. No girl should ever be so busy she misses her morning or night tub time.

She should make the bath a glamorous affair. Scented accessories — powders, soaps, salt and oils — do this effectively. If she uses them, she’ll step from the tub and walk in a cloud of fragrance that will make her feel truly feminine.

She shouldn’t rush through a bath, but should go about it leisurely to get full benefits. A heavy brush and lots of lather are a help in scrubbing away dirt, keeping skin smooth and lovely.

Teen girl in a pink fancy dress

Finally, the dainty miss uses a deodorant. This is important. The counters are stocked with all types — creams, lotions, powders, sticks — so she should find the one that does the most effective job.

Diet has a place in this picture, too. Onion and garlic dishes should be avoided. The jokes on this subject are all too true, and a young lady who eats garlic is not going to be over-popular with dates, friends or the boss, either.

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Seventeen magazine - June 1953

From the 1950s: Tips on how to laugh, just for girls

From the name of this regular feature (“How to be a girl”) to the information contained within (“strict attention should be paid to how you laugh and when”), we’re really not sure how much more patronizing this article could have been. It’s almost enough to make us laugh.

The actress showing the range of emotions was Lugene Sanders, who played the teen daughter Barbara “Babs” Riley in TV’s “Life of Riley,” which ran on NBC from 1953 to 1958.

From the 1950s How to laugh, just for girls
By Susan Bennett Holmes – Woman’s Day (August 1955)

Laughter is a serious thing. Hoot if you must, but strict attention should be paid to how you laugh and when. It is the barometer of your emotional state.

Precisely put, laughter is a form of behavior. It is the behavior which expresses the emotion of mirth. There is nothing like laughing for the digestion, it says in the book at our right hand.

A laughing girl can put away gallons of lovely glop, with no trouble, apparently. A laughing girl is a gay girl. She has a sense of humor about herself, a merry attitude toward life, which carries her up and over many of its difficulties. The thing to be is a laughing girl!

Teenage girls having a pajama party in 1957

Unfortunately, the name of laughter is given to much that is far from mirth. A lot of our so-called laughter expresses nervous, unpleasant feelings…

Shown: Lugene Sanders, who plays the daughter in TV’s “Life of Riley”

How to laugh: Types of laughter
  • The Spontaneous Burst
  • The Loud Guffaw
  • The Girlish Giggle
  • The Helpless Oh Dear
  • The Narrative Thread
  • The Laugh for Pure Joy

How to laugh, just for girls - from 1955

Why doesn’t he call? Advice about boys (from 1950)

From Woman’s Day magazine (1950)

Almost every girl goes through the experience sometime — but why? What can happen to turn a dreamy-date affair, something just this side of perfect, into a hopeless heartache that nothing but a phone call can cure?

What can happen to an ever-lovin’ boy who used to call every night to make him forget even how to drop a nickel in the telephone?

The answer isn’t easy, and it’s just a little different for every boy-girl story told. But to help you out of your current heartbreak (or to prevent the next smashup!), we’ve rounded up some “what happened?” letters from the Sub-Deb mail, letters from girls who are waiting and wondering “Why doesn’t he call?” Maybe you can read yourself between the lines!

1959 - Girls on phone

Stayed out too late

“Last Friday, we went to a formal dance, and because we got stuck on a country road I didn’t get home until very late (or very early). My mother reprimanded me and John’s parents were very angry.

“On Tuesday, at school, he suggested we break up. He gave the reason that his mother didn’t want him to get serious about any girl, since he is just seventeen. We had planned a date for that coming Friday night, so I called him on the phone to see if he was going to keep it, and he said he had a cold and wasn’t allowed out. And I haven’t heard from him since.”

That “cold” probably developed from the icy stare his mother gave him when she said, “All right, young man, no more dates for you for the next month! ”

Most families set down dating rules for boys. John stayed out till the wee hours of the morning, and his penalty is to give up you. Even high-school romances last longer if you have the boy’s family on your side.

How to snare a male: Dating & marriage advice from 1950

Teen girl in 1956 trying on her first high heel shoes

Pickup letdown

“One night recently I had walked my girlfriend halfway home and we had paused for a minute on the corner to talk before she went on. Along came a car with three boys and they stopped to talk.

“My girl friend and I wouldn’t talk to them, but one boy got out and he was so friendly, I let him walk me home. He told me he was in college and acted so sincere that I liked him a lot.

“When he left me at the front door, it was with the understanding that he’d phone me during the week about a date for the following Saturday night. Well, that was about two weeks ago, and I’m still waiting for him to call.”

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It’s just another case of pickup letdown. Whether you like it or not, you might as well face the facts: boys don’t have the attitude toward pickup friendships that they do toward the proper, Emily Post, “I’d like you to meet my friend” kind.

Many fellows feel they just don’t owe the same brand of courtesy to street-corner acquaintances that they do to other girls. If you take a chance on letting a boy pick you up, you also take the chance that he will think of you as just that — a babe, an easy date, another pickup.

Teen party with records and milk 1950s

Chasing the boy

“Some days, the boy I like is extra sweet to me, and the next day he just flips me a casual ‘hello’ that he could flip to any girl.

“I had a wienie roast the other night and I invited him. He sort of played up to me all night. I have tried to make him jealous, but he says he doesn’t care if I go with other boys. I often go to the drugstore when he works to see him, but he never calls me for a date.”

And just when would the boy have time to call you when you are chasing him all the time? Too much attention, too many invitations and the unhappy habit of hanging around the place a boy works are the fastest ways to convince him that he sees enough of you without having you around as a date-mate too. Give him a chance to miss you once in a while!

Want to find a husband? These were the best jobs to get in the 1950s

Teen girl in her bedroom getting ready for school in 1953

Written in ink

“My boyfriend and I broke up just before he left for college this fall. A few months after that, I got a letter from him wanting me to write to him ‘just as a good friend.’ While I was trying to decide whether to write or not, I got another letter from him saying a lot of mushy things like ‘Could you love me again?’ and all that.

“I finally wrote and said I was too busy with my schoolwork to write. I was polite but definite. He was home last weekend, and, though he didn’t call me. I realize now that I like him as much as ever.”

Well, it’s always a good idea to be polite, but too bad you had to be so definite! A good rule to follow in letter writing is this: Never put down on paper what you would not want to say face to face.

Brush-off conversations can always be forgotten, but you just can’t get those written words back once the letter has been dropped in the mailbox.

MORE: 129 ways to get a husband: Truly terrible vintage tips from the 1950s

Why doesn't he call Advice to teens from 1950

Alexander Graham belles

“When school started last fall, I met a boy and started going with him. He called me up every night and came over almost every day after school. We went with each other for over three months and I liked him very much.

“Then some of my girl friends began calling him at night, pretending to be me or just making some kind of joke. Then one day my girl friend called him to apologize for all the silly phone calls and since then he just hasn’t called me at all.”

Those giggling, “Guess who’s calling” Alexander Graham belles never fail to tangle up the telephone lines. Sometimes a boy is flattered to have a string ot mysterious female calls every evening; but most of the time he just begins to wonder if he isn’t the biggest part of the telephone jokes. And probably his family had something to say about it, too.

No wonder your ex-chum decided that, instead of a smooth date, you were childish, embarrassing, and strictly a wrong number.

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