OK, I realize that before vacuum cleaners became available, carrying the heavy rugs outside, hanging them on a washline, and beating them with tools until all the dirt and dust that had become embedded in the rugs transferred itself to your eyes, face, hair, sinus, clothes, etc., was a miserable experience. But — if a woman really needs a vacuum cleaner, why should it be her Christmas present?
Surely it’s a necessary household expense, to be discussed and paid for from the family budget? This ad even spells it out — the “little woman” needs this tool:
The couple pictured in the ad is quite young; if they are newlyweds, I can imagine what happens not long after this embrace. She locks herself in the bedroom or bathroom for a good cry. A vacuum cleaner — reminder of drudgery — is not what you’d call a personal gift.
And, regardless of ads like this, vacuuming is not so effortless that the average woman would do it in a satin dress:
I can see why men would think of the Hoover as a “big, important” gift: A Hoover vacuum cleaner was an expensive purchase. The ads I’ve seen from 1924 never give the total purchase price, just the information that a Hoover can be “delivered to any home upon payment of only $6.25 down! Your Authorized Hoover Dealer will explain our easy purchase plan.” [In 1924 the average monthly income was less than $185.]
I don’t have much doubt that the “Hoover for Christmas” ads were written by a man. (In Mad Women, Jane Maas, one of the first female advertising executives of the 1960s, reported that even ads for women’s products like sanitary napkins were always written by men.)
The Hoover company was still using the old “Give her a vacuum for Christmas” ad campaign in 1937:
“The cleaner that nearly 700,000 husbands have given for Christmas.” And they don’t even have to gift wrap it — it’s “Wrapped in Cellophane”:
“Gift Hoovers are delivered in gay Christmas wrappings to save your time. The Hoover man from your local store will call on you to help you choose the right model, explain the easy terms, and save you a shopping trip. All you have to do is telephone the Hoover dealer in your town.”
This husband’s a hero! He didn’t ask his wife’s opinion — “The Hoover man” told him what “the brave little woman” would want in the way of brand and model, cleaning attachments, etc. How could she possibly have an opinion about the tool she was going to use? This was just between the guys, and the husband didn’t even have to visit a store! No shopping! Plus, the Hoover came wrapped in cellophane “to save [his] time.” And bingo, there’s the wife, on her knees, looking adoringly up at her hubby — “Really, darling, you shouldn’t have.” No, really. He shouldn’t have.
I suppose there are many spousal gifts that could be more depressing (like an un-asked-for girdle, size XXXL) or more impersonal (like windshield wipers,) but if there is any spouse out there preparing to give his/her beloved a vacuum cleaner for Christmas, I suggest that it be accompanied by a gift that makes the recipient feel a little less like a worker bee and a little more like a queen.
In the twenties, a wife might appreciate a pretty robe, or some perfume, or some scented products for a long, luxurious bath:Getting lacy lingerie was always nice: [Shopping Tip: If you don’t know whether the lady is a size Medium or a size Large, buy the Medium and keep the receipt.]
This stylish, animal print vanity case from Dorothy Gray was available for Christmas, 1928:
I prefer to choose my own hats, but this one, made by Gage Brothers & Co. and featured in their 1925 catalog ad, is a real doozy!
And, if we’re talking hypothetical, only-possible-via-time-travel Christmas gifts, I would gladly receive any one of these Art Deco wrist watches from 1928.
But if I’m the one using the vacuum, I want to choose it myself.