Archive for December, 2013

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part IV

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

For my winter vacation this year, I’d like to slip inside the December 1948 Ladies’ Home Journal and visit for awhile. The issue captures a seemingly idyllic moment in US history when the nation was really beginning to enjoy its post-WWII boom. It opens with an editorial by none other than First Lady of Journalism Dorothy Thompson on the importance of expanding and strengthening the economy as the only true protector of our national security. And it is a veritable feast for the eyes—page after page of gorgeously executed Christmas ads and features that make me want to buy everything, cook everything, sew everything it suggests.

I apologize for the awkward cropping of many of the pictures in this post; the LHJ was too wide and too long for my scanner bed, and there were a LOT of full page ads! But the images speak for themselves regardless…

Needless to say, there were a slew of appliance ads, beautifully illustrated to depict their knack for leading to domestic nirvana:

This Norman Rockwell-ish if rather quirky ad (which I think is much sadder than it means to be)  depicts the impact of Plymouth ownership on one family (or specifically, on one poor kid), without even bothering to flaunt that year’s Special De Luxe Coupe in it!

The pages are bursting with images of delectable looking Christmas hams and baked goods, whether homemade from the ingredient being hawked or store-bought in a final state, such as this Jane Parker fruitcake:

The magazine itself has a spread on Christmas entertaining, with menus (and recipes, in the back) for a party for 25, a breakfast, and a dinner:

One of the most artistically done ads is for Coke; I wonder what my young father, who at the time was in his early years as a Maspeth, NY Coke bottling plant manager, would have thought of it:

As far as the LHJ features, in addition to beauty advice:

and tips on the latest party frocks to sew (with patterns available for purchase, natch), LHJ did a spread with socialites and celebrities modelling the latest in hostess fashions, including one of Rosalind Russell in a ruby pink moire and green taffeta creation from Joseph Whitehead:

Coty’s attempt to garner a chunk of the Xmas market for its perfumes included both a letter from its president explaining the art of fragrance selection and, many pages later, a full page ad displaying the options to choose from (the model’s red gown is from Traina-Norell):

Here’s another perfume ad, from Bourjois (I remember my mother, a schoolteacher, regularly being given Evening in Paris as a holiday gift in the 1960s):

This ad from Bretton watch bands offered a “Peewee” version of the “sweetheart” expansion bracelets so popular throughout the war:

The kiddie set above came in a lucite-look pocketbook; Pro-phy-lac-tic offered lucite (or “Jewelite”) dresser sets for both men and women:

Don’t know whether this Textron slip ad nods more to “A Christmas Carol” or to Salvador Dali:

Of course, there were ads for products to help with seasonal decor (and giftwrapping):

And ads for year round home goods, as well:

This Community silverplate ad couldn’t decide if it was holiday- or wedding-themed:

LHJ offered ideas for making your own gifts (more patterns to buy), from cloth blocks, dolls and stuffed animals for children:

to quilted satin slipper-and-pouch sets, or leopard velveteen belt-and-mitten sets, for adults and teens:

There was even a column on ideas for gifts kids, from tots to teens, could make/give to Mom:

And though there were no ads for liquor as the ideal gift, there was more than one that proposed sticking a carton of cigarettes under the tree:

However and whatever you celebrate this time of year, may it be filled with the calm and peace of a Victorian Christmas. And, among the delights 2014 holds in store for you, may at least one of them be vintage 1940s and tied up with an enormous bow!

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part III

Monday, December 16th, 2013

America’s postwar economic boom meant that by the late 1940s seasonal marketing had really elbowed its way into women’s magazines, taking up as much or even more space than the “regular” features–many of which were not just Christmas-themed but concerned with directing the American family’s shopper-in-chief on how best to transform the disposable dollars in her pocketbook into coveted, practical, and colorfully foil-wrapped parcels of domestic holiday joy.

Though Christmas-linked advertising didn’t really shift to bombardment mode till the December issues, the rollout did in fact get underway in November, just as it does today. Though most of the full page ads in the November 1949 issue of Harper’s Bazaar don’t promote their products as holiday gift options, the magazine itself organized pages upon pages of smaller ads into shopping guides or editorial features.

A 4 page color feature entitled “It’s a wonderful present if…” included cobra covered smoking accessories from Evans, 14K hatpins set with gemstones, and Lucien Lelong lipstick:

An 11 page black and white eponymous “Bazaar” spread had sections for men, children, and women. The “Men’s Bazaar” (which also included ads for cameras, coasters, and a sterling monogrammed pipe) had an ad for spectacular leather and silk suspenders from “Calvin Curtis, Cravateur”:

as well for an A. Sulka & Co. reading jacket:

I got a kick out of finding an ad for a leather tie travel case identical to one I have in the Waltham shop:

The “Children’s Bazaar” featured an ad for the FAO Schwartz catalog, and the ladies’“Christmas Bazaar” included these tempting possibilities:

A black and white spread entitled “60 Beautiful Ideas”,  devoted to the kinds of cosmetic and fragrance indulgences contemporary department stores pile sky-high near the near mall entrance this time of year, grouped its suggestions into price tiers; under $2, $4, $5, $10 and “exactly $10”.

Highlights included Charles of the Ritz perfume in a Christmas tree ornament, a Hattie Carnegie perfume burner complete with her “Golden Lotus” scent, a white faux fur pouch with John Frederics talcum powder inside, and an Evans fish compact with cultured pearl bubbles and ruby chip eye.

