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Jul 1, 2011

"You've come a long way, baby" or Revisiting the Seventies Woman!

We're traveling again today, kids.  Yesterday we revisited 1951.  Now we're jumping forward (or backward, depending on your perspective) to 1972, via the pages of the September 1972 issue of Ladies' Home Journal.

How things had changed between the early Fifties and the early Seventies!  Unlike the corseted Fifties glamour girl homemaker, always fresh from the beauty parlor, the Seventies woman was confident, outdoorsy, natural.  Yet despite womens lib and the pill, the Vietnam war, political assassinations, and race riots, she was still desperate to kill household germs!

Looking at these magazines side by side, a few big differences stand out to me.  I'm counting on you to point out some of the ones I've missed.

1) Advertising -- whether for lipstick or floor polish -- is no longer set in the context of glamour and romance.  It's no longer about being a queen for your king, looking enchanting, bewitching or even lovely.  By 1972, many of the beauty ads are provocative and frankly sexual. 

Lipstick is now "Wet. Wicked."  A Love-brand beauty ad proclaims, "This is love in 1972."

Advertisers are no longer hawking the latest Hollywood glamour treatment.  In fact, looking like a Hollywood starlet is out. 

Whereas in 1952 a discreet single-column ad for Tampax asked "Do you feel timid and uncertain about the the facts of monthly sanitary protection?" (with no illustration or photo), in 1972 there are more than five full-page, full-color ads for menstruation-related products -- the tone celebratory and shame-free.

Even in a mattress ad, women are in pants and (thankfully) out of the kitchen (and even the house)!

2) The gee whiz!, triple-exclamation-point-ed, most-amazing-appliance-ever! tone is gone.  Products are usually pictured front and center, often alone, and the ad copy is straightforward.  No more miracles, alas.

Shag carpeting, along with ethnic inspiration, is everywhere.

3) There's still a little sewing, but no ads for sewing machines.

4) The liberated Seventies woman wears her hair long and applies very little makeup.  The focus on perfect grooming is a thing of the past.  The new role models are "career girls" like Mary Tyler Moore, Sandy Duncan, Peggy Lipton, and Denise Nicholas -- the only black woman in the magazine but still a sign of progress.

Nobody wears dresses, btw.  It's all about separates (and knits).

5) There are still many food ads and recipes, but the popularity of canned food seems to have passed, and the Seventies homemaker looks more like an ordinary woman (as opposed to Loretta Young or Donna Reed).

6) Suddenly, there are cigarette ads --eleven pages of cigarette ads -- and booze.  The Seventies woman had her vices.

Women now wore pantyhose and didn't have to be photographed in a cocktail dress to advertise them.

Friends -- and I'm assuming some of you remember the Seventies first-hand -- have I missed anything?

Comparing this 1972 issue of Ladies' Home Journal to yesterday's 1951 issue of Woman's Home Companion, what are some of the other big changes you notice -- or experienced yourself?

Do you think women's magazines have changed much since the Seventies?  If so -- whether in the ads or the articles -- how?

You can see many more photos from the September 1972 issue of Ladies' Home Journal here.

Photos from the October 1951 issue of Woman's Home Companion are here.

Jump in.

Happy Friday, everybody!


  1. Great post, Peter! I am a much bigger fan of the 1970s than the other "mid-century" decades (I like the 30s, too). The politics, the democratic/utilitarian/party-centric styles, the feminism, the possibilities for change, the uncertainties, the economic problems, the polyester, the fact my mum was a young woman then- all speak to me more than the glamour and sophistication. I recently read a book caled "Stayin' Alive" by Jefferson Cowie that discussed how the 1970s was the last (real) decade of the American working class, and as a result had to watch a bunch of the movies he referenced (Alice doesn't live here, Five Easy Piece, Easy Streets). Very cool.

