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Fashion Advertising A Hundred Years Ago


1914 was a very eventful year. Needless to say, it is best known for the outbreak of the Great War which claimed lives of more then 16 million people. That year began, however, on a positive note. In January Ford Motor Company announced an eight-hour workday and a daily wage of $5. In February Charlie Chaplin made his film debut in the comedy short (coincidentally?) entitled "Making a Living". In other show business news the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers was established to protect the copyrighted musical compositions of its members. While the broader issue of copyright continues to be challenging to this day there is also one other event from 1914 that impacts us. In May of that year Woodrow Wilson signed a Mother's Day proclamation. Although during the early summer these positive developments were overshadowed by the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife and the subsequent war the United States did not join the world-wide struggle before April of 1917.


Although on August 1, 1914 New York Stock Exchange closed due to the war in Europe, the United States was not yet much affected by the war. In September The U.S. Federal Trade Commission was established and in November the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States officially opened for business. In December The New York Stock Exchange re-opened and it appeared that America was open for business which obviously required marketing.

Merchant John Wanamaker (1838–1922) who is considered by some to be a pioneer in marketing, once said "Half the money that I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half." So creative experimenting continued, including the usage of color in magazine ads. After all, as Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) claimed, advertising was the greatest art form of the 20th century. Some would argue that it was a great art form already at the beginning of the 20th century although color was used back then only sparsely.

In his 1951 book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man McLuhan opened each of the chapters with a newspaper or magazine article or an advertisement which he later analyzed for its aesthetic value and implications behind the imagery and text. I will not do that here and I'm not asking you to do that. However, I hope that you will at least enjoy looking at theses ads that appeared in 1914 issues of American Cloak and Suit Review, Dry Goods Guideand The Clothier and Furnisher. There are many more old ads to look at in many other trade journals digitized by Google from our collections and available via our catalog. David Mackenzie Ogilvy (1911-1999) also known as "The Father of Advertising" warned that "Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals." When it comes to advertising, the enemy—it seems—is always at the gates. Happy browsing!



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Such an intereting quote

Hi Bogdan. That quote from John Wanamaker is really interesting to me as we still struggle with the same thing. Even in an industry where we have hyper-detailed anaytics and things like heat maps, customer tracking, etc., there are still so many cases where we don't know what spend is working and what isn't. On Blog Tyrant we have a very popular post about how to start a fashion blog that has been used by a large number of new bloggers. Many of the issues that they struggle with come down to this very thing - where is money best spent and how do we cut through the noise? The fashion industry seems to be particularly vulnerable to trends and so I can imagine this is frustrating. I do hope that when advertisers pay attention to research and data for how to sell things that they also look at the research and data for how their products have negative consequences on things like labor, climate change, etc. and also look at ways they can use their skills to minimize these issues. Great article! Ramsay

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