The history of the famous Breck Girl shampoo ads, plus 25 iconic vintage images

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Vintage Breck ad from 1968 - Helen Kirk

The history of the Breck girls

By Catharine Brewster – Des Moines Tribune (Des Moines, Iowa) August 24, 1966

A pretty girl is a pretty girl in any age? Not quite. Fashions in beauty change just as clothes do. The fact was brought home forcibly by viewing 20 years of pastel portraits used for the famous Breck Girl advertisements.

There have been 185 Breck Girls, and two artists have drawn them all. The first girl was Roma Whitney Armstrong of Springfield, Mass., where the Breck company has its headquarters. Her portrait is still familiar, because it became the company trademark.

It presents quite a contrast to the pastel of the current Breck Girl, Diane Wilkens, who is America’s Junior Miss of 1966.

Breck Girls history - 1946 and 1966
How ideals of beauty change is shown in these two Breck Girl pastels. Left, Roma Whitney Armstrong, the first. Breck girl, in 1946 wore very curly hair, thinned brows and a cupid’s bow mouth in dark lipstick. Right, current Breck girl Diane Wilkens, pictured in her America’s Junior Miss crown by artist Ralph William Williams, wears virtually uncurled hair, natural-looking brows and mouth, softly accented eyes.
Looks older

Roma was 17 in 1946 when she posed for Charles G. Sheldon. Yet her portrait looks older to our eyes than the current one of Diane, who is 18.

Youth in itself wasn’t a symbol of beauty in 1946. Roma’s hair was worn at about the same shoulder-length as Diane’s — long hair was popular then, just as it is now — but it was done with many more curls.

Her makeup, too, looks artificial by today’s standards, with eyebrows thinner and more penciled, lips sharply defined with a darker lipstick than is used now.

Breck Girls 1964

Breck Girls have always been “sweet and wholesome,” according to present artist Ralph William Williams, who succeeded to the post of pastelist after Charles Sheldon’s death.

This means that the beauty look of Roma Armstrong, which seems overly-sophisticated today, was considered entirely appropriate in 1946.

The Breck Girls, besides symbolizing “the kind of girl a mother would like her daughter to be,” have come to represent something unusual in beauty advertising. They have always been featured simply in a gold frame with the words “Breck — Beautiful Hair” as the only words in the ad.

Unusual restraint

For an industry prone to exaggerated glamour and reams of promise-laden copy, such restraint is unusual, as is the steady 20-year use of exactly the same ad varied only by the pastel of the girl in its center.

Most of the Breck Girls have been picked simply by the artist spotting them on the street, in offices, church and even summer camps. The first Breck girls were members of the Breck family — employees of the company and friends.

1962 - Breck shampoo

“We have never used professional models,” said Edward J. Breck, chairman of the board of John II. Breck, which was founded by his father years ago with a single shampoo.

“Lately, however, we have used a few contest winners. such as Diane Wilkens, when they were the kind of girl we want. “There are many different ideas of what a beautiful girl is. We have always found it possible to get our ideal from among college and working girls.”

Breck Grl - 1960

The use of pastel, seldom seen in ads, helped give Breck Girls the softly feminine look that has remained the Breck symbol.

Hairstyles and makeup may change, and Roma Armstrong’s cupid ‘s bow mouth may give way to the “natural” look of Diane Wilkens, but the ideal, Mr. Breck feels, hasn’t changed.

Most Americans still prefer the feminine girl. There will be no beatniks or moon babies in Breck ads, and the girls will continue to be “real” girls.


Breck from 1977 with Rebecca Holden

Breck from 1977 with Rebecca Holden


Breck ad from 1976 – Julie Ann Forshee

Breck ad from 1976 - Julie Ann Forshee


Breck Girl Yvonne Schneider (1977)

Breck Girl 1977 - Yvonne Schneide


TV commercial with several vintage Breck girls

This retro ’70s ad ends with actress Erin Gray (Silver Spoons & Buck Rogers)


Vintage Breck shampoo ad 1975 – Donna Alexander

Vintage Breck shampoo ad 1975 - Donna Alexander


Breck Girl Kim Basinger of Athens, Georgia. (1974)

Kim’s a model bride … on the cover of a bridal magazine this season. Four years ago, she won Breck’s national hairstyling contest for high school seniors and began her modeling career.

Breck Girl - Kim Basinger - 1974


Breck Girl Lydia Hodson … from Lexington, Kentucky. (1974)

Lydia was awarded the America’s Junior Miss title because of her scholastic excellence, poise, and participation in community affairs. Breck is proud to sponsor this scholarship award program again in 1974.

The only leading shampoo that isn’t mostly detergent . . . GOLD FORMULA BRECK.

1974 - Breck girl - shampoo


Ann Basinger and her daughter Kim Basinger (1974)

Breck 1974 - Ann Basinger and her daughter Kim Basinger

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Model/actress Jaclyn Smith for Gold Formula Breck (1973)

A couple years before she was known for her role as Kelly Garrett on Charlie’s Angels, Houston-born Jaclyn Smith was a Breck Girl. Here she is in an ad from September 1974, when she was a gorgeous 28-year-old who was working mostly as a model.

Gold Formula Breck has far less detergent, far more natural ingredients. Breck also makes the only leading concentrate shampoo that isn’t mostly detergent.

Breck 1973 - Jaclyn Smith


Breck Girl Pat Dow (1973)

Breck Girl from 1973


Breck pastel portrait of Dianne Harris (1973)

Breck 1973 - pastel portrait of Dianne Harris


Patricia Dow… Our Christmas Bride (1971)

A symbol of the traditional loveliness of every bride, Patricia also typifies the vital, exciting woman of 1971. With this portrait of our Christmas bride goes our 1971 Christmas wish for you — peace and beauty. joy and hope — and a wonderful year to come.

Breck - shampoo - 1971 - girl

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Vintage Breck ad from 1968 – Helen Kirk

Vintage Breck ad from 1968 - Helen Kirk


Breck Girl, model Cheryl Tiegs (1968)

Cheryl Tiegs by Ralph William Williams for Breck Shampoo ad 1968

1966 - Breck girl


TWA Hostess Judy Neumann was voted “The girl in the air with the most beautiful hair!’ (1964)

1964 - Breck Girl TWA

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Don’t wash the daylights out of your hair. Shampoo the daylight in — with Breck. (1964)

1964 - Breck girl - shampoo



A little blonde Breck girl (1956)

1956 - Breck shampoo


There are three Breck shampoos for three different hair conditions (1952)

1952 - Breck girl - shampoo


Breck beautiful hair (1948)

1948 - shampoo - Breck girl2


Breck shampoos & hair lotions (1948)

1948 - shampoo - Breck girl


Breck beautiful hair (1946)

There may be very little difference between shampoos, but what little difference there is, oftentimes is very important.

Breck beautiful hair - 1946

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2 Responses

  1. hi
    my mother was a Breck girl.From canada Newbrunswick
    her name was LORRAINE SANSOM.
    I remember seeing it as a child.It would be i believe in the late 1940’s.Her birthday is today.JUNE 28.
    1933. Would love to see more picks of the breck girls to find her.Don’t know if you can help.
    thank -you
    Heather Ivey

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