Magazine ads take baby steps into the 1920s

When a new decade begins, there’s usually a period when people have a sense that it will be different from the last one, but they don’t yet know how. (Okay, this decade is a bad example.) Having spent my Easter morning looking through ads from the Ladies’ Home Journal from January to April 1920, I’ve caught glimpses of the 1910s dying and the 1920s being born.

I imagine that this woman’s flowing locks will disappear soon,

Shampoo ad showing woman with long red hair, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1920.

to be replaced by something along these lines:*

Snowdrift shortening ad, woman eating shortening, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Dance parties like this are so 1916;

Soap advertisement, woman and man dancing, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

this proto-Charleston is more like it.

Colombia gramophone ad, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920, man and woman dancing.

Will a corset stand it?

Corset ad, woman playing tennis, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

No is the answer. More relaxing underwear is on the way.**

Dove undergarments ad, women flying through the sky in underwear, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1920.

Ad styles are changing too. The fragrance industry hasn’t gotten the memo that Art Nouveau is over,***

Djer-Kiss perfume ad, fairies in fantastical setting, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Pompeian fragrance ad, women bowing to huge perfume bottle, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

while these companies are ahead of the pack with bold colors and clear lines:

Indian Head Cloths ad, women at beach, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1920.

Old Dutch Cleanser ad, sink on red background, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Nashua Woolnap Blankets ad, children in bed, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

There are some constants. Ads for dried and canned fruit

Del Monte canned peaches ad, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920. 

and, God help us, cannned meat

Council Meats ad, cans of meat flying through the sky, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

are as popular as ever. Maids are at the ready to help their mistresses get dressed,

Wolfhead underwear ad, maid helping woman dress, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Hosiery ad, maid helping woman put on stocking, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

and fix breakfast for the little master,

Karo syrup ad, maid pouring syrup with boy, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

and change the baby,

Johnson's Baby Powder ad, maid sprinkling powder on baby, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

and hold up cans of wax.

Johnson's Prepared Wax ad, maid holding up can of wax, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Husbands, though? Not so helpful.****

Vacuum cleaner ad, husband dropping things on floor as wife vacuums, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

African-Americans are almost always shown as hardworking servants,*****

Aunt Jemima ad, Aunt Jemima and man making food, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

although this guy looks like he’s had it up to here and is about to heave the family’s breakfast at them.

Log Cabin syrup advertisement, African-American servant with platter of food, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920. 

I’ve done an excellent job of not mentioning you-know-what, but I can’t stop myself from ending with an ad that would never have caught my eye at any other time. A thousand old linen handkerchiefs indeed!

Scott toilet paper ad, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920

squiggle

*Yes, I do realize she may have her hair tied up in back. Besides, she’s eating shortening, so I don’t want to hold her up as too much of a role model.

**Although you could wear a corset with this underwear, of course. For a fascinating and hilarious look at what goes under what, read this witness2fashion post.

***I just read Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, a wonderful novel about a woman who worked in advertising in the early to mid-20th century, based loosely on the life of Margaret Fishback. In it, I learned that the advertising style where the product is portrayed as being enormous was known as “hellzapoppin’.”

****In case the print is too small for you to read, the ad says, “‘Now see what you’ve done!’ But careless hubby lacks concern, for he knows that offending cigar ashes are quickly and easily whisked off the rug by the ever handy Royal.” I hate hate hate this guy.

*****The exception: the man in the Cream of Wheat ads, real-life chef Frank L. White, whom I’ve written about before.

Cream of Wheat ad, chef pointing at box of cream of wheat, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Cream of Wheat ad, chef with children, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

3 thoughts on “Magazine ads take baby steps into the 1920s

  1. Lars Finsen

    I do have a thing for art nouveau. But bold lines and colours also have something going for them. I want to eat up that Nashua ad. Possibly the colours may have been even bolder a hundred years ago.

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  2. Mary Grace McGeehan Post author

    I love Art Nouveau too! My biggest regret about starting this project when I did is that I missed its heyday. Change is not always progress, as you pointed out when you mentioned the Norman Rockwell copycats pushing aside more creative illustrators. That Nashua ad is one of my favorites as well.

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  3. Barbara A Dinerman

    Warner’s Corsets were meant to play tennis in? It’s fun seeing early versions of corporate giants’ products. Warner still manufactures bras. I lost interest when they callously presented underwires. Scott Tissue is still around, and I certainly could use a few more rolls; please let Publix know the shelves are still empty from panic-buying when the coronavirus was first announced a few weeks ago. My mother used Karo syrup, I recall, though I don’t remember why. Log Cabin syrup was for pancakes. As for Nashua cotton blankets, I’ll bet they were named for the town in New Hampshire that charged less tax than neighboring Massachusetts, known today as Taxachusetts. I remember sitting in the backseat when my parents drove over the state border so that my mother could buy her Philip Morris cigarettes, cheaper by the carton. Funny how you never see ads for blankets in Florida publications. Temps in the upper 80s (in mid-April!) are blanket enough, especially when sampling vegetable fat, not to mention canned mystery meat. But my unqualified kudos go to the Ladies’ Home Journal for depicting ladies’ maids as white, not the typically insulting African-American servants. Maybe capitalism was a good idea.

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