25 incredibly sexist vintage ads


Political correctness has no place in satire. Comedy is an arena where free speech should be allowed to fight for whatever it thinks will make a good joke. Sometimes it misses and lands squarely in offensive or wallowing in poor taste, but if its motivations were pure to the comedic goal… its intention was to make someone laugh.

Funny is often funny BECAUSE its wrong, offensive, or politically incorrect… as long as the joke is there.

Advertising often tries to be funny. Many times, it succeeds so well, it becomes part of our cultural lexicon (‘Wasssaaaaaap?’)

But when cultural norms shift, and ‘political correctness’ rightfully starts to translate into, ‘respect for women’… it can make some of these advertising artifacts quite awkward and tasteless. More interestingly… one can trace where these societal stereotypes originated and were enforced, and why its taken so long to (rightfully) grow out of them.

And some of these… are just the product of misogynistic men who were left unchecked to market a product. It’s hard to believe that even by the standards of the time… these were deemed acceptable?

This also raises the question: What is sexist? And is that inherently a negative thing? Some of these ads answer those questions easily. But just like how the definition of what is considered, ‘sexy’ varies with personal tastes, morals and societal expectations… so does the definition of what is considered sexist.



Body shaming is never a good approach. It’s rough enough just using models with body-types and figures that already present unrealistic expectations (before they are airbrushed into the realm of non-reality). To outright compare a woman to food while even remotely defining any deviation from their presented norm as ‘wrong’ misses the mark hard.



This was shooting for witty clever, and ended up just making a dumb sexist joke instead. One that doesn’t even make that much sense. What do you mean Chef’s don’t cook? Ever seen any cooking show… ever? And she is wearing the chef’s hat. The confusing stupidity here outweighs the offense.



Another attempt at being funny, that instead suggests a woman, that is so at home in the kitchen… is too frail and weak to open ordinary ketchup bottles… when we all know… nobody can open a ketchup bottle without tapping it, running it under water, or using one of those little rubber things. So this becomes more of a dumb joke than offensive. Although it does look like she is about to blow a bottle of ketchup, but I’m sure that is just a coincidence, right?



No matter how hard you try to find a clean take on this ad… the image combined with the copy should have put some ad exec on a watch list. Overly sexualizing youth is disturbing no matter what the product… but that ‘innocence is sexier than you think’ tag line is so beyond wrong… I wouldn’t even type that into a search engine.



At least most of this ad copy is spent boasting about the quality of the stockings… but the large headline wording clearly falls into the role expectations of pleasing her husband with something so shallow as the appearance of her stockings. Appealing to a woman’s sense of vanity is nothing new in the world of marketing women’s products to women. It takes a wrong turn with the weird, disappointed stare from the husband and suggesting that her appearance revolve around his approval.



Proving that clickbait isn’t a new concept… It’s hard to read, but the best I could make out, it tells the story of a secretary failing to ship products correctly until the awesome Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter was put into the mix, then everything worked out fine. But that stupid woman who messed it up the first time… why I awwwwta… then the ‘joke’ is asking if its ALWAYS illegal to kill a woman… like, y’know… what if she screws up some shipping REALLY REALLY bad?



The image of a half naked woman admiring a shoe isn’t so far from what today’s advertising presents… but the whole ‘Keep her where she belongs’ is as subjective as it is confusing. Is that were she belongs? Naked on the floor… by the shoes? Is there a foot fetish thing I am missing here?



Body shaming and pleasing the husband. Marketing to a woman’s vanity has and always will be used to sell beauty products. Suggesting that those products be purchased for the sole purpose of pleasing a man and keeping a marriage intact steers this ad into sexist territory. It is interesting that it’s the mother who points out her daughter’s imperfections. Does that conversation reflect the reality of the time, or did ads like this project a desired reality? The world still struggles with separating the concept of beauty from a woman’s worth as a human being.



If she weren’t crying, this could almost be laughed off as a silly joke. She did burn dinner. Depending on how you read this, the take could be a reassuring husband trying to make joke out of a situation that has obviously distressed his wife. He calls her ‘Darling’ and he still has his beer… and that’s what is important. But aside from enforcing a ‘woman in the kitchen who burned dinner’ stereotype, the offense here is minimal.



To suggest your wife is ‘trainable’ like a pet goes WAY past servant fantasy and enters the realm of indentured slavery. All the bullet points are abhorrent expectations to put on anyone.  Having her naked underneath a maid’s smock propels this past mere fantasy into something bordering on soft-core porn. Couple of finer points to note… ‘Greet you at the door wearing nothing but ‘celophane wrap’ (they misspelled cellophane). Is that a thing? Are there dudes out there into this? I mean, why not just have her naked at the door? What’s with the bondage wrap fantasy? I also like that the address to write to is the conservative sounding, “The Committee for a Better America” located in Washington, DC. I tried to search for it, but found no relevant information. I want to know who was on that committee.



