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Jan. 5, 2019 — A thought experiment inspired by a celebrity’s passing

I grew up watching Penny Marshall’s tour-de-force take on working-class life in 1950s-era Milwaukee in the situation comedy Laverne & Shirley.

And like many of my peers, I noticed that the sitcom has not aged well. Some of the subject matter involving working women, race, and the portrayal of Italian-Americans is a bit grating when you recognize it.

But when Penny Marshall died last month, I found myself drawn to perhaps the single most memorable feature of the show: the prominent cursive “L” that was on just about every item of clothing the character of Laverne DeFazio wore.

Having been around a lot of vintage clothing enthusiasts in my life, I’ve been interested to see how much this kind of oversized monogramming was prominent in the 1950s, when the show started.

Apparently, it wasn’t.

I also came to the conclusion that even the average unionized female worker of the time (she and best friend Shirley Feeney were bottlers at a Milwaukee brewery) likely could not have afforded identical monograms on every blouse, dress, and sweater in her closet.

I know, I know, this is me, overthinking a fictional television show.

But I do wonder if the appliques had a basis in fact — aside from the kitschy poodle skirts of the era.

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