Talking behind her back: 12 really mean vintage ads that could give anyone a complex

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Two women gossiping 1950s

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We’re used to thinking of people “way back when” as being so polite — but if these negative magazine advertisements from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s are any indication of what people were really thinking, there was so much more going on under the surface than many of us realized. 

All of these old-fashioned marketing pitches have a theme: the judgments are harsh, and nobody is worried about subtlety. Whether it’s badmouthing someone’s breath, making a cheeky remark about a girl’s skin blemishes or raising a stink about how a person smelled, these mean vintage ads epitomize the messages sent to America’s youth during those decades.

If you have ever wondered why your grandparents and great-grandparents were so concerned about keeping up appearances — from having a picture-perfect hat on her head to a brilliant shine on his shoes — maybe this will help explain. After being constantly bombarded by messages like the ones shown below, it’s a wonder that teens in generations past went out in public at all.

Take a look back at these mean vintage ads, and pretty soon, you’ll probably want to go brush your teeth again and put on some more deodorant. Just in case.

“Let the tide take her out… I WON’T!” (1951)

What a damning thing to say about a pretty girl out to make the most of her holiday! Attracted by her good looks, men dated her once, but never took her out for a second time. And for a very good reason.* So the vacation that could have been so gay and exciting became a dull and dreary flop.

Unfortunately, you can be guilty of halitosis (unpleasant breath) without realizing it. Rather than guess about this condition or run a foolish risk, why not get into the habit of using Listerine antiseptic?

Let the tide take her out - Mean vintage ads - Listerine - Click Americana

Mean vintage ads: “Go out with him? Don’t make me laugh!” (1955)

Gwen was still laughing when she hung up the receiver. Jane looked on incredulously. “But he has a car, good looks, a good job,” she protested. “So what?” Gwen sneered. “He’s got something else, too… something that nullifies every charm.” Jane still looked blank. “I mean, honeybun,” Gwen said seriously, “that is breath is that way*.”

You simply don’t get by when you’re guilty of *halitosis (bad breath).

Go out with him Don't make me laugh! (1955)

He gave her the air… and was it frigid! (1949)

There he was… that wonderful boy she met last night at the hotel dance! Suzanne uncorked her most glamorous smile, batted her most luscious lashes. No recognition. She waved her shapeliest arm, “yoo-hoo-ed” her most musical “yoo-hoo.” No response. 

All of a sudden it dawned on her that he was deliberately giving her the air… and was it frigid! She hadn’t the foggiest notion why he should snub her so.

Mean vintage ads from 1949 - Listerine - He gave her the air

“Pardon us, Sally! We all have dates with ANOTHER girl” (1940s)

You can’t offend with underarm odor and still win out with men.

She’s doomed to unpopularity right from the start — the girl with underarm odor! When there’s a dance, she’ll probably stay at home. Men will be introduced to her — but it’s the other girl that they’ll take out. Why should they want to be near a girl who isn’t really sweet?

We all have dates with ANOTHER girl (1940s)

How to be a perfect '50s housewife: In the kitchen

“There’s one girl I’ll never dance with again!” (1950s)

“Never again for me, Tom! Janet’s a peach of a girl and a swell dancer, but some things get a man down. Too bad somebody doesn’t tip her off.”

Mum - never dance with her again - Mean vintage ads - Click Americana

Mean vintage ads: “One dance was enough for me… because of that!” (1950)

Heed deodorant from 1950

Mean vintage ads: “Don’t bring Lulu.” (1950)

Don’t gamble with happiness!

Don't bring Lulu - Lifebuoy soap from 1950

Was my face red! (1940s)

“Betty’s really beautiful — but…”

“I know — she opens her mouth, and floppo!”

Why is it Pepsodent Tooth Powder has what it takes?…

Floppo - Pepsodent - Mean vintage ads - Click Americana

“I told you that marriage would hit the rocks…” (1939)

Susan: Mercy me, this telegram says our newlyweds are in trouble again! Mollie wants to pack her bags and come here.

Matilda: I told you that marriage would hit the rocks if she didn’t get wise to herself. Come on –we haven’t a minute to lose!

Banish tattle-tale gray with Fels-Naptha soap!

Gray laundry - Mean vintage ads - Click Americana

Pretty, thin, young and single? Check out these sexist stewardess job requirements of the '50s & '60s

Mean vintage ads: “If she’s coming over — I’m going out!”

“But you promised to teach Jean that new dance step. That’s why she’s coming!”

“That was before I knew she didn’t read the toothpaste ads!”

Most bad breath begins with the teeth

Avoiding her - Colgate - Mean vintage ads - Click Americana

“Don’t ask Mabel — her skin gives me the willies!” (1935)

Read how Mabel won lots of new dates.

Yeast for bad skin - Mean vintage ads (1)

“No, Sis – thumbs down on Edna!” (1936)

Edna had too many pimples… but not for long

Fleischmann’s Yeast clears the skin — by clearing skin irritants out of the blood

Yeast for bad skin - Mean vintage ads (3)

Women: Do you have the ideal figure? Here's what 'they' thought in 1950

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