Sunday, December 7, 2008

'My 50s Year' an interview with Marzipan Jones

12/22/08 - The project for Marzipan has changed slightly. You can now check it out here -

Have you seen this blog - My 50s Year ? If you haven't, you need to go check it out. It documents a year in the life of 'Marzipan Jones' as she lives the life of a 1950s housewife.

She started the project in September and she posts daily about her experiences dealing with the daily routine of a 50s housewife - taking care of house, husband and child, preparing meals in 1950s menus, behaving like a 50s housewife and dressing like a 50s housewife even while out grocery shopping and going on field trips and play dates with her daughter.

So far the girdle and the meals have been a problem, especially since her husband likes to do alot of cooking himself. She also has to deal with people's looks and comments about the way she's dressed and about the project.

I'm hooked and I find it all very interesting. I thought it would be cool to ask Marzipan about her project and she very kindly agreed to answer my nosey questions.

What was the inspiration behind this project? Did you have an existing interest in the vintage lifestyle? Why did you choose the 1950s?

Marzipan - I've been both enamored and repelled (ha!) by the 50's for as long as I can remember. I think it began with the music and of course, the fashion. When I was 12 I started buying "Vogue" every month and pouring over each page with this crazy fervor. I wanted to be a designer and noticed how the 40's and 50's were often referred to as inspirations for newer designers. So then I started watching old movies like "Imitation of Life" in order to see those dresses in action. And eventually I became a fan of Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Julie London, and Dean Martin, The silliness of the novelty tunes and the heartbreaking quality of the torchier songs just bowled me over. Everyone always looked so wonderfully put-together and there seemed to be a quality of innocence that pervaded everything said. However, I also knew about the terrible conditions the cultural climate held for people of color, gay and lesbians, and for women. So, I had a love/hate relationship with the era that culminated in this fascination with the 50's housewife, the personification of all that was supposedly good about that time.

What experience do you hope to gain from the project?

Marzipan - Well, I really don't know. It's a question I keep asking myself. So far I'm a far better housekeeper and cook than previously. But I hope to gain more out of living this restrictive lifestyle for a year than learning how to scrub a floor.
I suppose I've gained a sense of self-confidence that I didn't have before the project when I considered myself practically useless as "just a housewife." I've been a freelance writer for magazines like "Bitch" and "Venus Zine" for 7 years, but I still always thought of myself as primarily a mom and for some reason, that never felt like enough. I hope that by the end of the year I'll be able to manage a household's finances better, make my own clothes, and be able to scrounge up a delicious meal from a sparsely populated cupboard. And in learning those things, I hope that I instill a sense of self-worth within myself that wasn't there when I measured my value out in dollars. In other words, I want to recognize the worth of traditional woman's work and take it back as something to be respected and honored. That, to me, is the opposite of sexism.

What are you using as guides for following the 1950s lifestyle (example - how are you learning the role and duties of a 50s housewife, cleaning, cooking, behavior etc.) books, magazines, website etc.

Marzipan - Mostly from old woman's magazine like "McCalls," "Family Circle," and "Ladies' Home Journal." I've also been reading a few homemaking books from the period, but as a whole I think the magazines help me out the most. And in terms of behavior, that's the toughest aspect. I am who I am and when I try to act like a "perfect" housewife, I end up sounding and acting like a robot. My early videos show this robotic, kittenish side... I nicknamed her Marzipan Jones as she is definitely not who I am. I was also playing up the campy factor of the project as I didn't know what to make of this new persona I was concocting and I almost felt like an Amy Sedaris character.
At this point I'm totally me and while I try not to swear as much, I no longer concentrate on sounding ultra-feminine when I speak, standing stick-straight, or going all out to give my husband a drink as he walks in the door. I really doubt women did all of those things then anyway. Mostly I think we get those ideas from old ads and TV shows that depict an almost superhuman version of the 50's wife. Typical women were probably more like the one depicted in "The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio," struggling, stressed, but trying to make the best of things.

How strictly are you sticking to the lifestyle? I know that you aren't watching modern tv shows or using items invented after the 1950s, but you do need to use the internet to document, research and buy for your vintage project. Are you using only vintage brand foods, cleaning products, personal products etc? How hard is it to stick to the lifestyle with your husband and child's regular lives? Are there any modern gadgets that you miss?

