In a 1922 discussion of appropriate femininity, the author noted that “perspiration... steals away that natural freshness and fragrance” and “robs a young woman or girl of charm and daintiness.” Women navigated a complex system of etiquette in the early twentieth century to not only be perceived as beautiful-- but also as feminine. Newly available deodorants and antiperspirants offered women a way to smell appropriately feminine.
This presentation will discuss the origin and growth of the deodorant industry in the United States and explore how companies combined messages about appropriate femininity with medical knowledge—or the perception of medical knowledge to encourage consumers to purchase their product over a competitor’s. This battle for consumer loyalty did not just play out in advertisements but also in the pages of medical and pharmaceutical journals. Doctors and consumers debated whether or not it was safe to stop the body from perspiring and which products were the most effective at ensuring a woman’s “charm and daintiness.”
Cari Casteel is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University at Buffalo. She is currently drafting a manuscript on the social and cultural history of deodorant.