“The First and Worst Problem”

Thank you to those who responded to my Facebook question this morning.  For those of you who may have missed it, I asked: When packing for a trip, what is your first problem? What is your worst problem? Are they the same?

For me, I’m such an over packer.  I’m ready for every weather condition, even though it’s rare that I’ll actually put on the heavy winter coat when it’s snowing and 15 degrees out because a lighter jacket plus my sweatshirt will usually do just fine.  I’m the same way with my “nice” pants that I might need just in case I go somewhere where jeans are unacceptable (another rare occurrence, unless I’m traveling to a conference, then I end up bringing too many jeans just in case).  Also, I should really fly with one empty suitcase, so that when I return, I have enough space for newly purchased goods.

So are the clothes you need to pack your “first and worst problem”?  Clearly they are for me, and if not for you, they could have been if you were a female in the 1920s.

I use the term “first and worst problem” because Frederic F. Van de Water, who I mentioned briefly in my last post, used that term to describe clothing when he, his wife, and son, packed for a five-week trip.  Van de Water’s wife, for example, brought a

skirt, coat and knickerbockers of brown tweed, three changes of underclothing, two nightgowns, four pairs of wool stockings, high leather boots, green felt hat, four shirt waists, one rubber poncho, [and] one sweater.[1]

The article, “A Woman’s Advice on Motor Camping,” covers how much of certain type of clothing one should bring and what should be worn in case one’s travel plans involve staying in cities.[2]  In urban areas, women were advised to not look as if they had been driving all day or else they would face prejudice from those nearby.  Clay McShane writes,

When touring women drivers emerged from their cars, well dressed downtown passers-by often ignored them, assuming from their road attire that they were working-class women in the wrong place.[3]

Female motorists, especially drivers (whether or not they were accompanied by men), were noticed wherever they traveled.  It was best that they at least looked as if they belonged where they were in order to avoid scrutiny for looking out of place in addition to being women travelers.  T. H. Peterson, describing a trip she took with a friend to Yellowstone, writes that they both packed suitcases with clothes meant specifically for the two weeks that they were going to spend at a hotel after the first leg of the trip.  Their clothes for autocamping, which included knickers—the only specific piece of clothing mentioned in the article, were kept in completely separate suitcases.[4]  Georgine Clarsen, discussing the need to dress for different situations, writes,

It was a fine balance for the motoring woman to achieve, for she had to negotiate a path between respectability, practicality, and being fashionable in a variety of social situations, without veering toward either tasteless ostentation or overly utilitarian clothing that would be considered unfeminine on a woman of privilege.  Being acutely conscious of these subtle issues, the primary value that female motorists emphasized was practicality, rather than a strict adherence to fashion.[5]

Knowing me, that would have left me taking even more clothing on a trip, and of course I can’t say what I would have done in 1929, but I probably would have over packed then too if I listened to all of the advice out there, IF.  Did all females listen to such advice, no, of course not, but did Dotty, Edie, and Ev?  That’s for you to find out in an upcoming post.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Frederic F. Van de Water, “Discovering America in a Flivver,” Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1926, 7.

[2] “A Woman’s Advice on Motor Camping,” Literary Digest, April 4, 1925, 83.

[3] Clay McShane, Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 159-160.

[4] T. H. Peterson, “Just Girls: They Motor Across Half the Continent and Over the Rockies,” Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1925, 205.

[5] Georgine Clarsen, Eat My Dust: Early Women Motorists (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 25.

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One Response to “The First and Worst Problem”

  1. Pingback: Insight Into How Dotty, Edie, and Ev Packed | Three Months By Car

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