The Vintage Secretary: The Working Wardrobe

from Moda Practica magazine, December 1934 via Vintage Scans


What would the wardrobe of a working woman in the 1930s have looked like?

Perhaps not as glamorous as that portrayed on the Silver Screen. Not everyone could afford the stylish looks of Adrian and Edith Head.

I was interested to come across a section in the book ‘Clothing’ (Latzke and Quinlan, 1940) which lists the estimated annual budget a single working woman needed to live on in New York in 1937, 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.

By modern standards it is quite a basic list, only 1 blouse and 1 skirt is thought necessary, but would be one that would be built on each year.

The budget set $191.81 for clothing and $46.21 for upkeep and personal care.


The Wardrobe

Medium quality fur-trimmed coat, every third year

Wool spring coat, every other year

4 felt hats, two heavy, two light

8 dresses
– 2 cotton, for summer street wear
– 4 rayon, 3 fair quality, one inexpensive
-1 wool dress, medium
-1 rayon party dress

1 wool skirt

1 sweater, every other year

1 blouse

1 smock

-2 undervests (rayon)
-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

Handkerchiefs, $1.50

-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 1 pair every other year

Overshoes 1 pair every other year

House slippers 1 pair every other year

Umbrella, every other year

Raincoat, every 3 years

3 pairs gloves, 1 leather, 1 fabric

3 handbags at $1 each (or fewer and better)

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