Just another Blogs@VT Sites site
RSS icon Email icon
  • The Smart College Girl Majors in Beauty

    Posted on February 21st, 2014 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    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)


  • To “Consumer Culture” or Not to “Consumer Culture”? That Is (Now Part of) the Research Question!

    Posted on February 15th, 2014 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    I found a few great places to look for primary sources this week.  Here are two of my favorites, but I made a list at below these of some other options that will be great to peruse in the future.

     1. Duke’s Beauty and Hygiene Collection (1911-1956)

     Duke has some incredibly evocative advertisements that speak to a myriad of things about beauty culture.  Their collection is largely digitized, but it would also be an easy research trip.

    Here in the link: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess_beauty/?page=1

    2. Hagley Museum and Library Consumer Culture Collection, specifically the Avaon Company Collection:

    This collection will be especially great if I choose to go the consumer culture route with this project.  Hagley has a great consumer culture collection, including focuses on advertisements, retail marketing and home economics, public relations, and trade catalogs.  Especially of interest is the Avon Company Collection, (1886-1996) which includes advertisements, employee magazines, press releases, and news releases.  See here for more information on the consumer culture collection:


    And here for the Avon Company Collection:|7077145|1|11442584&SelectionType=0&SearchType=1&BibCode=MH92010|7077145|1|11442584



    As Lowe did so successfully in Looking Good, I hope to employ college yearbooks as part of my primary research.  The first step will be deciding on which types (or a variety of types) of colleges I would like to focus on, then seeing which colleges may have yearbooks archived.

    Other collections to consider:

    -Apparently Harvard’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women has some great resources relating to female innovators in beauty products according to Riordan’s Inventing Beauty, but their online archives do not give much detail (such as the Hazel Bishop collection)

    -Max Factor Archives of Procter & Gamble

    -Consider looking at patents!

    -National Museum of American History, various archives

    Cosmopolitan Magazine (1886-present) and Glamour Magazine (1939-present) could also be great sets of primary resources to look at!   I have not been able to find any type of archives for this yet.

    -Additional cited sources to look into: Radcliffe College, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Chicago Historical Society, New York Historical Society, American Medical Association Archives, Cornell University, Rutgers University, University of Iowa, Vassar College.  Some of these do not have great online finding aids and others I have not looked into that closely yet.



    Review of Finding Aid:|7077145|1|11480372&SelectionType=0&SearchType=1&BibCode=MH92010|7077145|1|11480372

    The finding aid for the Avon Company Collection within the Consumer Culture Collection at the Hagley Museum and Library is very informative.  It includes a very useful description of Avon’s history throughout the years, especially as it relates to the items in the collection.   The scope and content section is also very useful because it describes not only how many of the items were used throughout Avon’s history, but also the express purpose for which they were created.  I do wish this finding aid listed more on how these items were used during their time periods, but I guess that has a lot to do with how you interpret them!  This finding aid also details which celebrities are included in their photograph and endorsement videos and the photograph locations in which their facilities are located.  Also listed are the terms of use, which are good to know off the bat!

    The finding aid lists the call number, but it does not explain the breakdown of how they are organized into boxes or folders of any sort.  It lists very specific descriptions and counts of the photographs, filmstrips, clippings, negatives, videocassettes, etc. it contains, but does not say how they have been sorted.  This would be very helpful information to have for such an extensive collection, especially if I got to visit it on a research trip.

    There is a note that the material in the collection is subject to a 25 year time seal—does anyone know what this means?


    Materials to add to by bibliography:

     Last week, Dr. Jones suggested of thinking of my project in one of two ways:

    1. Focus on consumer culture -> focus on consumer side of beauty culture (advertisements, advice manuals, etc.)
    2. Focus on college women themselves and how they responded (oral histories, alumni associations, etc.)

    So, since I have been finding some great options for primary archives for the consumer approach, I thought I would look more into secondary sources for this approach as well.  Looking at these sources will also be helpful in better understanding how to look at advertisements.  I looked at Lizbeth Cohen’s famed A Consumer’s Republic for my Secondary Source Reception.  Here are two more secondary sources relating to the consumer culture approach:

    First, I looked at Mike Featherstone’s “Body, Image and Affect in Consumer Culture” from Body & Society (although I questioned affect vs. effect here, but then it made sense).  The article examines body images in the consumer culture transformative process and then questions the idea that transformative techniques will automatically result in a more positive body image (193).  Featherstone looks at the idea that body image is all a mental concept, leading me to question how where these conceptualizations originate for college women (during the post-World War II era).  Advertisements?  The prescribed uses of the products themselves?  Advice from other girls in the dorms?

