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Advertising Sectioned: The Modern Way to Loveliness (Woman’s Magazine, 1948)

10 December 17 words: Wayne Burrows

The last ever installment of Wayne Burrows' marvelously dry series...

If there’s been one theme these Advertising Sectioned columns have constantly returned to, it’s the sense that many of the things we think of as uniquely “now” usually turn out to have long and complicated pre-internet histories. All the talk of how the digital world is changing everything at some fundamental level turns out to be less novel than it seems, and pretty much continues a conversation that’s been going on over everything from radio and newspapers to TV and video.

In the last decade, for example, the use of image manipulating software to create impossible physical ideals has become increasingly controversial, but as this Boots advert from 1948 shows, the issue has been with us before, just in other forms. Long before we had Photoshop, after all, there were airbrush artists paid to smooth out the real-life wrinkles from celebrity photos, and long before that we had all the classic, Golden Age Hollywood tricks of lighting and soft focus to contend with.

Preceding any of this, of course, there were hand-drawn illustrations like this, with its impossibly wasp-waisted lady perusing the fresh-cut produce of a flower stall, her hat just so and her elegant black glove suspended purposefully in the – presumably richly scented – air. Three years after the end of the war, in the midst of austerity, in cities still blackened with factory soot, such luxuriant, crease-free leisure was mostly the preserve of fantasy, and doesn’t register in the clean lines and shades of the delicately executed commissioned watercolour.

Contrary to a popular belief held almost since photography’s invention, then, a picture has never been a reliable record of any fact beyond its own existence, and isn’t notably superior in its ability to convey truth than a random handful of well chosen words, or, indeed, a lovely painting like this one. Perhaps it’s only the advent of Photoshop, CGI and their like on our own laptops and iPads that has shaken our stubborn faith in images more widely. But that certainly isn’t to say the images and messages themselves were ever any more trustworthy than they are today.

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