Retro Heaven

Romance 1960s Style

The golden age of romance?…

As another Valentine’s Day approaches I thought I would, in true retro style, take a look at the portrayal of romance from the female perspective of the women’s magazines of the late fifties and sixties.

Those of us of a certain age will doubtless recall to some degree, the illustrations in books and magazines of men and women depicted in the latest short story for Women’s Own, Women, Women’s Journal and Petitcoat Magazine amongst many others, which sold in huge numbers worldwide. So this pays tribute to those writers and artists who kept women entertained, enthralled and gave a sense of escape to millions.

Whilst the portrayal of the women in some would set social media alight many represent a rather more innocent time. These paintings were the last before photographic illustrations became affordable and with it a shift in presentation and style, and yes, a change not altogether for the better. Many of them were painted by men but what so many offer us today is a sense of that period. The romance of the date in a restaurant, the suited man and elegantly dressed woman. It was a time for dressing up, not down and that shows itself time and again in these illustrations.

These illustrations didn’t happen by coincidence, most were specifically commissioned to accompany a story and such was the pulling power of the British magazines that they could attract the best American artists of the day. It is easy to mock the illustrations fifty years on but a degree of context must be called upon. Yes, they often symbolised a jet set lifestyle but in 1950s and 60s Britain in particular, this was a time when television was the preserve of the few and holidays in the sun a distant dream. This sense of escape drew in the public, there was clearly a demand by women who dreamt of romance to lose themselves for a short time within the pages of a short story and it worked.

By the end of the sixties, with the availability of television and photography in particular becoming ever more present, magazine fiction’s popularity gradually declined. The age of protests had arrived, women were breaking free of the shackles tied in previous decades and entertainment in general was changing. Book covers began to feature photographs and I am surely not alone in my sense of loss over the book cover artist. Look at almost any genre of fiction from the 70s onwards and compare those cover illustrations to their equivalent from previous decades and my point is proven. I firmly believe there is a place for all forms of art in the book and magazine world and the recent titles by Penguin would bear witness to that. I could not be further from a fan of romantic fiction if I tried but I admire the artists who created these pictures. They give a sense of romance, warmth and intimacy seldom found in high-definition photography. Here’s to romance 1960s style.

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