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Style and Status

Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975

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. In Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920–1975, Susannah Walker analyzes an often-overlooked facet of twentieth-century consumer society as she explores the political, social, and racial implications of the business devoted to producing and marketing beauty products for African American women. Walker examines African American beauty culture as a significant component of twentieth-century consumerism, and she 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. Additionally, a prevalence of white-owned firms in the African American beauty industry sparked widespread resentment, even among advocates of full integration in other areas of the American economy and culture. Concerned African Americans argued that whites had too much influence over black beauty culture and were invading the market, complicating matters of physical appearance with questions of race and power. Based on a wide variety of documentary and archival evidence, Walker 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. Style and Status 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. Walker 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. Through the story of the development of black beauty culture, Walker examines the interplay of race, class, and gender in twentieth-century America.

About the Author

Susannah Walker is assistant professor of history at Virginia Wesleyan College.

Reviews

"An extraordinary contribution to research on African American beauty culture... one of the best historical accounts of African American beauty culture to date."—Ingrid Banks, author of Hair Matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women's Consciou

"Style & Status is an interesting, and in many respects, engaging study of the 'commodification of black beauty culture' in twentieth-century America. Susannah Walker reminds us that style matters, and standards of beauty and taste have a significance that transcends the superficiality of the cultural moment."—Dennis B. Downey, Journal of Illinois History

"Walker has provided an engaging history of 'style and status' that will influence many fields of study."—Julie Willet, American Historical Review

"A pioneering achievement in chronicling the history of African American beauty culture. . . . Walker . . . explores the shifting and contested notions of what beauty meant for black women in the context of African American social, political, and economical history."—Business History Review

"Well researched and thoughtfully executed. . . . Walker's new book . . . offers an excellent history of black beauty culture in the United States."—Journal of Southern History

"Walker presents an intriguing look at how even the most seemingly inconsequential aspects of black life had social and political meaning."—Southern Historian

"Walker adds nuance to a growing body of literature that combines histories of labor, business, and political economy with the intricacy of beauty and subjectivity."Walker has provided an engaging history of 'style and status' that will influence many fields of study."—Julie Willett, American Historical Review

"Besides providing important insights about the socio-psychological dynamics of the black beauty industry, Style and Status makes an important contribution to business history through its detailed discussion of the competitive challenges faced by black entrepreneurs in the marketplace."—Enterprise & Society

"Susannah Walker's book is a solid social history that explores the trajectories, themes, and tensions of twentieth-century African American women's beauty culture."—Jill Fields, Journal of Social History

"Walker brings fresh insight to the topic through her ability to place earlier scholarly works in productive dialogue with each other."—Journal of African American History

"In tracing the glory and decline of black-owned beauty businesses, Walker incisively analyses the paradoxical consequences of white corporate efforts to lure the "New Negro Market."—Indiana Magazine of History

"Examines advertisements for beauty products aimed at African Americans and attempts to contextualize the marketing and purchasing of such products within the larger picture of African American consumption."—Gender & Society

9780813124339 : style-and-status-walker
Hardback
264 Pages
$60.00 USD
9780813137513 : style-and-status-walker
Electronic book text
264 Pages
$60.00 USD
9780813172194 : style-and-status-walker
Electronic book text
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