One of my more enjoyable pastimes is fingering through old magazines or newspapers reading the Classified Ads. From the elaborate display ads placed in Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in the 1890’s to the pulp rags of modern times all advertisements have similarities. But like most things, ads bear the patina of the times that they were used. This first ad, from the late 40’s, for used dresses is a great example.
Selling used clothing mail order is similar to what you would see on Ebay or other internet sites. But the ad becomes interesting when its ‘patina’ is looked at. First, the price for a dress, 49 cents, is telling of its time (and no doubt quality). More subtle and more telling is the ads copy, “Assorted styles and colors. Sizes 10 to 18, 10 for $4.95. Larger sizes 6 for $4.95.” accompanied by the image of a slender young female. By todays standards she is no size 10 or larger, but by the sizing standards of her day she would be a size 10. Another subtle point is the invitation to send a ‘postcard’ for a catalog. No email address, website, or 800 number – send a postcard.
This next ad is for all you entrepreneur’s. Make big bucks selling folding bath tubs – up to $60 a weekly, that’s over $3000 a year! Look at the benefits the ad lists; little cost, no plumbing with little water, and it’s better than tin tubs. Was there a need for such a product? When this ad ran, in a 1915 issue of Popular Science, there sure was. Indoor plumbing, especially in rural areas, was an expensive luxury.
Subliminal message? This advertisement, placed in a magazine with a male dominated readership is seeking sales agents, a male dominated career. It shows a naked woman using the product these men are asked to sell. Not a lumberjack, a cranky baby, or the family pooch, but a woman – naked. Coincidence or design?