Most of us have seen an episode or two of Mad Men, and have been taken into the “man’s world” that was mid-century advertising. Yes, it was certainly a different time back then — women were encouraged to be homemakers, segregation was fully a thing, and everyone downed tumblers of scotch at lunch. But wow. Even though we’re well aware that we’ve come a long way since the mid-20th century, we’re still shocked every time we come across sexist, racist, and downright-offensive vintage ads. We’ve collected some of the worst vintage ads that clearly depict the world everyone lived in a mere 50 years ago.


Thank goodness we’ve grown out of that phase, right?

It’s true that some problematic marketing tactics and campaigns still eek their way through the cracks today. Do we have to think about the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad again and that weird Dove commercial where black women transformed into white women? Yikes times a thousand.

We are certainly nowhere near living in a totally equal utopia — that much is for sure. But as we look back on these totally offensive vintage ads, let’s be thankful that we are least out of the dark age that was mid-century marketing. Phew.

1. “Sooner or later, your wife will drive home.”

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This vintage ad for Volkswagen, implying that women can’t drive for ish, reads:

“Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things. If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it doesn’t hurt you very much… It may make you furious, but it won’t make you poor.” Not only does this ad claim that women are bad drivers, but it also assumes that a woman can’t own her own car. Huh. Interesting.

2. “These charms may be wasted if she uses the wrong deodorant.”

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Sure, her hair, eyes, and teeth may be flawless.

But, gentlemen — if she uses the wrong deodorant (and it fails), then kick that gal to the curb! This vintage ad, seemingly from the ’40s, may look like it’s targeted at men because it’s telling them to be wary of the women they date. However, in actuality, it’s telling women that men aren’t going to like them if they stink. Twisted, we know.

3. “It’s a man’s world.”

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Van Heusen ties are “For men only!” this mid-century ad claims.

It continues: “Brand new man-talking, power-packed patterns that tell her it’s a man’s world…and make her so happy it is.” We’re actually crying. This ad is so offensive that we can only laugh at the absurdity and breathe a sigh of relief that we’re not indulging this mentality anymore.

4. “Assert yourself.”

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That isn’t the only problematic tie ad Van Heusen released decades ago.

In fact, they had an entire line of vintage ads that thrived off of toxic masculinity. This ad asked men, “Are you a man… Or a mouse?” and shows two different scenarios — a man dragging a woman by her hair, and a woman dragging a man by his. “Assert yourself…in these bold, bold colors!” Hm…no thank you.

5. “If she doesn’t give it to you…”

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“…Get it yourself.”

Yup, this ad for Jade East aftershave is not only sexist, but it’s also fairly racist. Likening a bottle of aftershave to a sexualized Asian woman would be considered inappropriate marketing in today’s world. But things were clearly different a few decades ago. Thank goodness this isn’t commonplace anymore.

6. “Gray Hair Cost Her Her Job!”

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“She was willing and capable, but gray hair made her look old and slow,” this vintage ad for hair dye reads.

It continues, “‘A younger woman would work more snappily,’ was the verdict.” It’s sad that women in the workplace (a new concept altogether) were judged so harshly for their appearance rather than their skills. But that was simply the way the cookie crumbled back then.

7. Dr. Fred Palmer’s Skin Whitener.

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“Join in the fun! Brighten up your life! Your skin will come alive, and you will too, when you start using Dr. Fred Palmer’s Skin Whitener, an exclusive formula for a lighter, smoother, lovelier, complexion,” this ad reads. Yikes, yikes, and more yikes. The sad part about this ad is that it might be vintage, but there are still a ton of skin whitening creams on the market, particularly in Asian countries. So, although we’d like to believe that this is simply a sad piece of history, it remains a popular beauty trend.

8. “Such little things can irk a man.”

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Such as “gap-osis,” a phenomenon that occurs when there are gaps where a woman’s skirt buttons, as the ad states. She’s pretty and smart, can “divinely dance,” and can even cook. But her skirt placket gaps when she sits, and you know what that means — she’s unworthy of love. At least, this is what the ad for this new type of skirt fastener is trying to tell us. TBH, we’re not buying any of it.

9. “Lost her boy friends because of FAT.”

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Don’t you hate it when you lose all your boyfriends because you gained weight?

It really sucks that people only like you if you’re a certain size and shape, and really could care less about your personality, beliefs, and dreams, huh? We’re totally joking. But there advertisers weren’t. This scare-tactic marketing ploy probably worked when it was released back in the day; however, this totally wouldn’t fly with confident women today.

10. “Keep your mimsy clean.”

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Listen up, ladies.

You simply must keep your mimsy clean and “stop it stinking like an old kipper,” as the ad states. We honestly can’t make this up. This ad for Lux soap tells women that the key to a successful relationship is keeping her mimsy fresh and clean, and can you imagine seeing this ad in a magazine today? We’d literally LOL.

11. “Finally someone thought about you!”

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We truly don’t know what’s worse…

…The fact that these “rich natural brown tone” bandages are called “Soul-Aid,” or the fact that the slogan for this ad is “Finally someone thought about you!” Sure, maybe the makers of Soul-Aid were trying to do a good thing, but the execution is more than just a little bit problematic.

12. “Come out of the bone age, darling.”

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I’ll pull you out of the bone age, if I have to. 

This ad is for Warner’s STA-FLAT girdle that takes the “cave-man manners out of old-fashioned girdles,” as the ad reads. We suppose that means that the STA-FLAT is more flexible and comfortable than other bras and girdles on the market, which is great. But we’re not sure why the ad had to feature a woman being pulled by her hair…?

13. “A gift Mother will appreciate 365 days of the year!”

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A mop bucket.

Yup, get your mother a mop bucket as a gift. If we ever presented our mothers with a mop bucket on their birthday or for Mother’s Day, chances are they would disown us. Furthermore, did the men behind this advert really think mom was mopping the floor every single day? Please, people.

14. “Blow in her face…”

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If any man had the audacity to blow his cigarette smoke into our faces, we would not follow him anywhere.

In fact, we’d probably run in the opposite direction. TBH, we can’t promise that we wouldn’t incite minor violence upon him. We’re not so sure if this ad actually helped men get girlfriends, but we have a feeling that no, no it didn’t.

15. “It’s nice to have a girl around the house.”

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“After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her,” this ad for Mr. Leggs slacks reads. It continued, “If you want to have doll-to-doll carpeting, hunt up a pair of these he-man Mr. Leggs slacks.” Doll-to-doll carpeting makes us want to crawl right out of our skin (no pun intended).

16. “Man-Size Satisfaction.”

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If you liked your pleasure big, like Frank Sinatra did back in the day, and you were a man, then you’d better be smoking Chesterfield cigarettes. And, ladies, don’t even try to light one of these bad boys up. They’re much too big for your dainty hands. Leave smoking Chesterfields to the men.

17. “That’s right boys…”

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You heard right, gentlemen. I am officially on the pill! 

This vintage Yasmin ad is truly hilarious partially because Beach Blanket Bingo’s Annette Fuicello is the star and because she’s the center of these men’s attention now that she’s on birth control. Bonkers doesn’t even begin to cover how strange this advertisement is.

We need to go take a good shower — or ten.


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