Soap and Hope

In the early 1900s cosmetic companies began to understand the power of advertising to sell customers their mass produced products. Advertising of beauty products from skin cleansers and hair products to nail polish and eye shadow often reflected social attitudes of the times. Locally, the Lethbridge Herald carried numerous ads which promoted beauty products to their local readers.

Early advertisement focused on the scientific effectiveness of products. By the 1920s, the majority of advertisers shifted to using emotion to encourage self improvement through the use of cosmetics.

The importance of first impressions, the need for romance, and celebrity endorsements all figured into the ‘spin’ marketing companies put into their advertisements. They presented the idea that a good first impression by those who used beauty products led to romance; this was supported by the approval of attractive Hollywood stars.

Towards the end of the 1930s, the advertisements focused on ‘hope’. In most cases, the ‘hope’ was for a young woman to find romance and attract and keep a husband. Being a wife and mother was what society expected of women, though many men didn’t feel they could support a family during the uncertain years of the Depression.

The glamorous Hollywood star was presented as an ideal way to look, a person to copy. Their endorsements were used regularly in newspaper, radio and magazine ads. This sales approach continues today with famous stars selling hair colour and body lotion on television and in magazines. Advertising still focuses on the notion of attractiveness and presents an ideal by which women and men can define themselves.

The new exhibit “Soap and Hope”, located in the main level hallway at the Galt, includes 20th century artifacts such as a nail and hair care kit used by music director Anne Campbell, and a plastic hairbrush used by author Joy Kogwawa’s mother Lois Nakayama on her children, archival photos, reproductions of Lethbridge Herald ads, and more. It is on display until October 13, 2014. For details visit