If you were lucky, and had a job, you probably aspired to live in a spacious suburban settlement, infilling the big arterial roads lined or dotted with factories, bringing a stream of modern consumables into the cities. Most towns and cities in Britain (and elsewhere) acquired an outer ring of housing in this period, and outer-suburb growth was phenomenal;at its peak in London in the 1930s when mortgage restrictions were eased, detached or semi-detached houses were built at the rate of 1,500 houses a week. Their owners came from the older inner cities, young couples on their way up, out of the slums and rented lodgings. Suburbanites were dedicated above all others to personal hygienic health care. They came for the bathrooms with the hot water ('first thing, you went into the bathroom, and turned on the hot taps'), the indoor water closets ('we actually had a toilet on the first floor'), the clean electricity supply ('such an excitement—fantastic!'), the floor-length French windows, sun terraces, and balconies; the garden flowers, the nearby fields and fresh air; and the tennis, croquet, bowling, and golf clubs. The kitchens were small and convenient ('everything within easy reach—it was a special feature'), and their shops were built into the new 'parade' nearby.10
Very high standards of hygiene and presentation were expected in these pest-free, fully sanitized homes. The new servantless lady wife did most of the light domestic work, with some 'help' with the heavier chores, using an increasing range of 'labour-saving' cellophane-packed foods, cleaning agents, and mechanical equipment. The suburban husband's domestic role was simply to eat, relax, and look after the new garden.11 His income paid for the modern electrical machines and sleekly designed streamline metal and bakelite gadgetry that rapidly appeared, promoted by photographic advertising that played heavily on the dangers of germs and dirt: the early electric radios, fires, fridges, water heaters, early washing machines, kettles, and irons;also the improved gas cookers, lights, and fires, the tiling, the parquet, and the latest easy-clean rubber linoleum. Hygienic plastic goods, such as Tupperware, came in during the second half of the century (along with wash spinners, dishwashers, and freezers). The only domestic dirt source often left largely unreformed (in Britain at least) in the inter-war years was the traditional open coal or wood fire in the comfortable modern 'lounge' or 'sitting room';but for the rest of the house, modern electricity provided 'clean' heat and 'clean' lighting, and revolutionized domestic cooking, cleaning, and laundering.12 The British electricity industry mounted a huge publicity campaign during the 1920s and 1930s, aimed squarely at the upper classes and middle-class suburbanites:
Use the electric method to clean your house this Spring, and keep it healthy all year round...
With the help of Electricity you can do the housework without making more work and clean the Home without making yourself dirty.
Banish dust, dirt, and disease by using an electric suction cleaner which lifts all the dirt direct into a sealed bag without a particle escaping.
Electricity is the cleanest, hardest working, most willing and cheapest servant under the sun. Always on duty, ready for instant service, day and night at the touch of a switch.
But electricity was expensive and more than a bit dangerous (1928 was 'a particularly bad year' for fatalities);even by 1931, less than 30 per cent of homes were wired, and less than one in a thousand was all-electric. Mass provision only got going after a boom in 1936, while in many industrial regions the working class remained loyal to coal and gas, and sceptical towards electricity, until the campaigns and Clean Air legislation of the 1950s and 1960s. One very obvious reason for this was that coal was a third of the price of gas or electricity, and that homes had to be laboriously and expensively adapted for a new 'clean fuel' supply.13 It was similar to the introduction of domestic plumbing during the eighteenth century;all of these new domestic conveniences were acquired, as they had always been in the consumer surges of the past, on a sliding scale of income— which meant that most people at this stage could not yet afford them, and continued to clean up dust, grime, and soot in the old back-breaking ways: dustpans and brushes, soap and water (now with a dash of Jeyes' Fluid added). Large numbers of isolated rural cottages and farms in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere did not get piped water or electricity until well into the second half of the century, and continued to use wood, paraffin, or oil lamps, and local springs and wells.
Life in the suburbs followed an almost clockwork sanitary regime. Housework was ideally followed by an afternoon of genteel activities such as shopping (at nearby town department stores, which were also booming), or going to the local hair-dressing and beauty 'salons' (sprung up to serve those without personal maids, and bristling with modern electrical beauty equipment) to get a fixed-wave 'perm' for the new shorter hairstyles. Electrical technology was a boon for the personal toilette; and better evening lighting clearly extended the hours of grooming preparation, and display, and possibly enforced higher standards as well. Essential preparations included an early evening heated bath in the new tiled and glittering bathroom with WC (featured heavily in estate promotional literature), next door to the well-lit bedroom, with its large-mirrored Art Deco dressing table and toilet sets, displaying quantities of face powder, 'scents', and deep-red lipstick and nail varnish. Heavy cosmetic painting came back with a vengeance from the 1920s, much influenced by the stage make-up used by the new film industry, and cleverly exploited by the Hollywood entrepreneur Max Factor. But the leaders of fashion in the
19 The fashion model Renée, photographed in 1938 in a sportive modernist style (ribbed cotton athletic vest, heavy exotic jewellery, and dark varnished nails) that is equally chic today.
1920s had already started to abandon the ancien régime of the milky-white complexion in favour of the natural all-over healthy body tan—first defiantly displayed by the fashion designer Coco Chanel after a long holiday on board a friend's yacht.14 A respectable state of cosmetic undress was paraded in flamboyant female dressing gowns, with a new range of flimsy, sheath-like, underwear (favourite colour flesh pink). Convenient disposable sanitary goods had also been developed, such as paper tissues (originally for tuberculosis patients), paper toilet rolls, and commercially made sanitary pads, specifically designed for the busy and active 'New Woman'.15 For women, hygienic dress reform had brought shorter hemlines and looser clothing without corsets;but sports hygiene had meanwhile exploded into sportswear. Sportswear fashions accentuated comfort and lightness: lighter (and artificial) fabrics, new stretch woollens, light colours, liberating trousers, bare arms, necks, and backs, legs bared in 'shorts', and feet bared in sandals and beach mules. It was entirely possible that the local dress shop could run up (or order) the latest line in Schiaparelli woollens, Jaeger tennis and walking outfits;or stock elasticated Jantzen or Hermes beach wear, with beach pyjamas, beach robes, American playsuits, sun and swim hats, and satin-ruched ('aqua-satin'), halter-neck, bare-back, bathing costumes.16
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