Unfortunately, the artist-rendered sketches aren’t very good resolution, so I’ll just show you this stocking from Elizabeth Arden, filled with various forms of her “Blue Grass” fragrance (it was in the “exactly $10” tier):

A predecessor to those really long advertising spreads you can barely distinguish from actual magazine copy, Lord & Taylor had a 20 page black and white “Christmas Is Here!” spread that included gift ideas for the whole family:

As I mentioned above, only a few of the full page ads (like the one for a “Christmas white” slip that opens this post) link explicitly to the holiday. But simply placing a full page ad for a luxury good in the November issue was savvy marketing in and of itself, as this was evidently a very good year to be a conspicuous consumer, and hence also to entrap one. The full page ads, which include some pretty heady brands, fall for the most part into 6 main categories: Sterling silver flatware; nylons/lingerie; fur (including Revillon & Maximilian); perfume (including Chanel No. 5 & Schiap’s latest, Zut); fine jewels (including Cartier & Harry Winston); and…everything else.

Here’s the issue’s lone Christmas-linked perfume ad, from Elizabeth Arden (1949 appears to have been a banner year for new fragrances; down the line, I’m going to have to do a blog post solely devoted to them):

And here’s a full-paged ad for Hudson’s “Sheer Witchery” nylons—possibly the most glamorous Christmas ad I’ve ever seen (I WANT that hostess robe!):

The last post in this series will share images from the December Ladies’ Home Journal from the previous year (1948), an issue overrun with the exact same marketing approach to Christmastime we know and love today, except… the ads (and the stuff they promote) are SO much better. Here’s the cover, to whet your appetite:

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part II

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Next stop: The twentieth century, or more precisely, 1923. The decade may not be roaring yet, but the economy has shifted to peacetime and if conspicuous consumption as we know lies safely in the future, according to the November 1923 Ladies Home Journal the wintry landscape is sprinkled here and there with prospective Christmas presents.

Perhaps a fur for milady to tuck under the “magic tree” this year?

For the newfangled appliance lover, how about a “table stove” (the ancestor of today’s toaster oven, it would seem)?

The most “useful” and “appropriate” gift out there—a  matched towel set from Martex:

Even the Fuller Brush man gets in on the Xmas fun…

“Thoughtful men & women are beginning earlier each year to plan the greetings they want to send at Christmastime”:

The thoughtful person who is also crafty can opt for making homemade cards; all they need (besides the transfers for the designs pictured below, sold by the Home Pattern Company) are: Manila wrapping paper, tinted coal paper, chamois board, parchment, India ink, and watercolor paints:

But that’s it for holiday-targeted advertising in the issue; I’m guessing retailers in 1923 tended to do their Xmas promotions in December back then, when folks still spent the day after Thanksgiving travelling home from Grandma’s instead of rising at cockcrow or earlier to queue outside a big box store.  (As I write this, an early 1930s December LHJ is speeding towards my mailbox, and I will certainly report back on how extensive a glut of Xmas ads it does or does not contain).

To sum up: From the perspective of someone who deplores mass production and consumption but also happens to be in retail, this issue is soothing as well as mind-boggling. So welcome to see a ladies’ magazine geared primarily to informative articles that have nothing to do with weight loss or cosmetic surgery and which gives pride of place to a story by Edith Wharton. But wow, the pages are jam-packed with missed opportunities to start emptying the nation’s holiday pocketbook!

This mouthwatering Jello ad, for instance, could easily have substituted poinsettias for the pink roses on the table, and framed the whole scene in holly:

And check out the lack of enterpreneurial spirit in these perfume ads, which substitute gorgeous graphics (and hyberbolic text) for today’s requisite stacks of wrapped presents and artfully strewn Christmas ornaments:

It’s one thing to know in the abstract that in days of yore the nation didn’t devolve into consumer frenzy this time of year, quite another to see the actual proof in black, white, and color!

Next post will share some holiday ads from the post-WWII period (and likely make you very sad you can’t buy what’s in them). Stay tuned…

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part I

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Between the rollout of the Christmas season before Halloween this year, the recurrent and surreal Black Friday Walmart stampedes, and the infuriating conversion of my favorite satellite radio station (“40s at 4”) into holiday Musak 24/7, I’m well past ready by now for a break from the insanity! So…how about joining me in a look at some images of kinder, gentler marketing (for better stuff, too) from Christmases past?

One trend I’ve noticed while thumbing through the November and December issues of vintage magazines is that a strong economy tends to coincide with a pile up of Christmas ads for extravagant items. But…that wasn’t always the case.

For instance, though the Gilded Age was well underway by the publication of the December 1884 Peterson’s Lady’s Magazine, the gentle businessfolk of the day appear not to have see Christmas as a golden goose. There is ample Christmas spirit in the issue (in the form of Christmas-themed illustrations, stories, poems, and “how to” articles), and the magazine even provided a colored tear out of “d’oyley” patterns (featuring plums, blackberries, strawberries, and cherries) as a Christmas gift to its readers:

Here’s a lovely engraving from the issue entitled “Christmas Roses”:

The issue includes an article with helpful suggestions for festive methods of giftgiving (in a stocking “a la Santa Claus”, under a “magic” aka Xmas tree, or in a “ship” made with nursery chairs, brown paper, and poles), as well as one on seasonal decor ideas (bulrushes make a nice alternative to mistletoe, and a home version of “artificial frost” can be made with white glass bottles broken under the garden roller)

But virtually the only Christmas ad in the publication is for greeting cards!

So… Christmas as heavy duty marketing onslaught seems to be a 20th century creation.  Stay tuned for my next post for more on its evolution!