It’s one thing to suggest servitude, it’s another to just have her kneeling by the bed presenting the man food. While the whole, ‘show her it’s a man’s world’ is obviously sexist, it is laughable that the way that should be done… is by wearing a ridiculously unattractive tie and formal business shirt to bed while demanding some dinner. It’s hard to be offended when it doesn’t make that much sense, but the image manages to clearly strike the wrong tone.



Again with the servitude as a measure of attractiveness. At least the guy is seemingly appreciative of the hard work his wife has been doing. If he would have kept his big yapper shut for that main headline… this wouldn’t be so bad aside from the ‘wife does housework, man works’ stereotype. But that in of itself is not offensive and definitely reflective of the societal norm of the time. It only becomes sexist when those roles are expected or enforced against someone’s personal desire to become or do something else. Pretty sure ‘Pep’ is old-school for ‘amphetamine’.



Oh this started out so well… the opening line… a rally call for women to help the war effort and support the soldiers… that’s all good. But then the image chosen to portray exactly HOW they could contribute to the effort?… a sewing machine. And while I’m sure that was the reality for many who got involved, as we all know, women did a wide range of jobs including heavy construction and machinery work. But then that last line… once again tries to make a joke, and just ends up being a dick statement instead. This is also disgusting because it played off some warped sense of patriotism which is equally insulting.



Stating his wife is ‘Happy, Pretty & Pregnant’ could all be factual statements, which makes their inclusion as headline copy more confusing than sexist. It takes a turn when it’s tied to the concept of ‘wife = housework’ and the suggestion he bought these for her… like he can’t do a load of laundry… if the copy read, ‘Boy, am I glad I bought US a new Hotpoint washer & dryer’… this could be read as a proud family man providing for his family.



Besides the suggestion of servitude, I don’t think it would be that out of the realm of normalcy for a woman to desire the coffee she makes pleases her husband… as opposed to disgusting him. Yeah, the man could make his own damn coffee… but in most households with multiple coffee drinkers… SOMEONE has to make the coffee. And you’d think whoever made it, would like others to enjoy it as well. You have to kind of read into this one to be offended. She seems pretty damned pleased with the coffee herself, so… win-win.



The small copy was hard to make out, but best I could interpret… this ad is saying if you have stinky breath, your man will abandon you for another woman with a fresher aroma. And while it is true… no one likes the smelly kid… it tips into sexist territory with that ‘expectation to please a man or he’ll leave you’ trope. The image of a man who two women are ‘competing’ for is more male projected fantasy than sexist.



Using sexy images to move product is a staple of advertising to this day. Is it sexist? I guess it would depend on how you personally define the term. Is this girl being exploited? Objectified? Portrayed in a negative manner? If you thought, ‘yes’… then this would qualify as sexist. But I would observe there are women who wouldn’t be offended by this and recognize associating beauty with products is a norm in marketing. And that goes for both genders. This ad tries to make a cheeky joke, and arguably is one of the least offensive ads on this list. Risque’ perhaps. But this exists in the grey area that relies on personal definitions of what is sexist and where the line is crossed between associating a product with beauty and exploiting someone in a negative way.



Another attempt at some naughty humor with suggestive copy innuendo. It falls on the side of exploitative, but mostly in an attempt to make a stupid joke. But this tradition of coupling beauty with product with some text innuendo is still a highly used tactic in today’s marketplace. The takeaway from this ad seems to be… pointy. They are so pointy.

Ok… author makes a sexist joke in an article about sexism. Lighten up, buttercup.


Hopefully no one was put off by the ratings or assessments. This was done purely off the cuff both for some light-hearted humor and perhaps a bit of self-examination while reflecting on where our cultural norms were, and where they have evolved to now. Sexism as an institution is obviously a negative thing for our society. But it’s a topic that isn’t clearly defined and what is sexist in a negative way for one person, might be sexist in a not so offensive way to another. Advertising plays along this line, often pushing boundaries and re-shaping and reflecting the shifting cultural norms that define what is acceptable in our current society. The ‘norm’ seems to be whatever someone can get away with that results in the most minimal of backlash. In today’s climate, you can find someone who is offended about anything. Post any opinion online, someone will beg to differ. But if the masses don’t object, then it achieves acceptability.

That’s why some of these ads are obviously sexist in a negative way to some people, and some won’t be. 10 different people would probably give 10 different opinions based on their own prejudices they have around the concept of what is, or what is not, sexist.

Our society as a whole has progressed from the environment in which most of these ads were created. An awareness exists in the current climate that seems to be shining a light brighter than ever upon those who would be offensively sexist, or worse, towards women. Punishments are coming where previously, those offenses went unpunished. As a whole, progress has been and is being made.

It would be interesting to know what our current ads will look like to those people 50 years from now? Will our progressive streak have continued to strive for and achieve a level of equality that will make our time look as unfair and sexist as we view the period in which these ads were created?