To begin, a few facts. A recent survey found that during an average day an American will see 3,000 commercial messages across all forms of media. An incredible number you may say, but the next time you walk to work, take a look around and you’ll notice you’re being bombarded at every angle. Adele Baxby takes a look at vintage beauty adverts compared to today’s.

Narrowing advertising down to print-based fashion ads, last year’s September issue of US Vogue (which weighed over four pounds) included 674 pages of adverts. Say roughly a quarter of these were for the beauty industry, that’s 168 pages of air brushed faces, goopy creams and sleek packaging staring back at you in one magazine.

These advertisements are not lifelike, air brushing is apparent and as the miniscule note, “model wears lash inserts and enhanced in post production” is becoming a regular occurrence, it begs the question, as many things in modern life do – “was it better in the olden days?”

Cosmetics, albeit primitive compared to today’s offerings, have been around for thousands of years. The Roman Lucian wrote about women polishing their teeth and eyebrows with various implements.

In the 1890’s beauty adverts started appearing and by the 1910’s were familiar sights on the pages of women’s magazines. Decorated beautifully with hand-drawn photos and lots of text, these adverts feel more like articles from the magazine . Many of these adverts also made wild claims about the medicinal qualities the advertised cosmetics possessed.

Read on!

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3 Responses

  1. Annabella Freeman

    I much prefer the older Maybelline advert. I find it much more inspiring because it looks more glamorous. Eva Longoria is attractive but I can’t relate to her. And there are now loads of pictures of her on the web without her make-up on which takes away the mystique. I also love vintage soap ad’s from the Art Nouveau era it makes me want to use whatever they are selling!

  2. Nancy

    Frankly, Eva Longoria looks frightening and gaunt in that ad. I much prefer the Maybelline ad. While others say there’s “too much text” on it, I like to have lots of product information given, as opposed to just an over-airbrushed model and extravagant claims.

  3. Exploding Mary

    There was a common practice of coloring in (and smoothing out the skin-tones) even color photos up till the sixties– my family has many pics of my brothers and sisters with crazily green or blue eyes, including one where my older brother, as a two year old, has the merest hint of eyeliner drawn on– an added studio effect, I assure you.

    I still like the old adverts better in general, except for some of their text. It’s funny how different our hyperbole is now! The ad above says “specializes exclusively in EVERYTHING” for eyes. Hilarious hypocrisy, and clearly meant to appeal to ignorance; but now we have ads appealing to our ignorance of the fact that those long lashes in the ad are a triple set of falsies.

    However, I can’t agree that some of the images of today aren’t full-art– they catch me, and give me ideas and jumping off points for my own work. I do think we could do with either a little less fantasy, or a lot more balance in that fantasy.