Avon Calling, 1940

Avon Company Saleswomen, Birmingham, Alabama, 1940. Hagley Digital Archive

As someone who started historical research with a card catalog and a pencil, I am continually amazed at how much is available on line. Although it is surely not complete, a good bit of the Avon Company archive is available at the Hagley Museum and Archive.  Materials include photographs of sellers and company executives, advertisements, and company business reports. It is a remarkable resource on the history of cosmetics, advertising, and the role of women as wage earners.

This group photo of Avon sales women from the Birmingham Alabama office is an excellent example. (I’ve cropped it for detail—the whole picture is here.) It depicts top earners from 1939. Think of the context—the waning years of the Great Depression.  It is possible that some of the women depicted here were the sole providers for their families.  There are many older faces in the crowd. 

Can we make any differentiation here between the clothing of younger and older women?  Perhaps more of the older women are wearing lace collars. And perhaps a few more younger women have on lighter colored or printed dresses.  The two with the most unusual clothes are sitting on the front left—are they perhaps leaders of some kind? The younger one wears a polka dot top with a scarf.  The older one wears a pin striped suit with a lace collar, an unusual combination to my eye.  Doesn’t that suit jacket give her a kind of authority amidst the sea of dresses?

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3 Responses to Avon Calling, 1940

  1. Katrina B says:

    Oh yes, I see pinstripes and confidence in her look!

  2. JS says:

    I assume Avon barred Blacks in that period. I recall Avon parties in the ’60s. There was always something vaguely coercive about such parties. Everyone invited had to buy something whether or not they liked the products.

  3. Susan says:

    You’re right about all the lace collars! I count 5 pale, solid colored scarves in the large image. Maybe some kind of award? I remember when Mary Kaye Cosmetic sales persons won pink prizes…. And how many of us made our first experiments in wearing lipstick from those tiny sample lipstick tubes given away by Avon ladies? (They tended to be too dark or too vivid to evade parental notice….) But they did seem to be “child size” to us.

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