I had a great meeting with Dr. Jones this week and have since somewhat refocused my research plans. As of now, I am pursing the consumer culture route, but adding more about college women “as women” who were affected by these advertisements as much as possible. I’m talking to Dr. Cline next week about the best way to go about taking and including oral histories. These could be a great supplement to my research or, depending on how many/what types I am able to record, could even move to the forefront of my research focus. I’m excited to see where it goes! Is anyone else thinking about oral histories?
Delving more deeply into the impact of beauty advertisements and magazine articles on college women, I read Women’s Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press (edited by Nancy A. Walker) and The Fifties: A Women’s Oral History by Brett Harvey.
Women’s Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press
In her introduction, Walker stresses the important role magazines played in reading American audiences and how their advertisements made up a majority of each issue. This text pointed me in the direction of Mademoiselle, a magazine marketed for smart young women, so it was especially appealing to female college students (3). I will begin to look at Mademoiselle, as well as Glamour, Redbook, and Cosmopolitan. I have been struggling with location some of these archives, so hopefully something turns up! Walker also brings up a lot of important points in how to begin to interpret the impact these magazines had on their female readers, although this is something that is impossible to say for sure. There is even a section on “Fashion and Beauty.” Several are useful in suggesting other places to look and several are useful in and of themselves. The best is probably “How to Look Halfway Decent” from McCall’s 1959 (225-227).
The Fifties: A Women’s Oral History
Harvey provides a very unique history of the 1950s thought these accounts. There is also much to be learned from her methodologically. She found a way to connect with the ninety-two women she interviewed with and this led to very evocative and poignant accounts of their lives. She did not publish the text in “interview” form, but rather turned each interview into an essay, string together their sentiments in a coherent fashion and adding historical background when pertinent.
Here is what I am thinking for my primary source presentation. I’ll try not to give it all away right now
I have found an amazing advertisement for Elizabeth Arden cosmetics that was published in the August 1944 issue of The New Yorker. This advertisement is geared specifically toward college women, as it is headlined “The Smart College Girl Majors in Beauty.” What is especially great about this ad (and there are a lot of great things about it) is that it does not advocate one specific beauty product “quick fix,” but it actually promotes beauty as an essential part of their culture. I have uploaded this image to scholar as well.
Why did you choose this particular item as representative of the archive you’ve created at this point in the research process?
So far, I have been trying to build an archive of advertisements and articles from magazines, so this speaks to the ad-side and is also relevant because it came from a magazine. This advertisement was published in the August 1944 issue of The New Yorker. (explain 1944 scope issue) So far, I have not considered the New Yorker, but I will certainly do so now! This item is also representative because it is of a specific cosmetic line, at least a portion of which was geared toward college-aged women. It is suggestive of adapting beauty culture as part of one’s lifestyle, rather than buying a single product. While my archive will also include ads for one specific product, I am aiming to have a significant base of types of ads that perpetuate beauty culture in more generalized terms.
How did you discover the source? Where is it located?
I found this advertisement while browsing Duke’s collection of Beauty and Hygiene (1911-1956) advertisements. I looked into a number of things for this project, but decided that an advertisement was the best route because of the consumer culture approach, but for my own benefit and because I wanted to share with the class what this means. In Duke’s online archives, I selected the subcategory Cosmetics, narrowed my search to the 1940s and, voilà!, here is this perfect source!! I did go through a few hundred advertisements to confirm that this was the one I wanted to use for my presentation and found a lot of other great sources along the way. Major shout out to Duke’s library for having done such an incredible job digitizing everything.
How does the source help you locate an answer to your research question? What can this type of source tell you?
Most importantly, this source tells me that cosmetic companies did in fact create and publish advertisements that were geared toward college women. These women were part of the consumer culture of the war and postwar era and they were an audience worth targeting and taken seriously, as this advertisement was in The New Yorker. While I did find other advertisements that were for specific products targeted toward college women (Dorthy Gray goes to college…”I’m majoring in South American Red” [lipstick] and “I’m taking Salon Cold Cream.”), this advertisement tells us that cosmetic companies marketed and advocated that women adopt beauty culture as a central part of their daily lives. These women were a worthwhile enough consumer base that companies researched and targeted them (women as smart, women as taking care of their hair and figure as well, women as goal-oriented, etc.). (discuss more of the ad’s text).
How will you interrogate the source- what methodology will you employ? What sorts of sources will you need to confirm/complete/complement this source?
I will interrogate the source by focusing on its pictures, text, and overall message. I will look into which cosmetics Elizabeth Arden may have been targeting toward this group and try to understand these from a material culture point of view. I will then place this advertisement within its larger context. I will see what other types of advertisements appeared at this time (these girls are “pictured” in other Arden ads). I will see what other types of advertisements were out at this time and confirm that this one is representative of those. Conversely, I will also look at sources that advertisements that send a different message and attempt to understand what this meant for consumer culture’s take on beauty culture. I will also look more closely at the issue of the New Yorker this appeared in, especially to better understand what other types of advertisements appeared in that issue. (I have not gotten to The New Yorker yet, as Mademoiselle, Redbook, Cosmo, and Glamour are more important to look at first). I will also consult my growing collection of secondary literature on consumer culture and the American advertising industry at this time to understand how these fit into the even larger context of advertisers’ goals at this time. I hope that the analysis of this advertisement is a methodology that will work for similar advertisements and that I find a consistent message to support my overall argument.
What are the problems with this category of sources/what cant’ you learn, what are the biases?
The main problem with this source, as well as the category as a whole, is that I cannot understand how this message was actually interpreted and if its goal was carried out. There are inconclusive ways to analyze this, such as looking at readership of the magazines, archives from the advertising agency (although I don’t think market research was big until the early 60s), and Elizabeth Arden sales. None of these methodologies are specific enough, however. There is an inherent bias on my part to believe a source as great as this worked and that I can build an argument on its message, but, alas, this cannot be verified. There is also a bias on the part of the advertisers to believe that college women would be amenable to this message. (revist text and imagery)