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Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975

by Susannah Walker

Availablecloth$40.00 978-0-8131-2433-9
Availableweb pdf$40.00 978-0-8131-7219-4
Availableepub$40.00 978-0-8131-3751-3
264 pages  Pubdate: 02/23/2007  6 x 9  photos

In Style and Status, Susannah Walker examines twentieth-century commercial beauty culture in terms of race and gender. She demonstrates that while black women's beauty culture often mirrored that of white women in important ways, it remained distinctive because it explicitly articulated racial politics in the United States. African American women confronted daily the tension between the idea that beautifying themselves according to modern standards enhanced their success and the idea that doing so meant capitulating to a white beauty ideal that excluded and denigrated them. That confrontation not only reflected race and gender politics, but it helped fuel the struggle for black equality during the 1960s and 1970s. Walker examines the role of African American consumer culture and draws connections between black women's racial identity, African American notions of femininity, and social and political consciousness.

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

"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