The Career Woman as Consumer: Charm Magazine in the 1950s

Emily Westkaemper

Identifying women employed in business and professions as a growing consumer market, Street and Smith Publications offered Charm: The Magazine for Women Who Work. From 1950 through 1958, editor-in-chief Helen Valentine conceptualized Charm as the first American fashion magazine targeted to women pursuing careers in diverse fields. Charm advocated for changes in business and government practices to improve job opportunities for women, championing women’s skills and touting the personal and social benefits of women’s paid employment. The magazine thus offered visible counter-examples to negative stereotypes about ambitious career women that appeared frequently in the era’s popular entertainments. Charm publicized the purchasing power of employed women by staging innovative promotional campaigns in cities across the country. Magazine staff collaborated with local leaders, businesses, department stores, and newspapers on career seminars, fashion shows, and window displays that celebrated the white-collar working woman’s contributions to the American economy. Charm pitched these events as a way for downtown businesses to counteract suburbanization, as a platform for promoting corporate brands, and as proof of the magazine’s staff’s professional skill. Analyzing Charm content and archival material about the magazine’s marketing strategies, this paper considers the role of consumer culture in the evolution of American feminism.