Project Themes

Fashion, travel, and aare all important themes in our project. If you visit the individual theme pages we have created, you will be able to read more about how each theme relates to our magazines. You will also be able to read articles and view image galleries on each theme.

Text on these pages is © ‘Magazines, Travel and Middlebrow Culture in Canada 1925-1960’ Project.

Project Themes: Fashion

Fashion and cosmopolitanism are intimately connected in the pages of Canadian magazines. In the earlier twentieth century, the magazines became both exhibition spaces and marketplaces for imported foreign styles. In the 1950s, as Canada’s own designers began to achieve a higher profile, the magazines promoted Canadian fashion using the imagery of travel, speed and modernity.

Fashion coverage in the magazines included in this study took a variety of forms, including detailed feature articles, regular columns, letters and dispatches from Paris, London or New York, captioned photographs of couture models, annotated illustrations of commercial patterns,  and advertisements. The sample articles and images provided here exemplify all these types of reporting and illustration. Regular fashion reporters such as Kay Murphy or Soiffield (Richard Geoffrey Swaffield) were highly popular with magazine readers, and some of the journalists represented in our selection also held posts as editors or associate editors of the magazines (Hodgins, Mackie, Burke, Boxer).

Project Themes: Travel

Some of the most sumptuous advertisements to appear from 1925-60 in the mainstream magazines represented were for travel.  Advertisers were keen to target the emerging middle class of Canada, the members of which had more wealth and free time than previous generations had had.  The question for each individual belonging to, or aspiring to belong to, this class was how best to spend their time and money.  As the advertisements featured here suggest, travel offered more than the enjoyment provided by fine food, sports and dancing, and tours of foreign cities.  Beyond providing immediate pleasure, travel was construed as a long-term investment: to have gone on a journey, as many travel-themed articles and works of fiction in the magazines attest, marked one out as cultured and refined.  Moreover, travel was a means of connecting with personages one might not otherwise encounter – on a cruise ship, a bank manager from a small town could rub shoulders with a captain of industry, and who knew where such social affiliations could lead, personally or professionally?  In response to this question, advertisers were quick to supply a host of fantasies, as their images of luxury overlapped with solutions to readers’ presumed desire for upward mobility.


Project Themes: Consumers

This gallery presents a cross-section of advertisements from Maclean’sChatelaineCanadian Home JournalMayfairLa Revue Populaire, and La Revue Moderne as they appeared over four decades.  We have selected advertisements for consumer goods that employ travel as a theme in promoting products as various as nail varnish and pâté, although we have also included some advertisements that speak more directly to the construction of middlebrow tastes and aesthetics, so as to provide a wider context for the images and text that make up travel-themed consumer advertising.  Very often, advertisers (such as Seagram’s, Kodak or Community Silver) ran the same materials across all six magazines, suggesting that they saw the different target audiences for each magazine as fundamentally connected at the level of consumer desire.  Whilst we cannot presume to know precisely who read the magazines, or how and why they read them, the advertisements do communicate much about how readers were constructed as part of a broadly-defined audience.  Within this construction, however, key differences across the magazines can also be discerned – for example, companies such as the high-end clothing retailer Holt Renfrew advertised exclusively in Mayfair, telling us not only that Mayfair had a certain elite slant, but also that its audience was presumed to be centred in Ontario, and therefore capable of visiting the department store on Bloor Street, Toronto.

But why use travel as a theme for advertisements?  On one level, travel was portrayed as a pleasurable use of one’s leisure time, and was therefore an end in itself.  The association of goods with images of ease and fulfilment cast those goods in a rosy glow that was meant to boost sales.  On another level, advertisers keyed their imagery and text to the anxieties of the emerging middle class to whom they spoke and, accordingly, offered the cultured worldliness that was seemingly instilled by travel as a means of assuaging those anxieties.  Whether it was skin cream that could give skin an elegant “English” complexion, or coffee that could demonstrate, literally, the good taste of a hostess, advertisers invoked travel – and, in particular, European notions of sophistication – as a means of appealing to their public.

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