A peek into Australian domesticity, November 1944

Remember the Weigel’s dress- absolutely perfect, ladylike, simple?

Johanna Weigel came to Melbourne, Australia from Prussia via New York where she worked as a McCall’s designer before the turn of the last century.  In Australia, other women so loved her clothes they asked to copy them.  She made paper patterns and sold them, eventually publishing a lady’s magazine as well.

I have in my possession one from WW2, which is very interesting for several reasons.

Foremost, from reading the recipes section, I can assume food was not as tightly rationed here as other places.  Furthermore, I suspect the direct deprivations of war were not so severe here in general.

The GFC or the crash or the new Depression- whatever you want to call what is going on in the outside world- has made little impact here.  To be sure, when Wall Street was crumbling, many people here ran around screaming that the sky was falling.  Then they looked around and realized, no it isn’t.  Unemployment is at 5.3%, interest rates sit at 4.25% and look to rise.  Employers are so desperate for skilled labor that they pay people to have training, as does the government.  You see PSA begging people to get qualified when you watch the evening TV.  There is a housing boom fueled by the numbers of people who need housing.  It’s all happening here 3 hours from the edge of the world.  I’m positive that my husband and I could never enjoy our quality of life in any other English-speaking (Or even western) country.  We’d probably be starving in the United States, and I would have given birth to my child in the street outside the hospital.

I don’t see it as too much of a stretch, then, that Australia might have suffered during WW2, but not as much as other places.

The best of Weigel’s Magazine, November 1944:

Great suggestions for “ordinary vintage” dressing on the front page of the magazine.  I find articles like these to be much more useful and telling about the times than any amount of movies I might watch.

I like to read old beauty treatments and I am my own guinea pig.  Just this past week I slathered olive oil mixed with egg yolks and honey into my hair and let it sit all afternoon.  Are my locks luscious?  You bet.

Little pieces to freshen a frock.  Imagine having one or two dresses.  Quelle horreur!  I think I can safely extrapolate that implies fabric shortages, much like the rest of the world.  (I’d love to play around with crocheted carnations in theory, but I fear the actual flowers might look tacky.  And probably the lace rose could be done nicely…)

Ah, some recipes.  I direct your attention to Camp Pie.  1lb sausage meat?  And bacon ends?  What is that eggs in spaghetti?  Should I surprise my husband with it for dinner?  It is positively swimming in butter.

I like the suggestion for leftover ham.  Sounds like the sort of thing I would put together.  Despite the general tone of prosperity in this magazine, I find suggestions like “Attractive colors in food help to stimulate lagging appetites” touching.  When you don’t have a lot of food choices and you’re eating to keep body and soul together, you quit wanting to eat.  Maybe times weren’t so good.  Also on this page, helpful tips on how to turn a suit.  This involves miles of unpicking, washing the fabric, and putting the wrong side out.  I would have to be very desperate.

These appear edible.  Tell me if you try it.

Australian Red Cross food packages were richer than other countries.  “…the Australian parcel was easily the favorite among Commonwealth troops.  It contained dried milk, butter, jam, sugar, tea salmon, sardines, bully beef, meat roll, raisins, prunes, chocolate, salt, pepper and soap.”  A rich haul indeed.

Long nightgowns for little girls?  With a fabric shortage so severe we have to turn our suits?

Make your sheets last longer!   Rip them down the worn center, and re-sew the two edges together to make a new middle!  Coffee is also short, and apparently for every pound of brewed coffee, only about 4 ounces gets used.  I’m not sure I understand that.  Those wasteful, wasteful grandparents of ours.

That’s how I get things done!  Mid-century wisdom from people who lived through hard times and understand the value of hard work.

WHAT is going on with “Try, try again?” I understand what is happening, but why would they write it that way?  Is it black humor?  Non-sequitur, no explanation of why Weigels would want us to think someone were trying to blow their brains out on page 22.  Most disturbing.  Although I suppose if someone forced me to follow the recipe below it, I might contemplate brain-blowing.

I like this.  I like having an ideal to strive for that doesn’t involve being a vamp, a sex goddess, a wife or a mummy.  This description entirely defines a lady by the way she acts, and how she interacts with others.  It does not snap her into a pre-fabricated role defined by who she is in relation to other people.  Rather than being “Mrs. John P Sunnygard” or “Dear Pamela’s mother” or “That hot little piece walking down the sidewalk,” she holds her head up proudly, as an ordinary woman of delicate perceptions.  Do you suppose she has huge body-image issues, or worries about aging, or gulps down laxatives to stay slim?  Perhaps, but she strives also to be a better person.  I’d rather take my cues and inspiration from ladies like this than anything the pop-culture vortex can throw at me.

{Not that I’m saying we should all scrunch down our flaws and pretend they don’t exist.  I’m suggesting rather to try to transcend these problems, through how we project ourselves to the world around us and how we treat others.  If you can manage to get outside your own head to care for other people, it puts so many inner demons to rest.  It helps, at any rate.}

Item completely missing from the November 1944 issue?  Weightloss advertisements that become so rife after the war.  Rationing keeping you slim?  Or were there no men around to be attractive for?  (I know that one is silly.)  Pining away for your husband/son/sweetheart/brother leaves you with no appetite?  This issue even suggest how to disguise thinness, on the very first page.

I guess we’re either too fat or too thin, and no one ever made much money celebrating who we are as women.  Such a shame.  Love who you are.


  1. Ooh! I will be back tomorrow to read all those scans! On the fabric – that book I told you about has a very short section on Australia, all I'm remembering right now is that there was rationing and restricting on clothes, but not as bad as the UK. I think — if I remember right — most of the wool was being used for the US military as some sort of swap out for the equipment sent to Britain in the lend-lease program. But, cotton was coming to Australia from the US and there was actually a surplus of it at one point. So that might explain turning suits but having long nighties?Anyway, can't wait to read all those scans, although it may take me all week!

  2. I love this post! I've heard countless stories from my mother and grandmother, both deceased now, about the WWII years. In fact, that is my favorite era. My grandmother did take coats apart and turn them inside out to remake. I like the little ditty about happiness. We're still searching for it, it seems. You are right that we should be happy with who we are. Life is short. Enjoy it instead of lamenting about that perfection none of us will achieve!

  3. Thanks for the comment! I've worn the blouse a couple times but somehow no pictures of it! It feels great, though! Very comfortable. :)

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