  2. Oh, Peter, it only looked like less makeup. 50s women = panstick/powder plus rouge, dark lipstick and maybe mascara. 70s women: (usually) liquid foundation, coverstick, blush, eyeshadow (2 or 3 colours), mascara, eyeliner, lipstick and/or gloss. Your skin had to look near perfect to carry off the no makeup look, so you ended up wearing more products, but with a much lighter touch and spending more attention to skin care.
    I love the 30s and 70s, too. Love the decor pic. Looks very hippie/ethnic chic. McCalls had magazines that had all kinds of knitting, crochet (biggest thing) and sewing. Usually the sewing was just a background for the knitting & crochet, though.

  3. I was born in 1978 but remember the look of the seventies from when I was a small child. What stikes me is how depressing the colors are in 70's advertising compared to the 50's. The 50's look is much more appealing to me, even knowing that the women had a hard time living up to all the perfect homemaker expectations. I also prefer the polished 50's look to the 70's hippie look. All a matter of taste, I guess.

  4. Funs posts, Peter. I was born in 51' and married in 72'. The difference in the ads reflect that by 72' women wanted a bit more out of life than being recognized as the best pie baker on the block.

    My fashion influence in 72' was more from TV than magazines. My husband once asked why I always dressed like a gypsy....that was interesting....I thought I was dressing like Rhoda Morgenstern.

  5. Great post, Peter. I graduated from high school in 1972 and was a freshman in college when this magazine came out. It looks pretty typical of the time. I remember that there were sewing projects, but they usually revolved around holidays and small gifts. I was making many of my clothes then, but I only looked at magazines to get an idea of what I wanted to make. While the magazine didn't talk about sewing, fabric and notions were still very easy to come by with all department and dime stores had fabric and patterns.

  6. The biggest change from my childhood in the early sixties to my teenage years in the seventies-- people stopped telling me, "Oh, girls can't do that." Suddenly, I went from being told that I couldn't be a science major and become an engineer to being encouraged (by my teachers) to do just that.

  7. One of the things that strikes me about the 70s magazine as opposed to the 50s is the number of articles on things like politics, consumer issues, etc. Being a woman wasn't just about being a pretty face anymore, you were expected to be knowledgable as well.

    I was born in the 70s and there was a movement from that time period up until around the mid-90s to make women's magazines more like mens. That meant they covered a lot of news and politics and so on, obviously written from a woman's point of view. I can't recall exactly when that changed, but I find it depressing. I think the only magazine that still carries newsworthy items is Marie Claire (unless they've dumbed that one down too) but I can recall reading a lot about women's issues in Glamour, Cosmo, Mademoiselle and Sassy.

  8. Thanks for posting all those pictures. Looking at them made me feel nostalgic and a little sad. I was just starting high school in 1972 and it was not a happy time. Just as in 1951, the magazine copy and ads were only reflective of reality in a highly stylized, sanitized way intended to sell stuff. Real life was much messier, of course. I kept thinking while I was looking at this that the ads showed the older generation's attempt to understand what was going on in the culture, not entirely successfully.

  9. I'm finding this little social history discussion fascinating, thanks Peter! I love the Simplicity ad. I hope that as the interest in sewing grows again that department stores will turn to stocking fabric, notions and patterns again.

  10. Great post . Combined with the one from yesterday and another relating to the nineties you have a great magazine article which could be accompanied with current fashion shots.

  11. I'm in total agreement with PinkPegasus. I love the Simplicity pattern ad. How I would LOVE to see the return of the fabric department in all (or at least most) of our department stores! And not just quilt/craft fabric either, I'm tired of that craze!

    I was just beginning my sewing journey in the late 70's, and witnessed first hand the demise of home sewing. I remember going to a bunch of stores to buy fashion fabric for 2 or 3 years, and then everyone phased it out.

    I have to travel 50+ miles to the nearest JoAnn store. Thank heaven for the internet!

  12. I noticed the prevalence of legs-apart poses, compared with the current "I have to pee" crossed ankles or coy pigeon toes. I wonder what's happening there?

