Fashion and Beauty

  • Nancy A. Walker
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


Long before the middle of the twentieth century, magazines for women placed great emphasis on women’s physical appearance. Nineteenth-century periodicals such as Godey’s Lady’s Book regularly published illustrations of the latest women’s fashions, and some magazines that began in the late nineteenth century, such as McCall’s, originated as a means of promoting dressmaking patterns for home seamstresses. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar have long been devoted to the world of high fashion. Whereas these magazines have primarily addressed the sophisticated, well-to-do reader, by the 1940s other segments of the population were being given advice on not only how to dress but also how to apply cosmetics, keep skin soft, style hair, and smell good. The magazines for homemakers tended to offer practical suggestions for budget-conscious women who shopped at J. C. Penney instead of Bergdorf Goodman; magazines for younger women, such as Mademoiselle and Seventeen, focused on the proper appearance for dating, parties, and attracting members of the opposite sex. Whatever the magazine’s audience, the underlying message was similar to those regarding housekeeping, marriage, and parenting: Looking good was a duty, requiring hard work and commitment. Titles such as “Do You Make These Beauty Blunders?” suggested just how close women could be to making mistakes and did little to alleviate the anxieties about personal appearance that were also being fostered by films and, later, television.


Bronchial Tube Christmas Tree Personal Appearance Stylish Clothing Fashion Magazine 
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Copyright information

© Bedford/St. Martin’s 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy A. Walker
    • 1
  1. 1.Vanderbilt UniversityUSA

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