From the earliest days of publishing, readers have sought guidance on enhancing their appearance. The Bodleian is putting on display its rich collection of beauty guides, advertisements and artefacts from its John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera.
A 1892 advert for Edwards' 'Harlene' for the hair, claiming that is 'produces luxuriant hair, prevents it falling off or turning grey'
The pursuit of beauty is not a recent phenomenon. From the mid-sixteenth century, authors offered guidance on enhancing women’s appearances. Readers relied on recipes and techniques to make subtle changes to their face, hair, and body. Print advice offered a range of strategies for solving beauty 'dilemmas', from removing unwanted hair growth to banishing pimples to training the figure.
Such beauty advice took many forms: popular guides by industry experts, print periodicals, advertising supplements. This latter category was especially important from the mid-nineteenth century, as beauty merchants increasingly sold their wares via elaborate marketing schemes.
Edward Aspinall's 'neigeline' soap, sold as an 'exquisite super-fatted Toilet soap' in 1896
At the beginning of the twentieth century, beauty advisors advocated the development of healthy female bodies through the publication of figure guides. While fitness manuals promoted a 'natural' feminine physique, this aesthetic was soon challenged by new ideas emerging in the aftermath of war. Indeed, the interwar period saw the adoption of an entirely new look characterized by permanent waves and vibrant colour cosmetics. The 'natural look' was out, and women turned to new commercial goods for a fresh take on modern beauty.
Leach's Hairdressing magazine from 1921
The exhibition is free to view from now until 10th January at the Proscholium
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All images © Bodleian Library