    Next, I looked at a text more directly related to the advertising industry.  Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising by Juliann Sivulka argues that American advertising not only mirrors but creates society.  Sivulka traces American advertising from 1942 to “past” the 1990s, with a very pertinent chapter on The Postwar Boom from 1945-1960.  During this time period, advertisers took many new approaches to reaching their audiences, such as motivation research, which examined what triggered people to make choices on the subconscious and unconscious levels (266).  Motivational research reduced human motivations to sex and security.  How can both of these relate to college women in postwar culture?  Beauty culture is directly related to sex and sexuality and security can be linked with feeling secure in one’s social standing by looking the part.  I wish this text focused more directly on beauty products, but it relates enough to things how advertisers motivated their audiences to change appearances enough so that it will be useful.  It will especially shed new light on how to examine advertisements (and the psychology behind how they were created) during this time period.


  • Exploring WorldCat and Defining “Beauty Culture”

    Posted on February 9th, 2014 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    For this week’s blog, we are writing an “XYZ” statement about our topic.  As usual, this provided difficult but very helpful in giving my topic a little bit more of a focus.  Here goes: <bold>I am working on the topic of beauty culture practices in college women after World War II because I want to find out how their motivations to reach a prescribed set of “standards” compelled them to act accordingly so that I can help others understand how consumer culture affected the choices they made while pursing a higher education.</bold>  I am using rather vague terms at this time, but plan to narrow them down as research allows.  For example, rather than say “choices they made,” I will be able to describe choices they made.  This exercise also helped me address other things that I will bring in to help hone in on a specific part of this topic, such as consumer culture.  Also, as usual, I must stress that I still expect my topic to change somewhat as research progresses.  Being able to return to this XYZ formula to refocus things along the way will definitely be helpful!

    Additionally, I spent this week exploring the “WorldCat” database.  I started with a singular search term, “beauty culture,” and found several texts that I had not yet uncovered.  It is annoying, however, that not all of the texts have descriptions, which means you need to look somewhere else to see if the source is usable.  This week’s readings were very helpful for learning how to use Boolean and truncated search options, which helped yield interesting results.  I then played around with sets of combinations, such as “beauty culture” and “college women”.  This brought up more specific results (including Looking Good from last week, which affirmed the validity of this combination).  I found an especially interesting text, Queens of the Academe: Beauty Pageantry, Student Bodies, and College Life by Karen T. Tice, which the handy-dandy WorldCat listing said Virginia Tech has available.  Rather than sending this book right to Major Williams, I decided to wait and retrieve it myself so I can peruse the surrounding books.  WorldCat has several very useful features, such as the ability to click on subjects and search that way.  It is very helpful that WorldCat lists the libraries that have the text in question.  I wish that Virginia Tech had more of the books I am looking for, but thank goodness for Inter Library Loans!  Also, the “add to list” and “add tags” are very helpful for working with just the site before making it to Zotero or Scrivener.  Next, I went to the “America: History and Life” database.  The keyword combinations that had been most successful on WorldCat were less successful here, but I still found some interesting sources.  This database contained books, articles, and dissertations, some of which I had not yet come across.  Although I played around with the same sets of keywords here, a surprising majority of the options that came up dealt with race, something I have not come across too much of yet.  Both of these databases discovered some good new sources, but I think I still prefer looking directly on the library shelf when possible.  It is also tough to look past the possible problems that relying on web sources (or even databases) can provide, as Renee M. Sentiles argues in “Toiling in the Archives of Cyberspace”.




    It was when I read Kathy Peiss’s Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture over Christmas break that I settled on looking at beauty culture as part of my topic.  Now is a good time to revisit this text.  Peiss draws on a downright wonderful array of sources, such as beauty guides, advice manuals, letters, diaries, advertisements, and market research.  She argues that for women experiencing social changes, “the act of beautifying often became a lightening rod for larger conflicts over female autonomy and social roles” (7).  It would be helpful to set up a clear definition of <b> “beauty culture” </b> at this time.  Peiss defines beauty culture as a type of commerce, but also “as a system of meaning that helped women navigate the changing conditions of modern social experience” (6).  I agree with this definition and have been using it as a jumping off point, but will also add that women take part in this system for specific reasons, acting as agents of choice each time they make changes (or lack thereof) in their physical appearance.  “Beauty culture” mainly refers to cosmetics, hair products, and perfumes, but I may expand this concept to also encompass body image and link to the way choices are made in fashion.  The idea of “consumer culture” will come into play at some point, as well.