  13. Such an enjoyable and groovin' blogpost, Peter! The 70s's ds speak loudly for themselves and says so much about the evolving roles of women. The Virginia Slims ads could not get me to smoke, but looking back, they give me a message that women can be fashionable, strong, and independent. I thought "That Girl", "Julia", "The Mary Tyler Moore", and "Get Christie Love" had groundbreaking TV roles for women. Now, who could forget "Charlie's Angels"! I don't think the current version could have the same impact as original.

  14. interesting to think of the history and follow it back. I was born in the late 70s, but i do remember department stores having fabric etc.

    i hate that i only have JoAnn's and a small expensive quilt shop for fabric. (I refuse to shop at Walmart.)

    Thanks for sharing!

  15. I was a teenager in the seventies.

    The writer Germaine Greer says it best in her more recent book The Whole Woman: "The Female Eunuch [her own book published in 1970] was one feminist text that did not argue for equality. At a debate in Oxford one William J Clinton heard me arguing that equality legislation could not give me the right to have broad hips or hairy thighs, to be at ease in my woman's body. Thirty years on femininity is still compulsory for women and has become an option for men, while genuine femaleness remains grotesque to the point of obscenity . . .When The Female Eunuch was written our daughters were not cutting or starving themselves."

    At the beginning, they also weren't stuffing their breasts with foreign objects to meet an "ideal". For me, the happy clappy tampon ads are a good example. "A woman's period is invisible, does not cause any pain or discomfort or mess or mood changes. No, no we are perfect and slim and pretty and pert and smiley and as active as any man in our stain-free pants with our spread legs for your delectation."

    Another comment Germaine made in FE was that women were in the process of graduating from being treated as rubber dolls to pinball machines. Previously they just had to be malleable and receptive, now they have to ring all the bells and flash all the lights on cue.

    Sewing by the way was very much sneered at by the fashionable crowd in the seventies. Women's traditional skills were not valued. Being sexy the "right way" was required.

  16. I was just flipping through my 1972 Butterick Home Catalog and noticed that most of the models didn't seem to have their hair dyed. That was nice, seeing as how today, even though we still have the natural look being in for women, SO many of them dye.
    Loved looking at all the pictures and reading the analysis you gave. I think I have a 1940s Ladies Home Journal, I'll be comparing it as well.

  17. I think those magazines didn't have the most-amazing-appliance-ever ads because those were reserved for television.

    As someone with very limp, fine hair, I HATED the 70s with its feathered wings and curling irons and would be very happy to erase the entire decade, fashion-wise. Ugh.

    I was learning to sew as a teenager in the late 70s. Everything fastened with buttons and there was an abundance of patch pockets and cuffed sleeves. I won't elaborate on the horrible fabrics!

    I remember my mother was overjoyed at being able to wear pants whenever she wanted. I couldn't though: girls couldn't wear pants to school when I was a kid -- and we lived in Los Angeles. Nowadays, they can wear shorts! Whippersnappers!

    I like it that the Virginia Slims model looks a bit like Mary Tyler Moore.

  18. @ ~Beth D.: WalMart ditched their fabric department over a year ago. They had to expand the Electronics Dept. WalMart has an aisle with craft/sewing stuff, but it's sort of a lip-service effort.

    I avoid that store, but find myself inside about once a year as I end up accompanying someone who shops there (guilt by association?).

    JoAnn's is a modern day example of what's wrong with monopolies; inferior quality at slightly higher prices.

    Ode to the Internet!

  19. Gone are the days of serving food made from canned food (apricot chicken). Thank goodness.

  20. I remember with warm fondness the fashions from the 1970s and how spot on " That '70s Show " was with their depiction of it.

    I proudly wore polonecks aka turtlenecks ( cotton skivvy shirts as well as the light skinny ribbed wool version with high hickey covering collars ) with everything :)

    Teamed with flared slacks, flared jeans, plaid blazers, under vests, chunky cardigans, scoopnecks, V-necks, etc., etc.

    Then the '80s came and took all that awesome nerdy style away and replaced it with vastly inferior rubbish I'd rather forget.



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