In 1950, Cosmopolitan magazine looked a lot different than today's Cosmopolitan, but the audience seems to have been the same then as it is now: young, single women without a lot of money. Unlike Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, which catered to women who had, or at least aspired to, charge-o-plates at Bergdorf's, Cosmopolitan was aimed at the working class woman. I already had a Harper's Bazaar from 1938 that was chock full of perfume ads. How would Cosmopolitan treat perfume twelve years later?
If my issue is any indicator, perfume was a luxury item to Cosmopolitan's readers. It was exotic, expensive, and less important than a fully stocked bar, routing Communism, or finding a husband.
The Cosmopolitan's first ad for perfume comes after the movie star news, Louella Parsons' column, and an ad begging "Buttercup" to keep a handle on her halitosis with Listerine if she wants a second date. The full-page perfume ad is for Lucien Lelong Parfum 6 and Parfum 7, and the copy says, "Lucien Lelong Paris dares to introduce fine French perfumes at $9 for a large 2 oz bottle!...Lucien Lelong believes in perfume for use, day in, day out. Hence this radical move, these two magnificent new perfumes in the plainest, most inexpensive wrappings. Now you know that you're paying for the perfume. Now you can afford to enjoy fine French fragrance. Now you can lavish it on with Parfum 6, a delicious petal fragrance, and Parfum 7, a more worldy scent." I'm guessing that as entrancing as Parfum 7 sounds, Lelong wasn't very successful with this ad campaign.
Two pages later is an ad for D'Orsay Divine with a black and white photograph of a graceful, flame-like bottle with a flat, circular stopper like a saucer set on edge. "Someone lovely has just passed by! That's what you'll hear everywhere when you wear the heavenly new fragrance Divine by D'Orsay. Parfum and Eau de Toilette from $3, plus federal tax."
Over the next few pages is a multiple choice game designed to improve your vocabulary, an ad for California Burgundy with bachelors wearing plaid dinner jackets, and an article called, "What every Divorcée should know". Perfume comes up here in the article's second paragraph: "To the average man...the divorcée is glamorous...He sees her provocatively gowned in throbbing black, reeking of Shalimar, and carrying a pocket edition of Freud." Wow! The rest of the article instructs the divorcée how to land a man despite her obvious handicap (no mention of reconsidering the Shalimar, thankfully).
Moving along, we find an article on how to play Canasta, a novella called Debutante, and an article by J. Edgar Hoover called the "Double-Talk Dictionary" that explains how Communists might try to spin God-fearing Americans to their side. Although Hoover was rumored to enjoy a little cross-dressing from time to time, he doesn't mention perfume once in this article. Next we see a feature on Lana Turner, another "how-to" on finding a man ("Right now there's a man somewhere who'd love to go out with me. But who? Where? How can I find him?"), an article on hosting a cocktail party on the cheap, a profile of a roller derby pro, another how-to article called "How to meet that Man", and finally we get to a perfume ad, this one a few square inches for Cheramy April Showers talcum powder.
On page 99 is a full-page ad endorsed by the American Medical Association that condemns compulsory health insurance. Could these be the same doctors who on page 139 recommend women douche with Lysol?
At the back of the magazine, next to the jump for the cocktail party article, at last we see another perfume ad, a half-page ad for Ciro New Horizons and Ciro's Danger. "It's the one perfume women feel they'd like to own at least once in a lifetime. It's a soaring, stimulating fragrance with an unforgettable personality. Watch her!...And it's not as costly as you might expect." The next page has an ad for Houbigant Chantilly, which is touted as a "perfume that clings" because of its "slower rate of diffusion and evaporation".
And that's it. Five ads for perfume, if you count the one for talcum powder (and 26 ads for liquor, by the way). No wonder so many women grew up seeing perfume as something received at Christmas and saved for special occasions. The reader of Harper's Bazaar was plied with perfume advertising copy every other page. Cosmopolitan's readers seemed to believe that perfume was for the wealthy, or, in the case of Shalimar, the wanton Freud reader. It's enough to drive a woman to straight to Guerlain.