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‘For the Ladies’

John Strachan looks at women and advertising in late Georgian England.

Later advertisement for Pears soap dating from 1884

Historians have in recent years paid little attention to the cultural significance of advertising before the 1840s, often dismissing pre-Victorian promotional copy as ‘primitive’. Yet advertisements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are both fascinating and socially revealing. England in this period saw significant developments in advertising. Alongside the introduction of nationwide systems of product distribution and a growing awareness of the potential of brand marketing, advertisers became increasingly sophisticated in targeting specific audiences in terms of region, social class and gender.

Both ordinary newspapers and periodicals intended for a female audience, such as La Belle Assemblée, The Lady’s Magazine and The Lady’s Monthly Museum, frequently targeted women consumers, often in gender specific terms. A great deal of copywriting ink was spilt on endorsing clothing and cosmetics, and on the aspirations of contemporary ladies: to wear finer clothing, to have a beautiful complexion, to copy the fashions and personal appearance of those of a higher social status. The pre-eminent aspiration was to beauty. Early advertisements for Pears soap and cosmetics, which date from the 1810s, marketed the company’s goods as ‘modern appendages to beauty’. Ladies were urged to try

Pears’s Liquid Bloom of Roses and White Imperial Powder which, by beautifully tinting the cheeks and lips, bestows a delicacy to the female countenance.

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