In most cases, that was the point. Mad Men-style ad men (and, let’s face it, almost all of these were probably designed by men) knew sex sells — and so does controversy.
So what about the consequences of emphasizing sexist stereotypes — something that could have a negative impact for generations to come? Hey, the only future that mattered was how ever many months it took for the campaign to run.
And as long as the advertisements did their job and moved product, companies would keep pushing the envelope as far as they could.
As sexist as these vintage ads were, though, they were only successful because of one thing: the consumer. When someone bought into a sales pitch, that equaled success — and success meant churning out more of the same.
Of course, even back then, people complained. But a few strongly-worded letters sent via postal mail to the company in question could easily be ignored.
But now, with Twitter and Facebook at everyone’s fingertips? Everything from stupidly chauvinistic overtones to minor typos are routinely called out in public forums — for better and for worse.
If these intentionally obnoxious and sexist vintage ads were published today, we imagine the social media backlash would be off the charts. What do you think?
“Show her it’s a man’s world” (1951)
Van Heusen Man’s World ties: “For men only! … brand new man-talking, power-packed patterns that tell her it’s a man’s world… and make her so happy it is.”
“Good thing he kept his head” (1960)
“A display of affection is great… but enough is enough. She couldn’t keep her hands off him. Always the little hugs, the pats on the cheek. Sly pinches. It could drive a man to the license bureau.
“It all began when he wore his first pair of Mr Legg’s Slacks, tailored by Thomson. But he kept his head; now everything’s under control.
“Why don’t you try a pair of Mr Legg’s… and get ready to dig.”
Sexist vintage ads: “Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere”
“Hit her with tangy Tipalet Cherry. Or rich, grape-y Tipalet Burgundy. Or luscious Tipalet Blueberry. It’s wild!
“Tipalet. It’s new. different. Delicious. Delicious in taste and aroma. A puff in her direction and she’ll follow you, anywhere. Oh yes, you get smoking satisfaction without inhaling smoke.”
Creepy vintage ads: Broomsticks brand slacks (1960s)
“Ring around Rosie. Or Carol. Or Eleanor, etc. Fun… to help make you a winner. But if you don’t want to play our way — take off our pants and go home.”
A cigar brings out the caveman in you (1959)
“There’s a man-size feeling of power in smoking a cigar.”
Sexist vintage ads: “It’s nice to have a girl around the house” (1960)
“Though she was a tiger lady, our hero didn’t have to fire a shot to floor her. After one look at his Mr Legg’s slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her. That noble styling sure soothes the savage heart!
“If you’d like your own doll-to-doll carpeting, hunt up a pair of these he-man Mr Leggs slacks…”
“You mean a woman can open it?”
Alcoa Aluminum put out this gem of an ad back in 1953.
Even a woman could open a glass bottle… “Easily — without a knife blade, a bottle opener, or even a husband! All it takes is a dainty grasp, and easy, two-finger twist — and the catsup is ready to pour.”
“So the harder a wife works, the cuter she looks!” (1939)
Pep vitamins: “Gosh, honey, you seem to thrive on cooking, cleaning and dusting – and I’m all tuckered out by clothing time. What’s the answer?”
How to hold a husband? Two words: Whipped cream.
Shoe polish. These are ads for shoe polish.
The guys at Griffin Microsheen decided to go with pinup girls to promote their stain boot polish. These are just four of the ads they put out in the ’50s — and a couple of them that we didn’t include are way more R rated than PG.
The headlines, clockwise from upper left: Neatest “trick or treat” – All-American favorite – Just watch the Microsheen shines go by – Right down the alley.
Sexist vintage ads: “Congratulations, dear, but…” (1960s)
“… exactly what does an assistant vice president do?”
The takeaway: If you’re totally clueless about your spouse’s career, make pudding tarts. Because reasons.
Creepy vintage ads: “Because innocence is sexier than you think” (1975)
No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no nonononononoooooo, Love’s Baby Soft. No.
“Want him to be more of a man? Try being more of a woman”
This Emeraude perfume ad from 1974 also explained what the Coty fragrance company thought that being more of a man — and more of a woman — meant.
