“At the Curve Exchange”: Postwar Beauty Culture and Working Women at Maidenform

Beauty culture shaped the work experiences of women factory operatives and office staff at the Maidenform company in complex ways during the 1940s and 1950s. Through advertising, the company newsletter, beauty contests, “Pin-Up of the Month” competitions, and the ultra-feminine form made possible by the company's brassieres and girdles, Maidenform helped define postwar commercial beauty culture. Maidenform employees also had a hand in defining beauty culture, making it an important part of workplace sociability. In the process of producing and consuming workplace beauty culture at Maidenform, women from a wide range of class and ethnic backgrounds participated in the dominant gender ideal fostered by their employer. At the same time, however, their work culture remained rooted in their own class and ethnic identities. This article will examine the ways in which working women at Maidenform used commercial beauty culture to negotiate these divergent identities.