Women in Advertising in the 1960s — an Ad Woman’s story
If you’re a fan of the Mad Men TV series, you will be amazed by Jane Maas’ insider account. If you’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men, you will probably find Mad Women fascinating, anyway. It’s also funny, gossipy, and well-researched, not completely dependent on Maas’ personal memories of being one of the first female advertising executives in the sixties. It’s full of mind-boggling facts; I found it very difficult to put down.
If you are too young to remember a time when ‘sexism’ was a revolutionary new concept, when the terms ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘glass ceiling’ didn’t exist, you should read this book. If, like me, you were a working woman in the 60s, you’ll find it triggers a lot of memories of ad campaigns (Does She or Doesn’t She?), social customs (‘We never drank in the morning’ ) [my italics] and 1960s fashions. (Maas is a great witness to fashion!)
How to Tell the Executives from the Secretaries
Maas mentions many details Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant gets right, plus some that must have seemed too silly to put on television. ‘As soon as you were promoted from secretary to junior copy writer, you wore a hat in the office…. I never took my hat off, not even in the bathroom,’ said one woman who worked at the J. Walter Thompson Agency. A woman from Ogilvy and Mather explained, “Wearing a hat in the office was a badge. It proclaimed you were no longer a secretary.” (p. 115)
Office Attire in the 1960s
Maas’ description of the formality (and discomfort) of office attire in the 1960s matches my memories. I worked for a bank in 1968-1970. Women were not allowed to wear trousers — not even a pantsuit with matching jacket. The first woman to become a project manager at Clairol told Maas that, when she wore a long-sleeved, knee-length, gray flannel culotte outfit to work, “They told me it was ‘inappropriate.”‘ In 1965, Maas, a New Yorker, was refused admittance to a restaurant because she was wearing a pantsuit.A Different Kind of Office
The entire 60s office environment Maas describes is so different from our own that it’s hard to imagine how so much work got done: “Think about what we didn’t have. Computers, for openers. The Internet. Cell phones. Faxes, almost obsolete today, hadn’t yet arrived. Neither had Federal Express…. Secretaries still needed carbon paper to make copies…. Xerox machines were just coming in….” Even television was so new that some ad agencies didn’t have any interest in television advertising. Peter Hochstein recalls that “the average set had a ten inch screen…!”
Jane Maas – from Copy Writer to Executive
Maas began as a copy writer at Ogilvy and Mather in 1964. At the time, the idea of having a woman handle accounts aimed at women was still revolutionary. “Women weren’t even taken seriously as consumers.” (p. 55) Eventually she handled accounts for Lever Brothers and General Foods. (At initial client meetings, she was occasionally mistaken for a secretary.) By 1976 she was running her own agency. She co-authored the textbook How to Advertise. As an ad executive at Wells Richardson, she headed the I (Heart) New York campaign. She was also a working mother and happy wife at a time when marriage and motherhood were real barriers to a career. Luckily for us readers, her lively mind and sense of humor remain intact.