One of the big drivers of soft focus photography was that through improvements in technology, resolution had gotten "too good". The lines and imperfections in a sitter's face had become a real problem for portraitists, just as they are today. Soft focus helped keep studios in business because, as sexist as this may sound, women don't generally buy portraits that make them look fully their age or portray their children with a bunch of zits. Right or wrong, Portraitists ignore social norms at their own commercial peril.
People don't hire portrait photographers for reality. Never have and never will.
Besides what is reality?
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.