“Being more of a man used to mean having 16-inch biceps, or driving faster than everyone else. Today, it means being strong enough to be gentle.”
“Being more of a woman used to mean acting hard to get. Today, it means not acting at all.”
(BTW, they still see this stuff today. See it here.)
“Are you the right kind of woman for it?” (1970s)
“Can you light his fire swiveling to a calypso beat while slugging champagne from a bottle and wearing nothing but one Edwardian rose behind your ear?”
Don’t get the freshest coffee? You might be in for a spanking
“If your husband ever finds out you’re not ‘store-testing’ for fresher coffee…” starts this ad that ran in LIFE magazine back in August 1952.
“Husbands beat wives…”
“… in cake baking contests from coast to coast.”
Oh, yes — we see what you did there. That’s exactly the kind of message that makes people want to buy cake mix.
“A girl-size hand needs a girl-size pen”
“Girls — and girl-size hands — delight in the new Compact Jotter. It’s smaller, daintier, a joy to write with,” this vintage ad said in 1965.
“Wanted: Husbands for these girls”
As explained by the kind folks from Lux detergent back in the 1940s: “Dorothy, 25, lives at home. She has a job, yet she can’t get ahead. She dresses well, talks well, dances well — yet she is seldom asked out — and never a second time. She thinks she is misunderstood. She blames others when really her own carelessness is to blame.”
“Made for a woman’s extra feelings”
Secret antiperspirant put out this bridal beauty back in 1965.
“Secretaries can turn you on… anytime!”
That’s one way to spice up a vintage ad for something incredibly dull — a Stenocord dictation machine from 1967.
“How to cook for a man” (1971)
“One thing’s sure. 365 days a year, your man is hungry. Yet he’s tired of hamburgers. And you’re just plain tired.”
“There’s another woman waiting for every man” (1950s)
“No wife wants her husband to carry the memory of her morning breath to work with him. The attractive women he meets during the day don’t have it.”
“Is it always illegal to kill a woman?”
Here’s a creepy vintage Pitney Bowes postage meter ad from around 1947. The backstory they include is a bonus.
For six months I bend the ears of the home office to get a postage meter. I win… Then the only good, fast, dependable, honest-to-Gregg stenographer I got, this redhead Morissey — balks at a postage meter! “I have no mechanical aptitude. Machines mix me up, kind of,” she says. As if we asked her to fly a P-80. I almost blow my top.
This postage meter, I explain, is modern, more efficient, a time saver… No more adhesive stamps. No stamp box, and who’s got the key? No running out of the stamps you need. No scrounging. No stamp sticking. Just set the lever for any kind of stamp you want, for any kind of mail, and the meter prints the stamp right on the envelope with a dated postmarked — and it seals the flap at the same time. Faster than mailing by hand.
Prints stamps on tape for parcel post. Will handle anything we have to mail out of this office. Even keeps its own records! And metered mail doesn’t have to be postmarked and canceled in the post office, gets goings earlier. It is practically heaven’s gift to the working girl… and so on. But with the Morrissey, no soap.
I try diplomacy. “Miss Morissey, I want you to personally to try it for two weeks. If you don’t like it then — back it goes to the factory! I depend on your judgment implicitly. Okay?”… She acts like an early Christian about to be lunch for a lion, but gives in.
So help me — two weeks later she has a big pink bow on the handle of the postage meter – like it was an orchid or something, I give it the gape. “Kinda cute, ain’t it,” says Miss Morissey. “But a very efficient machine, Mr. Jones. Now the mail is out early enough so I get to the girls’ room in time to hear all the dirt”… I wonder is it always illegal to kill a woman!
We are always learning some new advantages of the postage meter. If you’d like to learn what one could do for your office, call the nearest Pitney-Bowes office…
“What a catch!” (1966)
This vintage ad for Martini and Rossi uses a picture of a woman in a cage to promote vermouth. Because of course.
“Liberation can be tough on a woman,” so… Vivarin (1973)
“Help for the modern woman” in the form of a caffeine tablet.
Madam! Suppose you traded jobs with your husband? (1956)
The sexism didn’t just go one way. In fact, making dad look incompetent was not an uncommon theme.
