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.
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 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.
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.
“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.”
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 ad from 1976 – Julie Ann Forshee
Breck Girl Yvonne Schneider (1977)
TV commercial with several vintage Breck girls
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 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.
Ann Basinger and her daughter Kim Basinger (1974)
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 Girl Pat Dow (1973)
Breck pastel portrait of Dianne Harris (1973)
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.
Vintage Breck ad from 1968 – Helen Kirk
Breck Girl, model Cheryl Tiegs (1968)
TWA Hostess Judy Neumann was voted “The girl in the air with the most beautiful hair!’ (1964)
Don’t wash the daylights out of your hair. Shampoo the daylight in — with Breck. (1964)
A little blonde Breck girl (1956)
There are three Breck shampoos for three different hair conditions (1952)
Breck beautiful hair (1948)
Breck shampoos & hair lotions (1948)
Breck beautiful hair (1946)
There may be very little difference between shampoos, but what little difference there is, oftentimes is very important.