    I then explored a new book on beauty culture for this week: Inventing Beauty: A History of Innovations that Have Made Us Beautiful by Teresa Riordan.  She looks at the intersection between “science, fashion, and business where beauty is engineered and finds that, for generations, social trends and technological innovations have fueled a non-stop assembly line of potions and contraptions that women have enthusiastically put to use in the quest for feminine flawlessness” (jacket).  She looks at cosmetics as inventions and innovations, parts of technical progress geared specifically toward beauty culture.  She looks at women from the mid-nineteenth to themed-twentieth century, organizing her book in a very creative way that explores  beauty culture by each aspect (eyes, lips, breasts, hair, skin, waist, hands, hips, derriere).  I am, then, most interested in her focus on beauty products as technology, the scope of products she looks at, and her organization.  Her approach has inspired me to take a look back at some of Ruth Schwartz Cowan’ work and consider her ideas that new innovations create more work than women currently have at the status quo.


    Example from Riodran’s text, of a 1940s mascara applicator:


  • Zotero, New Sources, and a Little Public History Advice

    Posted on February 3rd, 2014 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    After watching a handful of Youtube videos (which I highly recommend to those of you learning to use Zotero, etc.), I decided to use Zotero.  So far, it seems to be very useful and it will be nice to have everything in one place and so searchable.  I might use Zotero and Scrivener both because there are some organizational things I like better about Scrivener.  Also- does it make anyone else a little nervous to count on one program to store so much information?

    I enjoyed this week’s readings on interactive note taking and found the advice helpful while going through secondary sources this week.  I especially enjoyed the Turabian text and I think it will be very useful both in this class and Dr. Quigley’s class.  As for secondary readings this week, I delved into looking more at fashion, beauty culture, and body image—topics I am gearing up to further shift toward, but still look at in terms of college women during the post-World War II era.

    First, I read (and tried to take interactive notes on) Nan Enstad’s “Fashioning Political Identities: Cultural Studies and their Historical Construction of Political Subjects.”  Endstad looks at how workingwomen were able to use fashion to give the impression that they were “ladies” (749).  While I am looking at college women (who, depending on the types of schools I choose to focus on, will likely be at least middle class), her article brings up several important ideas to consider. By appropriating and exaggerating specific fashions that these women believed showed “ladyhood,” they implicitly challenged dominant notions of ladyhood and filled the category with their own fashion practices (760).  I plan to see how useful Enstad’s frameworks might be in looking at what college women’s particular uses of fashion said about the image (and goals) they tried to put forth.  I then hope to extend these ideas to beauty culture practices.

    Second, I looked at Margaret A. Lowe’s Looking Good: College Women and Body Image, 1875-1930.  I think this will be one of my more important secondary texts because my preliminary research goals are similar to what Lowe accomplishes here, although my main concern is beauty culture while hers is body image.  I am especially interested in her sourcebase (correspondences, diairies, yearbooks, scrapbooks, class surveys, college fiction, newspapers, and photographs) and how I can look at similar sources from the post-World War II era, adjusting her questions accordingly.  Lowe asserts “that it became apparent that individual students consciously chose specific physical practices…in order to achieve certain goals…they were ever aware of their new social identities as college girls and education women.  They deliberately used their bodies to project messages about their sense of self and what they wanted—whether vocation, husband, social acclaim, safety, health, or sensual pleasure” (156-157).  It will be interesting to see what types of similar practices still existed in the post-World War II era and what motivations accompanied these actions.  Also, what can be interpreted about beauty culture practices by looking at the same types of sources and calling women’s motivations into question?

    Lastly, I would like to share some advice from Dr. Cline that I think is important as we begin to conduct research.  (I was supposed to meet with him before our last blog post, but we met this past week instead.)  He stressed the importance of keeping your audience in mind as you think about how research can be used for an audience broader than the academy (which is what most public historians are trying to reach).  Keep this in mind along the way; it is not something you can do early enough.  The sources you choose to use and how you choose to use them are also very important, as well as the net you use for collecting.  Public history can also be a great way to enhance traditional scholarship, such as using digital publications, publishing something in non-monograph form, including oral histories, or putting together an exhibition.