Lux for Laundry Ads 1930s

A little social history: A relatively new idea appears in this ad, which I showed last week.

The young woman who says she hates men just needed some advice on how to attract them. Lux laundry soap ad, August 1934.

Here, a friend advises her to wash her underwear after each wearing.

Lux laundry soap advised women to wash their underwear after each wearing. This implies a generally higher standard of living — and assumes more than one set of underclothes, since drying time was unpredictable.

In Victorian England, poor women had to put their children to bed for a day in order to wash their clothes. The family huddled under a blanket while the only clothing they possessed was washed and dried. My uncle Bert, born around 1899, behaved like Garrison Keillor’s “Norwegian bachelor farmers;” believing that a bath “opened the pores” to harmful germs, he would have remained unwashed, wearing the same set of long underwear from fall until spring, if my parents had not required regular bathing and fresh clothes as a condition of his living with us in the 1960’s.

Our twentieth century American sensitivity to personal odors was developed by ad campaigns like this one.

Ad for Lux laundry soap. March 1933. In this case, “It” is not sex appeal but the smell of unwashed underwear.

Ad for Lux laundry soap, March 1933. “Perhaps she thinks she doesn’t perspire. But we all do, even though we don’t feel sticky. Frequently over a quart a day, doctors say…. Second day underthings are never safe.”

Ad for Lux laundry soap, March 1932. “Underthings absorb perspiration. Avoid offending….”

Text from Lux ad, March 1932. “I don’t see how she can be so careless about her underthings … wear them so long without a change.”

“She bathes every day, but she wears her girdle a whole week” without washing it. Lux ad, Nov. 1936, Woman’s Home Companion.

Lux ad, WHC, Nov. 1936. She is wearing the relatively new two-way stretch girdle, made possible by Lastex. “Cake-soap rubbing” is a reference to traditional laundry products like Naptha soap, which came in bar form.

Making women feel insecure about their breath worked wonders for Listerine….

Halitosis ruined her entire evening; she has tears in her eyes. Ad for Listerine, Feb. 1924.

That ad campaign was still going strong ten years later:

Listerine “halitosis” ad, February 1934. “Mostly boys in this picture, but the moral is for girls…. Get rid of halitosis with Listerine.” (The man at right is offering money to any fellow willing to cut in and release him from this dancing partner.)

Why shouldn’t a similar ad campaign work for laundry soap?

Ad for Lux laundry soap, McCall’s magazine, July 1938. The story in comic book format: It’s really unpleasant to be near her, so her friends want the window open; her husband isn’t glad to see her….

“I’m so unhappy. Harry doesn’t love me as he used to….” He wonders, “Why isn’t she the dainty girl she used to be?”Lux ad, McCall’s, July 1938. Having taught women to wash their undies, including girdles, it’s time for them to wash their dresses more often, too. “If she’d LUX her dress the way she does her undies, she wouldn’t offend.”


(Incidentally, someone could make a study of the use of the word “dainty” in such ads.)





Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Girdles, lingerie, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings

9 responses to “Lux for Laundry Ads 1930s

  1. Fascinating stuff! ‘Dainty’ is such an odd choice of word.

  2. To give these ads a modern up-to-date twist, substitute “that fabric softener smell” for “unwashed dainties”. Society has followd the persuasiveness of these ads for so many decades that we now think “fresh” is a scent (!) rather than the absence of pollutants and their concurrent smell. If your clothes smell like fabric softener, you’re smelling lke a pollutant, not clean or “fresh”!

  3. My dumb question is …. was there no deodorant then? I was born in 1944 and don’t remember there not being deodorant when I was old enough to wear it, 13 or something like that.

    • Not dumb at all! Yes, deodorants were being advertised, too. I’ve seen ads for Mum, Nonspi, Eversweet, and Amolin from 1917 magazines. (That’s as early I my trips through old magazines have taken me, so far.) I think the Lux ads were targeting, not just underarm perspiration, but sweaty underpants/knickers. Vintage clothing dealers have seen plenty of damage caused by deodorants that rotted clothing under the arms.

      • “sweaty knickers” — tmi! I have owned several vintage dresses that rotted under the arms, some that I was able to piece something in and fix it, but it seems that’s always where these garments fail. I have never owned a pair of vintage underpants (and never will) so I can’t speak to that problem …….

  4. The scary thing about ads like this is that they feed into dividing women rather than uniting them. I look at this and others like it, right up through the ’60s and ’70s, and it’s no wonder women like my mother were utterly suspicious of each other and assuming that they were constantly being judged and judged negatively.
    I think it’s important that we see things like this, so thank you very much for posting. We forget how cruel that advertising was and how hard it was on the women of the time. Thank you for posting.

    • I attended an all-girl high school and a women’s college, and do not remember anything but mutual support and encouragement to be our best selves. I served for about 20 years on the steering committee of a professional organization that served mostly women, and there were no power plays; we made all our decisions by consensus. Maybe I’ve just been lucky and only met women who valued cooperation; but I suspect the idea that all women are constantly competing for a man is an idea dreamed up by an insecure man. (And, no I’m not a man-hater. I had a father who thought girls could do anything boys could do, and I’m enjoying 43 years of marriage to a man who has always assumed that we are equals.) Come to think of it, I am very lucky.

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