The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part III

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:

2 Responses to “The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part III”

  1. Liza D. Says:

    Oh, to be able to order some of these gems today! This was an interesting series, Carrie, thanks for posting.

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks, Liza, glad you enjoyed it!

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