50+ sexist vintage ads so bad, you almost won’t believe they were real

Sexist vintage ads story

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It’s almost impossible to look back at these often outrageously sexist vintage ads and think, “Oh yeah, that would work today.” Because not only have times changed, but many of these ads were never really appropriate in the first place.

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.

May 1964 - Surprised woman

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.”

Show her it's a man's world - Vintage Van Heusen ties ad from 1951

“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.”

Good thing she kept her ad - Sexist vintage ad from 1960

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.”

1970s Tipalet cigarette vintage sexist ad

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.”

Vintage sexist creepy ad - The game is broomsticks - late 1960s

A cigar brings out the caveman in you (1959)

“There’s a man-size feeling of power in smoking a cigar.”

1959 ad for cigars - Brings out the caveman in you sexist ad

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…”

1960 - It's nice to have a girl around the house

“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.”

1953 Sexist vintage ad - You mean a woman can open it - Alcoa Aluminum

“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?”

Pep vitamin vintage ad

And now for a little ad awkwardness from the fifties: 20 glamorous housewives who REALLY loved their toilet paper

How to hold a husband? Two words: Whipped cream.

How to hold a husband - Reddi Wip - Sexist vintage ad from 1951

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.

Griffin Microsheen pinup girls of the 1950s

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.

Sexist vintage pudding ad - Congratulations

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.

Vintage Love’s Baby Soft 1975 - Innocence is sexier than you think

Love's Baby Soft: Because innocence is sexier than you think? Eww. ('70s & '80s)

“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.)

March 1974 - Try being more of a woman

“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?”

Sexist Vintage Ads - Are you the right kind of woman

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.

If your husband ever finds out - Chase and Sanborn coffee - Life Aug 11, 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.

Sexist vintage ad - husbands beat wives Dec 1949

“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.

1965 - Girl-size-pen

“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.”

Wanted - Husbands for these girls - Lux detergent

MORE: 21 bad vintage product names you wouldn’t see today

“Made for a woman’s extra feelings”

Secret antiperspirant put out this bridal beauty back in 1965.

1965 Sexist vintage ad for Secret antiperspirant for women

“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.

1967 - Secretaries can turn you on - Anytime - Sexist vintage ad for Stenocord

“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.”

1971 - Vintage ad - how to cook for a man

“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.”

Morning breath vintage ad 1950s

“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…

Is it always illegal to kill a woman - Pitney-Bowes postage meter ad 1947

“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.
December 1966 - Sexist vintage ad for Martini and Rossi

“Liberation can be tough on a woman,” so… Vivarin (1973)

“Help for the modern woman” in the form of a caffeine tablet.

Liberation can be tough on a woman vivarin 1973

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.

May 1956 - Trade jobs with your husband - Bell telephone vintage sexist ad

“Look – I’m a mother!”

Ah – a wonderful look at gender roles from the 1940s.

Look - I'm a mother sexist vintage ad from the 1940s

How to be a perfect fifties housewife: Laundry edition

“Keep her where she belongs…”

A somewhat confusing sexist vintage ad from the seventies, promoting some fancy two-tone men’s shoes. 

Sexist vintage ad from the 70s - Keep her where she belongs - shoe

“Get off your knees, girls” (1970)

“Up off your knees, girls. Shinyl Vinyl, the no-wax floor, is here.” (About Congoleum flooring)

September 1970 - No wax floors - Sexist vintage ad for vinyl flooring

“This nice little blonde from Barcelona will romance you all the way to Spain.”

Sep 4, 1970 Life (10)

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

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.

Vintage sexist National Airlines ad from the 70s

Pilots love pretty noses (1944)

LIFE Jan 3, 1944 Airplane - Pilots love pretty noses

“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.”

1970 - Where there's a man, there's a Marlboro cigarette vintage ad

“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.

Eva Gabor for Masterpiece Tobacco (1965) - Prefer a shaggy dog or attractive woman

“Your guy – your number 1 reason for Midol” (1970s)

“Be the you he likes.” PS: They mean PMS, girls! Subtle, right?

Your guy - your number 1 reason for Midol - vintage ad

“I used to suffer from menstrual cramps” (1967)

“Thanks to Femicin, she now acts like the woman I married — every day of the month.”

1967 Man - I used to suffer from menstrual cramps sexist vintage ad

“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.

My wife Jean is happy, pretty & pregnant - 1972

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.”

1966 - A man's work

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

Sexist vintage ads: “I want a man!” (1940s-1950s)

I want a man - Vintage toothpaste ad 40s 50s

“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!”

1944 - I got myself a Marine

You won him – now you must keep him (1935)

1935 - You won him - now you must keep him - Lux soap

Remember tasty vintage Maybelline Kissing Potion, Kissing Glosses & Kissing Slicks from the '80s?

“How to sell your husband a mink coat” (1964)

How to sell your husband a mink coat vintage ad from 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.”)

Cigars at the dentist - 1960s - sexist


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)

Clairol vintage sexist ad - six ways to turn her on

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.

Maybelline vintage ad for Kissing Slicks from 1980

Body image: Oh, how times change

“Men wouldn’t look at me when I was skinny” (1930s-1940s)

Men wouldnt look at me when I was skinny 1930s-1940s

Women: Do you have the ideal figure? Here's how to tell. (1950)

“A wife can blame herself if she loses love by getting ‘middle-age’ skin” (1940s)

middle age skin palmolive vintage ad 1940s

Want your hubby to show affection? Get booze.

“The wife most likely to be kissed… always puts beer on her shopping list!”

1958 Couple with beer - Wife most likely to be kissed

“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!”

May 1956 Budweiser beer - What a kiss I got sexist vintage ad

“Any woman knows what to expect when she gives him the best” (1953)

Any woman knows what to expect - Christmas presents bad vintage ad from 1953

Bad vintage Christmas ads: 20 retro holiday sales pitches that you'd never see today

“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.”

Vintage 1960s sexist ad for Stratolounger

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.

American Airlines stewardess - your mother - 1968

ALSO SEE: Bad vintage Christmas ads: 20 retro holiday sales pitches that you’d never see today

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Comments on this story

3 Responses

  1. Can’t see much has changed. Congress and Hollywood make decisions based on what they think Americans need or want both of which have little to do with reality. Unfortunately tv and movies have changed the art imitates life maxim. For a long time now life has imitated what people see on screen. Traffic stops with people yelling at police, using weapons and fleeing with car chases endangering innocent lives.

  2. All ads play on insecurities to an extent, but it’s interesting to see how sexist themes changed over time. Before feminism and the sexual revolution, the ads focused on gender roles and the anxieties around them; women needed to feel they were good wives, and men needed their dominant self-image reinforced. But afterward, these ads were largely about making yourself (or viewing yourself as) sexually attractive. Today we groan and roll our eyes when we see these ads, but advertisers still use the basic principles of inadequacy, albeit more subtly. And, if all else fails, grab their attention with a picture of a pretty, scantily clad lady…

  3. The one with the pudding tarts actually strikes me as condescending to he husband. I mean, he’s not even a vice-president. He’s an ASSISTANT vice-president. Until I saw this ad, I didn’t even know this position existed. He wasn’t even important enough to make vice-president. So my takeaway was she was congratulating him on getting a useless promotion and consoling him with pudding tarts like she would a child who got the role of a background character in a play.

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