Women's Work in the Long 19th Century

Stop to Smell the Perfume - Cultural Context

One of the businesses most likely to advertise to women in the 19th century was beauty product manufacturers, and perfume was one of the items most distinctively linked to class status through strategic advertising campaigns. Even perfume ads that seemed relatively straightforward and that relied solely on print text were closely associated with social class. Their placement in venues such as Peterson's Ladies National Magazine linked them to consumers' sense of social status. Careful word choice, as in the ad below for toilet water (a light form of perfume), employed terms like "violet" to connote airiness and delicacy, traits with special appeal to middle-class women. Those kinds of associations were especially important for fragrance marketers to emphasize, since some stereotypes connected heavy use of perfume with prostitutes (Banner 43).

Some manufacturers produced advertising cards soaked in a fragrance to attract women's attention. The visual details in these ad cards were chosen to complement the fragrance while tapping into feminine ideals and desires of the day. Women portrayed on the cards would be wearing beautiful clothing and would typically be posed in an appealing setting. For example, some cards, like the advertisement for Murray and Lanman's Florida Water pictured here, showed theatrical-looking women (e.g., Indian princesses with elaborate costumes, Japanese or Chinese ladies posed in rich silks) very different from the consumers being targeted by the advertisements, yet attractive by virtue of their exoticism (Peiss 146-148).