From the 1890s to the 1990s, women have played the starring role in America's drama of consumption. Since before the turn of the century, Mrs. Consumer,, has made 85% of household purchases. In addition to this powerful economic role, women have functioned as cultural icons, in art and politics as well as advertising, embodying concepts from peace to home to glamour. Meanwhile, during the 20th century, women as a group have shifted their role from isolated domestics to major business, political, and social players. Advertising unintentionally has served as a recorder of the century's cultural revolution in the external and internal lives of women.
The 1890s through the 1910s. In the post-Industrial Revolution era, abundance was not a product of the hands, but of the purse. Upper-class women were beneficiaries of male-directed mass production and decorators of the domestic haven.
As the century turned, they learned to buy rather than make. Advertising tutored them in die rituals of self-transformation and the rites of shopping within the labyrinth of new department stores. A skill for bargaining for bulk goods was replaced with an advertising education in competing claims of brand merchandise. The professionals of the new advertising industry created a stereotype of beauty for their appeals. The voluptuous, sensual woman of early trade cards became a giggling girl or devoted mother. Early advertising borrowed historical imagery of agrarian goddesses who bring prosperity to the home.
New women's magazines, including the Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, and House and Garden, reached unprecedented circulation among the middle class as they served as manuals for how to lead a proper feminine fife. Advertising became a trusted intermediary for many new domestic products that reached the households of a far-flung American populace.
The 1920s brought to the middle class a kaleidoscope of jazz, Paris fashions, household conveniences, and a titillating social mingling of the sexes. During the decade, advertisers learned to wrap products in the tissue of dreams.,, Instead of selling phonographs, they sold enjoyment. Rather than describing the attributes of a shirt, they painted glamour. Advertisers focused more on the consumer and less on the product In the process, they confirmed an elemental truth: the consumer was a she.
Advertising's New Woman embodied the promise of modernity - youth, sexual freedom, style, and conspicuous consumption. She embraced Me Look,, preached by the missionaries of the markets. Her life was an ensemble of new styles.
Women seized added power and freedom during the decade. In 1920, they won the right to vote. That year, every third worker was female. In die ensuing 10 years, die number of women college graduates increased by 300%.
With the 1920s, celebration of the female form came America's first war on fat. The ultra-glamorous flapper deliberately countered the suffragettes, dowdy attire and militant attitude.