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

by Susannah Walker

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Using documentary and archival evidence, Walker explores the political, social, and racial implications of the business devoted to producing and marketing beauty products for African American women. Walker examines African American beauty culture as a significant component of twentieth-century consumerism, and she links both subjects to the complex racial politics of the era. The efforts of black entrepreneurs to participate in the American economy and to achieve self-determination of black beauty standards often caused conflict within the African American community. Walker concludes that African American beauty standards were shaped within black society as much as they were formed in reaction to, let alone imposed by, the majority culture. Walker explores how beauty culture affected black women’s racial and feminine identities, the role of black-owned businesses in African American communities, differences between black-owned and white-owned manufacturers of beauty products, and the concept of racial progress in the post-World War II era.

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