In Intimate Apparel, we discover that Esther has worked hard all of her life, hoping to save enough money to open her own beauty parlor. At one point, George asks Esther for $2 from her savings—and while today $2 barely buys a cup of coffee, it was a considerable amount of money back in 1905.
Consumer prices in America have raised an average of 3% per year since 1900. $1 in 1900 is equivalent to just under $30 today. Take a look at some of the comparisons between the time of Intimate Apparel and today
In 1905 Manhattan, a pound of apples was 12¢. A pound of “good” sirloin steak was 20¢. A loaf of bread was 5¢. Compare that to today’s US averages, where a pound of apples average $1.34, a pound of sirloin steak averages $8.25 and a loaf of bread averages $2.31.
New York Transportation
The New York City subway opened on October 27, 1904 with a fare of 5¢. In 1948, a ticket increased to 10¢. In 1998, the MetroCard was introduced, allowing commuters unlimited rides during a month for $63. In March 2015, a single-day card cost $2.75 and a 30-day card cost $116.50.
Esther was able to spend about 70¢ per yard of silk fabric. But, according to an 1899 Ladies Home Journal article, “the cost must be at least $1 per yard [of silk] for it will far surpass in wear and brilliant color.” Today the price of silk has a wide range of prices depending on its quality. Most types average between $5 and $15 per yard.
New York Hotel
Staying in a highly rated hotel in New York for one night cost approximately $8 in 1900. That same type of hotel would cost over $600 for one night today. While staying in that hotel, if a guest made a three-minute telephone call home, it cost $5.45. By contrast, that call today would only cost about 5¢.
According to a “Metropolitan Fashions” advertisement in 1902, a chemise cost 20¢, a petticoat cost 20¢ and a corset cover (similar to a camisole) cost 10¢. In a Boston advertisement for corsets in 1898, the price ranged from 75¢ for the “long waisted and heavily boned” to $2.75 for “imported sateen and silk flowers on the top and bottom.” Bras and underwear vary greatly today depending on where you buy and what the style is. At Victoria’s Secret, a bra averages approximately $48 and one pair of panties is approximately $5.