ITEM: Merchandising Manual for the Corset Department. New York University School of Retailing, 1939. 9x6 inches, 75pp. Lovely copy. $75.00
Ref: JF Ptak Science Books Post 1319
This finely produced, 75-page pamphlet lists all you need to know about marketing and maintaining a corset department in 1939--all except how to actually get back to 1939 to utilize this font of knowledge. It was published with great seriousness for a serious business by the School of Retailing at New York University, a serious object for serious people. Among the many things I’ve never thought of before thinking with this pamphlet were corset maps--and one of these happens to appear in this publication, a map of an idealized corset department, which to me looks to be large, sanitized and medicinal, an oddly institutionalized presentation of an intimate something, something more of artistry and chance and possibility than an orthotic.
I should think that I would like to make a Kingdom Map for his image, some day. It looks to me ready to accept the responsibilities of landforms or ideas or statistics or changes or comparisons in place of its plain nature of counters and countertops and display cases, empty boxes waiting for something a little more invigorating to depict. Or maybe not, maybe the chance of display of transformations is enough to suit its peculiar, perhaps singular, needs.
Or maybe on the Corset Map instead of substituting land and sea for corsets and boxes, one could substitute the noises of a quiet house at night, or the sound of heavy boots in a brittle-dry snow in the deep cold. Or maybe a map of the discovery of children's laughter, or inconvenient pauses in conversations through the history of human speaking...or a map of lost ways.
The other surprise is how expensive these undergarments were. For example, the Lily of France and Mme. Irene Corset Company (NYC) sold a girdle “for the heavy figure” (liberally sprinkling the word “heavy” throughout the description of the product like, well, sprinkles) for $132. The $132 corset is equal to about $2000 in today’s currency, or roughly a 15:1 increase. There were girdles and etc. in all price ranges, but the (1939) $30-$60 range seems to have been the most common; even still, the $30/low-medium quality item is about $430 in today's dollars, and the cheapest of them all at 5 bucks goes in today’s economy at 75 dollars or so. I’m not familiar with the value of undies today, but this sure sounds like a whole hell of a lot of money.
$132 for underwear in 1939 was a tremendous amount of money for the average person—even for the upper-middle class, it was a bunch, considering that you could buy a decent new car for $700. It would also be equal to a half year’s worth of an average house rent ($28/month) and 1320 gallons of gasoline.
It sounds like it was very expensive to keep the up with the idea of an ideal figure, which of course was partially create by this same sort of company, creating both need and demand for its product.
1939 Price Comparisons:
Wages per year, average: $1,730.00
Minimum wage: 30 cents/hour
Milk, by the gallon: 35 cents
Postage stamp, 1st class: 3 cents
Dow Jones: 131
Gas, average price of a gallon: 10 cents
Bread, by the loaf: 8 cents
Hamburger Meat, by the pound: 14 cents
Automobile, new, average: $700.00
House, new, average: $3,800.00
House rent, average: $28.00/month