Advertising the “Modern” Woman, A nod to Helen Gurley Brown

August 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Something that has fascinated us recently here at Vintage European Posters is advertising’s need to be current, both of the times and ahead of the times. Graphic artists therefore must be on the cutting edge of design and modernity. They aren’t hired because they embody last year’s flavor, they’re hired because they know what’s coming next. We see this especially with posters that feature women, not just any women, but “today’s women.”

Cheret, La Diaphane, 1898

At the end of the 19th century, it was common for artists like Jules Cheret (our favorite granddaddy of vintage posters) to feature “modern” and independent women. Even the color of their hair was modern, for in 1898, when this poster was printed, women were just starting to dye their hair. Originally, red or colored hair was the mark of a fast woman, and only at the turn of the century did it become a sign of a “liberated” woman. La Diaphane features 1890’s ‘it girl’ Sarah Bernhardt endorsing rice powder .

Fournery, Cycles de Dion Bouton, 1925

A quarter of a century later, this poster advertising Cycles de Dion-Bouton shows a new modern woman, complete with a short bob hairstyle, and a skirt that scandalously falls above the ankles. She is modern, liberated, and fashionable, and she’s chosen the modern bicycle as her method of transportation.

Galli, Las Vegas, 1955

This bikini-clad bombshell in Stan Galli’s Las Vegas travel poster embodies the independent woman of the 1950’s. In what is generally considered a quite conservative decade, this modern woman is scantily clad, enjoying the “day time sun” and looking forward even more to “night time fun.”

As the 20th century came to a close, so too did the century most noted for the western woman’s liberation. From suffrage rights to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl , no other century has seen such dramatic change in women’s lives. This last poster, designed by the prolific poster artist Rene Gruau, shows a woman not only fashionably liberated, but sexually liberated as well.


Gruau, Moulin Rouge, 1980

It is perhaps the advertising poster, more so than any other popular art form, that can illustrate what is au courant, from must have modern appliances to modern fashion, from modern automobiles to the modern, liberated women.





Written by Emily Jackson, media intern &

Elizabeth Norris, owner

Vintage European Posters

Founded 1997

2201 Fourth Street

Berkeley, CA 94710

510 843 2201


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§ One Response to Advertising the “Modern” Woman, A nod to Helen Gurley Brown

  • Charlton says:

    I would agree that posters for things such as health products or appliances can tell you a great deal about life in that period and attitudes too. I have a book of 50s posters and it really does help paint a picture of what aspirations were, what attitudes to health are and also how women are treated in society.

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