Marzipan - Oh, boy! I'm sticking to it pretty strictly and sometimes I feel like I'm about a drink from falling off the wagon! I do use the internet to gain a vintage community (The Fedora Lounge) and as you said, to document what I'm doing. Also if I need something specific like a bullet bra or a petticoat, I go online. I tried buying only vintage foods but then I noticed that I was buying a lot more processed foods than I liked to. So now I'm trying to buy hardly any processed foods and going a more natural, almost war-time route of focusing on frozen veggies, beans, rice, etc. Honestly, I almost feel like we're in a depression at the moment and things look like they're getting worse. I find myself thinking about wartime women in the 40's and how they would stock their larder, trying to make every dollar stretch. So that's where I am right now. In terms of personal products, I didn't want to go out and replace the ones I'm already using as I thought that would be wasteful, so I'm still using my old modern soaps and such. I did go out and get Revlon's Cherries in the Snow lipstick however as it was so popular back then. But I try not to wear it everyday as I like to use organic lipsticks. I can practically taste all the chemicals I'm ingesting, haha. I also used a douche for the very first time. I keep waiting for an infection to spring upon me, but so far so good. And no, I won't be doing that again.

Well, as my husband has told me many, many times, he is not a vintage man. So instead of living with a vintage family as "The 1940's House" did, I'm living the 50's woman in a modern family. As you can imagine this can present numerous problems. For one, my husband loves to cook so my hedging in on his cooking wasn't the greatest thing in the world I could do to make him happy. After a few arguments we finally agreed to split the cooking. He also loves to grocery shop and do his own laundry. But no matter how I explained to him that these were now my duties, he still wouldn't budge. So now we split the shopping and he does his laundry. At first I got pretty upset with him as I felt he was trying to sabotage my project but now I'm just resigned to the idea that he really does enjoy these things so hard for me to imagine at first) and who am I, the perfect housewife, to rile him up?

Also, my daughter is an exceedingly modern child. At 4 years old she loves her online games and her Spongebob. I tried getting her to listen to radio shows but that was a no-go. However, she now enjoys Felix, the Cat, so that's something!

As for modern gadgets, I don't really miss any of them. Sometimes, my microwave for when I'm in a hurry but otherwise, no.

How has your daily routine changed from your pre-project days? I know that you go grocery shopping alone now and that your husband used to do the cooking. What else has changed and what is your daily routine? What is harder to do now and is anything easier?

Marzipan - Certainly before the project I cooked and cleaned a lot less. I've always kept a tidy household but I wasn't as manic about dusting the details or vacuuming as I am now. I'm also a lot better at keeping lists of what the home needs rather than just going to the store and trying to remember if we ran out of this and that. And I make an effort to be more budget-friendly now whereas before I had no problem purchasing expensive goodies I was too lazy to make.
I tend to get up at 6:30 or 7:00, get my daughter ready for school, drop her off, and then clean/blog until she gets home at 11:30. So it's not much time and I'm pretty much frantic for those few hours.
Once she's home I make our lunches and either have her help me bake or we play a board-game. She's also somewhat obsessed with technology (TV, kid's websites) so I can only keep her away from being plugged in for so long. I'm trying to get her interested in reading during the day rather just at bedtime or in listening to 50's children's records but so far, it's been a losing battle. As a staunch 50's housewife though, I won't give up! : }
Around 4:30 I begin preparing dinner from either "The Joy of Cooking" (50's version) or some other recipe I've garnered from an old magazine or Betty Crocker. My husband and I split the cooking though, so if he's cooking I'm off reading, knitting, or preparing my daughter's dinner.
Then it's time to give my daughter a bath and get her to bed at 7:30 (which is usually when I settle in too). I try to read until I fall asleep but by the time she's finally asleep I'm usually too tired...
For some reason I find the 50's project has gotten a lot easier than in the beginning, mostly because I'm not as strict as I was during the first few weeks. I basically cleaned 24/7 which I soon discovered was killing me. So, now I just make sure that every room has its due every week and it goes pretty smoothly from there.
The most difficult thing has been, however, getting the motivation to dust corners and woodwork when I feel like I just did it a few days ago so why bother? Then I remember what my Housewife Manual tells me and I try to coax myself into thinking it's really for the best. And I get on with it. Playing Louis Prima while I work usually helps!

What has it been like putting together your 1950s wardrobe? I saw your post on the Fedora Lounge and many of the Ladies there were helpful in giving you the basics of what you needed for a 50s wardrobe. Are you wearing purely vintage head to toe?

Marzipan - The wardrobe has gotten easier to assemble but it was most definitely the trickiest aspect to embrace. I'm not one who craves attention and once in a while I just feel so out of place and so "dressed up" when really I'm just in a pencil skirt and sweater. It's the fact that I'm surrounded by jeans and sneakers that makes me so self-conscious, but again, I'm getting used to it. There are days when I'm too frazzled to don the bullet bra. Days when I want to be ignored and wish I could just hide in my old uniform. But most of the time I now take pride in how I look because for one, I love the style and secondly, it's nobody's business how I wish to dress and if they choose to think I'm snotty or odd let them. I wouldn't wish to be chummy with such narrow-minded people anyhow. : }
Oh, and the girdle is the worst. I pretty much only wear it when going someplace nice like a restaurant or maybe shopping. It's vintage and pretty hard-core with an open skirt and climbing up to my bust. I wore it this Thanksgiving and had to take it off during dinner as I pretty much felt like I was going to be sick! In that regard, I am a housewife failure.
I don't have the budget to replace all of my clothes with vintage so I'm mixing vintage with new clothes that look vintage. Most days I wear a pencil skirt and sweater with perhaps a wide belt, hose, and flats or heels. The bra, lipstick, hair, and accessories are I think, what make the outfit feel so vintage and I'm grateful otherwise, I'd be broke!