“Look – I’m a mother!”
Ah – a wonderful look at gender roles from the 1940s.
“Keep her where she belongs…”
A somewhat confusing sexist vintage ad from the seventies, promoting some fancy two-tone men’s shoes.
“Get off your knees, girls” (1970)
“Up off your knees, girls. Shinyl Vinyl, the no-wax floor, is here.” (About Congoleum flooring)
“This nice little blonde from Barcelona will romance you all the way to Spain.”
Sexist vintage ads: “I’m Jo. Fly me.” (1970s)
Jo (and another stewardess named Cheryl) were part of a National Airlines ad that even sparked outrage at the time.
Pilots love pretty noses (1944)
“Where there’s a man… there’s a Marlboro”
This vintage magazine advertisement from 1970 also included the poetry of this line: “The cigarette designed for men that women like.”
“Would you prefer a shaggy dog or an attractive woman?”
Eva Gabor for Masterpiece Tobacco in 1965 poses a question you don’t really hear very often.
“Your guy – your number 1 reason for Midol” (1970s)
“Be the you he likes.” PS: They mean PMS, girls! Subtle, right?
“I used to suffer from menstrual cramps” (1967)
“Thanks to Femicin, she now acts like the woman I married — every day of the month.”
“My wife Jean is happy, pretty & pregnant” (1972)
There were so many bad choices made in this ad — doubly so, given that it came out during the “women’s lib” era.
It’s a man’s work (1966)
“Your wife worked as a single girl and enjoyed it. But it’d be different if she had to support the family. She’d be doing a different kind of work. A man’s work.”
Sexist vintage ads: “I want a man!” (1940s-1950s)
“I’ve got myself a Marine!” (1944)
“Quick as a bunny I changed to gentle Ivory care. Boy did it work! Not long ago, Kay brought over a couple of Marine Lieutenants. I got the good-looking one — and I do mean GOT. He raves about my slick, smoother complexion. Wants to announce our engagement when you get back! Hurry!”
You won him – now you must keep him (1935)
“How to sell your husband a mink coat” (1964)
That’s… not exactly typical dental hygenist attire
What’s it have to do with cigars? Well, nothing. Sometimes a woman who forgot to put on a shirt is just a woman who forgot to put on a shirt.
“Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a dental hygienist?” (BTW, if she takes it, “she’s a bit of a kook.”)
Sexist vintage ads: “6 ways to turn her on”
Here’s a very zeitgeisty way to pitch Clairol hairstyling tools and a makeup mirror (1970s)
Forbidden fruits: “I’m not as innocent as I seem” (1980)
Maybelline Kissing Slicks going for the teen market — and probably the pre-teen market, too.
Body image: Oh, how times change
“Men wouldn’t look at me when I was skinny” (1930s-1940s)
“A wife can blame herself if she loses love by getting ‘middle-age’ skin” (1940s)
Want your hubby to show affection? Get booze.
“The wife most likely to be kissed… always puts beer on her shopping list!”
“What a kiss I got that night!”
“My husband was frantic when he came home from work. He had forgotten that this was the night the boys were coming over for poker,” said this ad from May 1956.
“But I hadn’t. There was plenty of cold Budweiser in the refrigerator to go along with my snacks.
“When they’d gone, he said, ‘Even the ones who lost had a good time… thanks to the good things to eat, the Budweiser and your good memory.’
“(Actually, Budweiser reminded me, when I saw it at the store. When I see Budweiser, I think of hospitality… letting people know you think enough of them to serve the best.)
“Where There’s Life… There’s Bud!”
“Any woman knows what to expect when she gives him the best” (1953)
“Your Stratolounger might make your wife a little uncomfortable” (1967)
“You’ve worked hard so your wife can live comfortably. And she’s given you a fancy living room you can’t even sit down in.”
Sexist vintage ads: “Think of her as your mother”
“She only wants what’s best for you. A cool drink. A good dinner. A soft pillow and a warm blanket,” said this 1968 ad from American Airlines. “This is not just maternal instinct. It’s the result of the longest Stewardess training in the industry.