Recently, while browsing my favorite website on the Internet—that beautiful virtual junktique mall called Etsy—I noticed something. Specifically, all these midcentury aprons announcing, “To hell with housework!”
But what will you do once you say, to hell with housework? Well, you could travel.
Or you could go bowling.
Maybe the thought of housework inspires you to fits of destruction but you aren’t comfortable with swears.
Or, sure, you could be a scab.
You will not be surprised to learn that this pre-Internet meme apparently originated in the 1950s. A 1958 issue of Billboard, available via Google Books, mentions them as part of a broader enthusiasm for “funny sayings” gimmickry:
Something funny or novel to read is always a pretty good seller these days, because all the items mentioned are getting steady play. Novel phase items come in cards, buttons, plaques, desk signs. Even in “crying towels” and aprons, it appears, with a wide choice of artwork and wisecracks. The aprons, priced at around $7.20 a dozen, have such imprints as “To Hell with Housework,” “Kiss Me Now or Anytime,” “Don’t Kiss Me—I’m Busy,” “To Hell with Diets,” “You Wash—I’ll Wipe,” and “Welcome.” The crying towels, at $4.50 a dozen, are for moms, golfers, bowling, bar, honeymooners, firemen, drinkers, fathers, horse players, fishermen, housewives, generals, card players, hunters, drivers, vacationers, tourists, salesmen and many more.
These plays on words are all gimmicks and support a good concept—get on board with all you can, while an item is hot. Clever, sarcastic and otherwise novel phraseology has a strong appeal to the public and it is available for virtually every kind of character and situation.
Presumably the market started to dry up around the time women began actually saying to hell with housework, aprons, and a whole lot of other things, too. Items featuring the line continue to pop up in newspaper pieces through the mid 1980s as a scene-setting byword for kitsch, but these days they’re more likely a staple of antique malls than souvenir stores.
But cavalier dismissals of housework are, if anything, more popular than ever. That’s thanks to kitsch queen Anne Taintor, who pioneered the trick of slapping snarky slogans onto retro images of determinedly chipper housewives. Mugs, magnets, and calendars along these lines are now ubiquitous in the sorts of stores one frequents while on vacation, and plenty of women who might’ve gone home with one of these aprons a couple of generations ago now have magnets on their fridge insisting, “Make your own damn dinner.”
Because if there’s one thing with perennial appeal, it’s not doing the goddamn housework.