If you watch enough old 1930s movies, you can be forgiven for thinking the world once existed only in black and white. In MGM’s Wizard of Oz Dorothy literally lived in a sepia-toned Kansas – it took a trip to Oz to reveal to her a world of color.
So it’s startling to see these 1936 fashions from the Chicago Mail Order Company illustrated in a riot of colors. There are strong reds, blues, greens. There are colorful plaids. Even delicate underthings and “Gay New Pajamas” get a color page, with suitably restrained and natural palettes. Despite the lack of photographic evidence from the movies, the 1930s did exist in color.
Ironically, all the original photos for the catalog were undoubtably shot in black and white, and the color is after-the-fact retouching, done spectacularly well.
Just a few years earlier, the Great Depression had the country in such a strong grip that even this many color pages in a catalog would seem a needless luxury. By 1936 matters were starting to improve…although prices still reflected Depression-era thrift: $2.98 for a raspberry-red (or black or royal blue or coral pink) evening gown. And the blue gown next to it (click to zoom in) is trimmed in Marabou — which I just learned is down feathers, the kind Ginger Rogers used to dance in, in all those black-and-white 1930’s RKO musicals.
Next post, we’ll revisit this same catalog to see if the menfolk had similar color options.