Arts and Humanities Collection Spotlight: Christmas Gift Ideas from 1917

December 5th 2017

A glance at the index of Christmas gifts from the December 15, 1917 issue of Vogue confirms what we have long known: women are so much easier to buy for than men. The index lists over 120 gift ideas for the debutante, compared with just 47 for the man in her life. For the lady, there are a few lavish recommendations, but the majority are modest: items of clothing (blouses, frocks, sweaters, coats and gowns, lingerie, hosiery, hats, shoes, slippers, etc.); jewelry (pins of various kinds, neck-chains, bracelet watches, rings); luggage; and craft accessories (a yarn holder, a yarn winder, knitting and sewing bags, and a work basket). Several items are of an eminently practical nature: a candle shield, a telephone-book holder, a note pad, and, not least, a boudoir doorstop.

Gift ideas for the man in her life center on his three favorite pursuits: driving (motoring gloves, a flag-holder for the patriotic motorist, a suede foot-warmer); fishing (various types of rod and reel, a “Bass fishing outfit” or fishing kit); and smoking (cigarettes, a cigarette box, a lighter, an ashtray, and, most attractively, a mahogany smoking stand with crystal ashtray and brass matchbox holder). As above, the list also includes practical items – travelling and toilet bags, shaving accessories, a medicine kit, blankets, and, inescapably, handkerchiefs.  

In 1917, Vogue was under the direction of Condé Nast, who shifted its focus from a social gazette to a women’s magazine, but retained the upper-class associations that had characterized Vogue since publication began in 1892; the orientation of the magazine is clearly reflected in the 1917 Christmas gift list. Nast would also go on to establish Vogue’s connections with an artistic avant-garde, documented over time in particular by the magazine’s trademark covers. Over the course of the twentieth century, Vogue would loosen its associations with a social elite as well as with haute couture, while retaining the aesthetic adventurousness introduced by Nast. 

All issues of the American edition of Vogue magazine from 1892 to the present month are accessible to library users via ProQuest’s Vogue Archive, a searchable database of high-resolution digital images. The history of Vogue can also be traced with reference to the 2006 book In Vogue, which examines the magazine’s relationship to the evolution not only of fashion culture, but also of women themselves, over the course of the past century. 

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