10 A Look at Esquire: How Advertisements Have Been Used to Construct Gender Standards

Francesca Milito

Introduction

In the changing economic and social conditions, men looked for guidance on how they were supposed to change with the culture of America. Esquire magazine took advantage of the current climate, giving men a place to find guidance on how they should be living their lives.[1] In 1933, the magazine came out with its first issue and it is argued that it sought to create a new type of male, ones that were consumers. It was generally women who were pegged with this label, but the current climate pushed that women were wrong in their decision making and lifestyle.[2] This idea opened up a realm of subjects that the magazine could use to show men the new lifestyle they should desire and attempt to create for themselves. Esquire offered a wide range of articles that pertained to “food, clothing, decorating and etiquette”.[3] It launched the first men based magazine that was constructed around the trend of  “leisure” for men.[4]

The contents of the magazine generally had a basis for undermining women and their own recommendations on men’s lifestyles. It aimed to establish a male dominant point of view that overruled any and all things that women said, illustrating the idea that women were controlling men’s lives and by following the suggestions in the magazine, men would be able to relinquish this power from women.[5] Esquire aimed to form a relationship with the reader, appealing to what they wanted, making the magazine a one-stop-shop for all things to do with “toughness, confidence, and lack of fear of confidence”.[6] In doing so, the magazine held a range of periodicals from well known writers to satisfy the academics and displayed sexualized cartoons and images of women for men’s own personal enjoyment.[7] The periodical was able to redefine masculinity, molding it throughout the sixties within the economic and social tension of the United States.

Being a magazine, a heavy part of its content is advertisements. Advertisements are a way of communicating to the general public what they should buy to achieve certain qualities and appear in a certain way.[8] It targets consumers’ needs and desires. In the fifties and sixties, the majority of advertisements would appeal to women as they were pegged as the largest consumers compared to men.[9] Women were in charge of shopping whether it was for themselves or their husbands. Esquire changed this culture. The content as a whole pushed the idea that women were wong in their recommendations, leading men to take their lifestyles in their own hands based on what they would see in the magazine.[10]

While it was a men’s magazine, there were advertisements that were intended for a female audience. The image shown is an example of a female based advertisement. The promotion is for perfume and includes a woman who gives off the idea that she is naked from the neck down as no clothing is apparent. The woman also appears to have a sexualized expression. This is in reference to their facial expression and how the advertisement has had her pose. When only focusing on the image it may not be apparent that this is an advertisement for perfume or an advertisement at all. It could simply be a sexualized image of a woman for the enjoyment of the readers.[11] When looking further at the advertisement as a whole, below the image appears the words, “Want him to be more of a man? Try being more of a woman.” The context infers a few things to its target audiences. The first being that by wearing perfume, it makes a woman more attractive to a man. Secondly, it touches on gender stereotypes between men and women on what it takes to be attractive. It alludes to the idea that certain qualities contribute to the femininity and masculinity of genders, and that those qualities are the most desired. Further, the advertisements promise a certain lifestyle that attracted consumers.[12] Advertisements embedded the idea in consumers that the products they were advertising would enhance their lives.

As mentioned previously, the magazine was styled to go against the word of women, yet it included these advertisements that were obviously targeted towards them. This was a growing occurrence by the magazine and it did not go unnoticed by the reader.[13] The reason for the inclusion of these advertisements can be explained possibly by the new type of man the publication was establishing. The ideal man they were creating made women lesser than the male gender. In the context of the advertisement, it gave men the option to either urge their wives to buy this perfume or buy it for their wives to fulfill their ideas of what the advertisement is offering them. It gave men the chance to make their own decisions without involving their significant others, establishing a sense of power over them. It was another way to promote the evolving idea of masculinity.

Esquire magazine was one of the first publications to target men as consumers instead of women. It brought about new ideas of how being masculine involved what they bought clothing wise, what they drank, and the activities they were involved in. This was all applied while lessening the voice of women in respect to their own lifestyle choices, they no longer had a say in it.[14] The advertisements that were chosen to be displayed in the magazine pushed the standards that they were setting for men, it all had an intention for the magazine and its goals. The issues made big waves in the lives of men and continued on to create a well known foundation in the lives of their own consumers in the United States.

Perfume Advertisement in Esquire

Perfume advertisement depicting a woman looking at the camera, with the caption "Want him to be more of a man? Try being more of a woman."
Esquire Magazine, January 1966, United States

Francesca Milito is a Freshman at Wake Forest University. 


  1. The Political and social climate in the sixties was going through changing times. In prior years, America had been recovering from the war and was coming off of the depression. It was these events that led to the change in how masculinity was defined and produced. The start of this change started prior to the sixties, but continued well into it as men found their new roles. Brad Congdon, Leading with the Chin: Writing American Masculinities in Esquire, 1960-1989 (Toronto ; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2018), 6.
  2. Kenon Breazeale, “In Spite of Women: ‘Esquire’ Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer,” Signs 20, no. 1 (1994): 1–22, 1-2.
  3. Congdon, Leading with the Chin., 6.
  4. Leisure was a developing trend that Esquire used as a basis in many of their articles and was brought about by President Roosevelt. It was all apart of men's new identities. The term was used in reference to how men spent their time when they were out of the office in hopes that it would help to increase consumerism around their new lifestyle. The new identity was formed on the basis of boosting the economy by creating consumers out of men. Esquire's creation promoted this new lifestyle. Breazeale, “In Spite of Women.”, 3.
  5. Breazeale, 6.
  6. It was important to create a magazine in which the reader was involved in the magazine in a sense, or they made it feel like they were. By doing this the content was able to appeal even more to the reader if multiple suggestions were made about the same thing. It kept them involved and engaged Tom Pendergast, “‘Horatio Alger Doesn’t Work Here Any More’: Masculinity and American Magazines, 1919-1940,” American Studies 38, no. 1 (1997): 72.
  7. Pendergast, 72-74.
  8. Up until the creation of Esquire, women were usually the target for most advertisements as talked about within “In Spite of Woman”. It showed them what they should strive to be and what they needed to do it. As Esquire emerged, advertisements began to target men in their magazine showing them what it would take for them to masculine. Adlin Asha, “Women in Advertisements,” Language in India 10, no. 3 (March 2010): 18–23.
  9. Breazeale, “In Spite of Women”, 3.
  10. Breazeale, 4-9.
  11. Esquire often included sexualized images of women, simply for the enjoyment of their readers. The woman presented in the magazine were what society perceived as an attractive women and often included what they called “pinups”. Pinups were specifically known to be “masturbatory aids”, without the images actually being considered completely pornographic. Pendergast, “Horatio Alger Doesn’t Work Here Any More”, 74.
  12. Jennifer Scanlon, ed., The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 201.
  13. Readers have previously commented to the publication about the inclusion of women advertisements on the basis that it was supposed to be a men's magazine. It is unclear why they pushed these comments aside, but the inclusion of the advertisements continued. Pendergast, “Horatio Alger Doesn’t Work Here Any More”, 72.
  14. Breazeale, “In Spite of Women.”