“Good Looks”

Commercialized Beauty and Health
  • Kelly Schrum
Part of the Girls’ History and Culture book series (GHC)


As this joke in a high school yearbook illustrates, teenage girls understood the commercialized nature of “good looks” and their significance for young women by the mid-1920s. Beauty, health, and cosmetics were bound up with the construction of high school girls’ culture as was fashion. But teenage girls displayed interest in adult beauty culture long before manufacturers, retailers, and marketers recognized their potential as a distinct market. Girls negotiated messages and products designed for adult women, incorporated them into their habits and friendships, and explored the links between consumer goods, appearance, and femininity in an effort to participate in the growing commercial beauty culture. Makeup and permanent waves symbolized adult looks and privileges, yet girls integrated them into teenage rituals such as pajama parties and makeovers. Girls used beauty products to experiment with femininity and with their roles as teenage girls in the same way they adopted clothing styles, exploring various looks for private and sometimes public display. Consuming beauty products did not necessarily distinguish girls as teenagers, but teenage strategies for using them did.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (New York: Henry Holt, 1998), 3–4Google Scholar
  2. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (New York: Random House, 1997), xx–xxi.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 122–33; Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1985), 10–16Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), 246–55Google Scholar
  5. 42.
    Mary Elizabeth Evernden, “Sonnet to the Lady of the Sign-Board,” Saplings (New York: Scholastic Publishing Co., 1933), 70Google Scholar
  6. 47.
    OGS, Margaret, June 2, 1936; Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1986)Google Scholar
  7. Elizabeth Ewen, Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars: Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890–1925 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1985), 197–201.Google Scholar
  8. 66.
    Mary Trasko, Daring Do’s: A History of Extraordinary Hair (Paris: Flammarion, 1994), 109–10Google Scholar
  9. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (New York: Harper Collins, 1992 [1943]), 217Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kelly Schrum 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelly Schrum

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations