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  • 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)



    10 responses to “The Smart College Girl Majors in Beauty” RSS icon

    • Your ad is so suggestive for what it says about advertising approaches during the War!

      Am wondering if you have looked at any secondary sources that rely on advertisements. There are quite a few classics that deal with the turn of the century and into the 1920s. These works might be useful for understanding how other historians have read advertisements.

    • Meant to add I have a few titles in my office that can get you started.

      • Thanks, Dr. Jones! I do have a couple, such as Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940 by Roland Marchand, Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture: How Shopping Changed American Culture by Sharon Zukin, Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market by Susan Strasser, and I think a few more at home. I’ll definitely check out your other suggestions the next time we meet. Thanks!

    • tayloringradschool

      Rose- I called my grandmother the other day and told her about your project, and she is compiling a list to send to me. I also have some similar in age family members in Roanoke/surrounding areas who would be more than willing to speak with you. I think oral history is a great route to take since you have a time period that supports it. But it will be interesting to see what avenues you have to explore in gender/class/race lenses, unless you are narrowing that down to specific categories.

      • Thank you so much! YOU’RE THE BEST! Your offer to help has been a major motivation in deciding to pursue oral histories as a part of my research approach.

    • chelseafromdelaware

      Now that I’m looking at wider sources on post-war American society, I’m wondering if any of our sources could potentially overlap? I know that we’re studying two very different topics, but it’s interesting to see how societal expectations for women (that you’re reading about now) influenced male and female perceptions of women as workers, when it seems as though the primary role for women was in the home. Maybe there won’t be much overlap, but it’s interesting to think about!

      • Oh yes! I expect the two of you will find lots of overlap in the ideas that were shaping women’s views post-war. Rose, it will be interesting to see if you run across ads that were aimed at working women (I’d bet on it for the war period, but wouldn’t want to wager about post-war.)

      • Yes, I bet they will. We should definitely talk frameworks at some point, as well. I might have a couple approaches you might consider based on other frameworks I have been reading lately.

    • I really like your topic and the source you put up! I’m looking forward to your presentation later.

      I doubt I could do oral history. Pretty sure any killer from the 19th century isn’t alive anymore, and I don’t think interviewing a modern-day killer would really work. Plus, I’d be kind of scared. I think oral history will work out for your project really well, though.

      • Thanks! It will be interesting to see if there are any resources out there that you could glean the same types of information on what killers were really thinking that you would be able to get from an oral history.

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