Anachronisms to watch out for, Part V

In loving memory of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

This is the fifth installment of a series on potential anachronisms which can mar the plausibility and accuracy of a historical. In future, I may create more sections if I think of more categories.


Some regions of countries didn’t exist, or had different names. Many former colonies had different names. Some cities under foreign rule weren’t officially called by their native names. (Side rant: Ukraine has been independent for over 20 years. It’s offensive to keep referring to their cities by Russified names.) Some streets had different names. The boundaries of neighborhoods were different sometimes. One of the obvious examples of this is that of the so-called “East Village,” which was just the northern, increasingly gentrified section of the Lower East Side till the mid-Sixties. I laughed when I heard of a YA “historical” set in 1950 in the “East Village.”

Personal grooming

As I detailed in Historical Fiction and Body Hair, one of my most-viewed posts (with a lot of creepy, perverted search terms finding it), women in the past didn’t have an obsession with being hairless. A woman in, say, the 1930s would’ve probably been considered touched in the head for shaving her pubic hair, and Western women didn’t shave their underarms till a very successful ad campaign in 1915. Leg-shaving rose in popularity around the same time but didn’t become uniformly popular till around the 1940s. On the male side, facial hair was out of fashion for a lot of the 20th century, and excess body hair was considered a turn-on, not a turn-off.

Toilet training

In the West, until about the 1950s, it was the norm to have your child out of diapers by the second birthday and dry through the night by the third birthday. There wasn’t this culture of keeping kids in diapers and training pants until age four or five, or waiting until the parent thought the child was “ready.” Having a three-year-old wandering around in diapers in 1900 would be pretty anachronistic.

Engagement rings

Until the DeBeers ad campaigns of the late 1940s, diamonds weren’t the most common engagement ring stone. Many people didn’t even have engagement rings, and if they did, they were often more affordable and modest. People 100 years ago would’ve laughed at the thought of an engagement ring costing two-three months’ salary. The alleged “engagement ring” I had to buy myself (and hence got to keep) has black diamonds with some small white accent diamonds, and was under $400 before tax.

Wedding dresses

White dresses weren’t the style until Queen Victoria wore one. And btw, white was meant as a display of her wealth, not some vulgar public proclamation of the state of her hymen. Until probably the post-WWII era, it was most common for American brides to wear simple, modest dresses, often dresses they made themselves and could wear again for ordinary days. In much of the rest of the world, red is the traditional bridal colour. If I ever marry, I’m going to wear a gorgeous black gown (with actual sleeves!) from a nearby designer who does a lot of Medieval- and Renaissance-style gowns.

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