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.)