'For the Ladies.' John Strachan Looks at Women and Advertising in Late Georgian England
Strachan, John, History Today
HISTORIANS HAVE in recent years paid little attention to the cultural significance of advertising before the 1840s, often dismissing pre-Victorian promotional copy as 'primitive'. Yet advertisements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are both fascinating and socially revealing. England in this period saw significant developments in advertising. Alongside the introduction of nationwide systems of product distribution and a growing awareness of the potential of brand and marketing, advertisers became increasingly sophisticated in targeting specific audiences in terms or region, social class and gender.
Both ordinary newspapers and periodicals intended for a female audience, such as La Belle Assemblee, The Lady's Magazine and The Lady's Monthly Museum, frequently targeted women consumers, often in gender specific terms. A great deal of copy-writing ink was spilt on endorsing clothing and cosmetics, and on the aspirations of contemporary ladies: to wear finer clothing, to have a beautiful complexion, to copy the fashions and personal appearance of those of a higher social status. The preeminent aspiration was to beauty. Early advertisements for Pears soap and cosmetics, which date from the 1810s, marketed the company's goods as 'modern appendages to beauty'. Ladies were urged to try
Pears's Liquid Bloom of Roses and White Imperial Powder which, by beautifully tinting the cheeks and lips, bestows a delicacy to the female countenance.
Pears also marketed a toothpaste, which rejoiced in the exotically oriental name of Pears's Malabar Dentifrice ('for beautifying the teeth and rendering them a personal adornment to the decline of life'). Their most notable brand, however, was their wash ball, a brand which survives to this day, a honey-coloured soap which ensured that feminine skin remains 'delicately clear and beautiful':
MODERN APPENDAGES TO BEAUTY --PEARS'S TRANSPARENT SOAP. This soap stands unrivalled as a Discovery of the highest importance, for its superior excellence in cleansing the skin, preserving it from the weather, sun, air, and co., and improving its appearance. It removes every blemish from its surface, and by due perseverance never fails to render it delicately clear and beautiful.
Such rhetoric excludes the gentleman consumer, of course, and sometimes cosmetic advertisers selling a product which might be used by both sexes addressed men and women separately, marketing the same product differently. For example, John Gowland's spot cream, Gowland's Lotion for 'cutaneous eruptions', a mid-eighteenth century product that was still popular in the early nineteenth century, was advertised in the Sussex Weekly Advertiser in February 1791:
TO THE GENTLEMEN THIS LOTION is an EFFECTUAL, REMEDY for all SCORBUTIC and HERPETIC eruptions of the FACE and SKIN, from the most trivial to the most DISFIGURING and INVETERATE; from the smallest PIMPLE or TETTER to the most universally SPREADING Eruptions or Ulcerations. For redness of the NOSE, ARMS, or other part, and in short for every train and species of EVIL to which the Skin is liable, whether VIVID and INFLAMED, OR LANGUID and OBDURATE, TO THE LADIES It is an acquisition of the first moment to those Ladies whose Faces are impaired from the use of PAINTS and COSMETICS, as there is nothing which it performs as readily as the entire removal of those SALLOW EFFECTS; restoring ALMOST IMMEDIATELY the complexion to its natural Bloom. A moderate application of this Lotion on going to bed, allows the free use of paints in the day. as it infallibly PREVENTS their pernicious, as well as those UNPLEASANT EFFECTS on the SKIN.
Thus men were encouraged to conquer 'vivid and inflamed' cutaneous eruptions, which are portrayed as evil enemies, invaders of the body, while women were encouraged to worry about their personal appearance and the potentially malign side-effects of cosmetics. …