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Between the 1920s and the 1970s, American economic culture began to emphasize the value of consumption over production. At the same time, the rise of new mass media such as radio and television facilitated the advertising and sales of consumer goods on an unprecedented scale. This book analyzes an often overlooked facet of twentieth-century consumer society as it explores the political, social, and racial implications of the business devoted to producing and marketing beauty products for African American women. It examines African American beauty culture as a significant component of twentieth-century consumerism and links both subjects to the complex racial politics of the era. The efforts of black entrepreneurs to participate in the American economy and to achieve self-determination of black beauty standards often caused conflict within the African American community. Based on a wide variety of documentary and archival evidence, the book concludes that African American beauty standards were shaped within black society as much as they were formed in reaction to, let alone imposed by, the majority culture. It challenges the notion that the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s through the 1970s represents the first period in which African Americans wielded considerable influence over standards of appearance and beauty. It explores how beauty culture affected black women's racial and feminine identities, the role of black-owned businesses in African American communities, differences between black-owned and white-owned manufacturers of beauty products, and the concept of racial progress in the post-World War II era.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-7219-4 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-3751-3 (epub version)



Economic culture, Consumption, Mass media, Advertising, Consumer goods, Consumer society, Beauty products, African American, Black society


African American Studies | United States History | Women's Studies

Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975
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