You mention good and bad comments that you've received from people when you are out in public dressed in vintage. Why do you think people are negative? How do you deal with negative comments?

Marzipan - As a teen I received lots of negative attention because of my outlandish outfits (wearing a record in my hair, combat boots, typical punky teen looks). I hated the attention but was so used to it that eventually it didn't bother me anymore. But as an adult I began dressing more mainstream and so became accustomed to only positive attention. When the project started in September I again found myself receiving negative attention and I was thrown back into feeling like that angry kid in preppy suburbia. That feeling of being in a time warp (this time the 90's) left me feeling so annoyed that I just wanted to quit. But then I found the folks on The Fedora Lounge and was so thrilled that I found a little community of what others might think to be loaded with "freaks and geeks." Like in High School, I just needed the support of people who "got it" to deal with the crowd. And I haven't looked back since!
Well, the typical answer is that people are negative because they're scared of what they're not, but I think it could just be simpler than that. I think a lot of negative people are just mean. There, I said it. : }
I read about some FL member's stories regarding negative comments are was bowled over. One woman was told by a stranger to "just give it up already." What does this mean and why was she prompted to say it? You can go on and on about how people don't like anything that's different and that mediocrity rules but that doesn't explain why she was compelled to be so rude. There are a lot of cruel adults out there, not just teens. And while we can justify their behavior by giving it some psychological basis it doesn't change the fact that they're just despicable. Wow. Did that sound angry? : }

How are your family and friends dealing with your project? Are they taking it seriously, do they get it? What was their reaction when you told them about the project?

Marzipan - My parents don't get it, though my dad loves the way I look now. I think my mom wants me to be more "normal" and she mentioned something about my living in a fantasy. But then they never really got anything I've ever done so it doesn't worry me too much. : }
My friends think it's wonderful though no one has really gotten the full taste of what I'm doing. I'm planning on inviting people over for some real 50's holiday entertainment... after that I'll be able to answer this question better. : }

I know that it's still a long ways off, but what do you think you will take away from the project, personally, when it is finished?

Marzipan - I ask myself this all the time! I have no idea what things will seem like in Sept. '09. I imagine that by then I'll either be so in tune with the lifestyle that it will just be who I am or that I'll be so sick of it that I'll never want to see another cookbook again! I would guess that I'll retain a lot of the 50's project rules like dressing more formally, being a better housekeeper, and cook. But I might use the microwave again and forego the girdle even on special occasions. And I hope I won't get sucked into modern pop culture again as it's been really nice not having any idea what's going on in that realm.
And as for concepts I'll take away with me, I'm sure I'll embrace the idea that a housewife isn't "just a housewife" as we tend to deem her in today's society. She's a hardworking woman who loves her home and family enough to keep it aesthetically and emotionally warm and welcoming. And if that sounds as cheesy as I think it does, I don't care. There it is! Proof that I've succeeded in my mission!

Thank you Marzipan!

Now go check out My 50s Year Blog !
The blog also includes photos, vintage images and video diaries too -

12/22/08 - The project for Marzipan has changed slightly. You can now check it out here -


Julie The Vintage Goddess said...

Great interview!

CEMETARIAN We Dig Memories said...

What an exciting challenge for Marzipan. I lived through the 50's (as a child) but I don't guess my Mama would be considered a "typical" 50's housewife since she worked outside of as well as inside the home.

But I do agree that what we consider a Typical 50's Housewife is a figment of the Movie Industry's imagination, and like everything else force fed us by the Media is a true fantasy.

Each family was as different and dynamic then as they are today.

Good luck Marzipan and I plan of watching the challenge through your blog.

lucitebox said...

Thanks for the interview, Marzipan and Carol! What a cool project.

I'll be following your 50s Year blog with enthusiasm.

Hoardmeister said...

What a delightful interview (except is anyone really named Marzipan??). That is quite a challenge she is taking on. My mother detested being a housewife and mother during that time. It is fascinating to see someone desire it as a way of life when I so well remember how unhappy so many of them were. As a born slob, I wouldn't make it past the first day!

Carol@Dandelion Vintage said...

I don't think I would last very long in the project either. I told someone else that I'd have no problem with the clothing (except for a girdle) but just going wihtout modern conveniences. I'd break down after a day.
I think the project is inspiring though. There are alot of women who blog about being housewives in kind of an 'old fashioned way' it's refreshing to see it respected and enjoyed.