Selling the Invisible Woman Drinker: Liquor Advertising and Liquor Retailing in Postwar America

Lisa Jacobson

Drawing upon trade journals, liquor advertisements, and market research studies, this paper analyzes how liquor retailers and liquor advertisers attempted to win women’s consumer allegiance and how women in turn responded to such overtures.  It argues that women played a mostly hidden but often crucial role in shaping postwar liquor markets.  Absent from liquor advertisements, minimally sampled in market research studies, and marginalized in the burgeoning field of alcoholism studies, the invisible woman drinker nonetheless exerted a significant influence over domestic drinking practices, retailing strategies, and liquor tastes.  By 1959, when the Distilled Spirits Institute, an industry trade association, lifted the industry’s self-imposed ban on women in liquor ads, women had helped to propel the rise of vodka—an invisible elixir that became whiskey’s chief new competitor—and shift liquor preferences toward less potent spirits.  Women had also garnered the attention of liquor retailers, who revised their retail practices, store layouts, and delivery services to accommodate the shopping habits of suburban women consumers and, in many cases, their desires to remain unseen.  Paradoxically, by crafting ways to camouflage women’s liquor purchases and their liquor consumption, retailers and advertisers gradually lured the invisible woman drinker out of the shadows and into the mainstream of American life.