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Advertising Whimsy, Part 1

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"You Just Know She Wears Them"., Digital ID 825357, New York Public LibraryMy colleague Susan Waide put me onto the illustrations you see here and in my next post. They’re all advertising illustrations by M.C. Woodbury, executed between 1920 and 1922, for the McCallum Hosiery Company in Northhampton, Massachusetts. I love them for their period feel, and for what they say about fashion advertising in the U.S. at that time.

We’ve grown so used to lingerie ads that are filled with sexual angst, or at least that’s what I remember from fashion magazines since I was young, and still see today. What strikes me about these two ads is the sweetness portrayed in the imagery. A modish, obviously style-conscious young woman is featured, while one of her stockings is in peril from a precocious bird or kitten. A boudoir setting is implied, but the overall effect is one of whimsy. Such illustrations say a lot about the marketing outlook of advertising and manufacturing companies.

In this case, there’s a charm and an innocence that will eventually get lost in the process of product selling. The advertising staff for McCallum are counting on the feminine delight in a luxury such as a silk stocking. Their slogan appears as a caption, “You just know she wears them.” And so the process begins of linking desire with need.

 825359. New York Public Library This story can be confirmed by Library holdings. A superb visual record appears in a history, Lingerie in Vogue since 1910. And to uphold my conclusions—which some of you may find cynical—check out a Fairchild publication called Silent selling: best practices and effective strategies in visual merchandising. Isn’t the innocence depicted here more beguiling than the “come hither” or “approach at your peril” signals of today’s jaded Madison Avenue ad executives?

p.s. One last word about the election. In his victory speech, President-Elect Obama, when speaking about the meaning of the vote outcome, used the words “unyielding hope.” After spending more than two years in the Art Deco era of boom and bust, I find those words to be strangely appropriate for that time as well. People got through the Depression in America by always having faith in their government eventually working things out. That faith didn’t exist in certain European countries (like Germany) and, ironically, its failure led to a second World War that finally got us out of the slump for good…

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