In February 1952, LIFE magazine published the latest installment in its long-running “Life Goes to a [fill in the blank]” series, in which reporters and photographers would visit, say, a bee market in the Netherlands, a college joust in West Virginia or a “hex party” — with an eye toward casting black-magic spells on Adolf Hitler — in the Maryland woods.
Titled “Life Goes to a Little Ladies Party,” the February 1952 feature was, in some ways, quintessential LIFE, in both its approach and its attitude. The article and the pictures are sweet, although far from cloying — and they deliver the goods with a knowing smile, but without a hint of that laziest and dullest of all postures: snark.
This month [LIFE wrote], on her 9th birthday, Betsy Bingman of Dallas had a long-time wish fulfilled — she had a party to which only “ladies” were invited. Rhymed cards were sent out to 19 friends: “Borrow from your mother a long dress, hat and shoes. Be at my house on Saturday, primping as much as you choose.” As the guests arrived, dressed in high heels, big hats and furs, neighbors came out of their houses to watch. The party started off with a fashion show, with each lady whirling and showing off her dress for the cool appraisal of others. Prizes were awarded to those who were judged best-dressed. Then the guests played bunko and ate ice cream and cake. As the party progressed, the little ladies began kicking off their shoes (“they’re killing me”), hitching up their stockings (“are my seams straight?”) and tugging at their skirts so that by the time their parents arrived to chauffeur them home there was hardly a little lady who didn’t want to get back into more comfortable clothes and be a little girl again.