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Hair & Beauty Adverts from the 1930s

In late 1929, the Wall Street stock market crashed. This lead to the Great Depression – the longest, deepest and most widespread economic downturn of the 20th century.

As a result, manufacturing decreased worldwide, leading to high rates of unemployment. This hurt advertising and the number of adverts placed in newspapers and magazines declined. However, people still read papers and bought magazines despite the poor economic situation.

Radio was also a little bit responsible for the decline in print adverts. Radio set ownership was growing each year and fast becoming a very popular form of entertainment. Advertisements were broadcast right into someone’s home, alongside the shows and dramas.

Additionally, the advertisers sponsored popular radio shows and dramas. In fact, the term soap opera originated in the early 1930s from the dramas that were sponsored by the soap manufacturers.


A smooth and youthful complexion was the beauty ideal for women in the 1930s. Subsequently, beauty adverts often dictated to women that to look lovely was your social duty. 

Adverts further suggested that without a lovely complexion one would never be able to snag and keep a man. His eyes may wander to someone who did have that desirable youthful glow. In a word, if he left it was all your fault. 

Hollywood had a strong influence on the cosmetic industry. Film stars commonly appeared in cosmetic adverts, which often gave a mention to the star’s latest film. 

Brands occasionally depicted working women in their adverts. This was usually limited to nurses, secretaries, schoolteachers, switchboard operators and the like. Ultimately, working women were seen as inferior to the working man. 

However, a new type of working woman came along – namely, the aviator. She was depicted in all sorts of adverts as strong and capable. This was directly inspired by Amelia Earhart and her trailblazing flights that catapulted her into fame worldwide. Similarly, the air stewardess started to be seen in advertisements.

During World War II (1939-1945), more images of women at work were used in adverts. Wartime meant that women had, once again, taken over the jobs usually done by men. These adverts often applauded a woman’s role in the workplace.


Shaving adverts were a dominant presence in publications and were aimed at “the successful businessman”. They sold the idea that masculinity and success were achieved via a clean-shaven face. Therefore, the use of shaving products, such as razors and aftershave, was paramount to this.

The businessman was seen as the modern consumer and he could afford leisure time. Being outdoors and enjoying the fresh air, sunshine and exercise were considered healthy. In a word, healthy men enjoyed being outdoors.

Advertisers linked masculinity to mental and physical health. A clean-shaven face was the face of success.

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Find Out More

Rooks, Noliwe; Pass, Victoria R. & Taylor, Ayana Weekley. (2017). Women’s Magazines in Print and New Media. Routledge.

2 thoughts on “Hair & Beauty Adverts from the 1930s”

  1. Lovely pictures in the adverts. I can see the depiction of women as “getting stronger” more confident and less demure towards the end of the 30s. An early girl power of its day I guess

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