Harris Suspender Company: Advertising Campaign--Red-blooded, Masculine Appeal to Boys

Figure 1.--

The Harris Suspender Company launched an advertising campaign designed to make the case to mothers, that their product was more acceoabtable to boys that the garter waists offered by many competitors, the company published a lengthy essay by Frederick C. Kendall about the Kazoo Suspender Waist in Printer's Ink, a trade journal, (February 27, 1919, pp. 53-56. The title read, "Red-blooded, Masculine Appeal to Boys Sells Kazoo Suspenders." A subcaption reas, "Be a Regular Fellow. You’ve Outgrown Nursery Days.” The article read, "What is the attitude of the American boy toward much of the boy advertising? Does he resent being garnished with feminine adjectives and placed in the same beribboned class with his shy and giggly sisters? And does his opinion cut much ice anyway? From time immemorial, fond mothers have wept many buckets of salt tears to witness little Willy ferociously scrapping with the uncouth errand boy who sassed him. Yet it is a debatable question whether these same mothers would not have endured pangs of mortification had their youthful prodigy failed to double up his chubby fists to vindicate his outraged honor."

Article Text

What is the attitude of the American boy toward much of the boy advertising? Does he resent being garnished with feminine adjectives and placed in the same beribboned class with his shy and giggly sisters? And does his opinion cut much ice anyway? From time immemorial, fond mothers have wept many buckets of salt tears to witness little Willy ferociously scrapping with the uncouth errand boy who sassed him. Yet it is a debatable question whether these same mothers would not have endured pangs of mortification had their youthful prodigy failed to double up his chubby fists to vindicate his outraged honor. Expressed differently, in advertising directly to mothers—and indirectly to their boys—should the masculine or the nursery note predominate? Do proud parents like to regard their offspring as Huckleberry Finns or Little Lord Fauntleroys? And in advertising, can boys and girls be classed under one all-embracing appeal?

The campaign of the Harris Suspender Company gives a direct answer to these several questions. And the results that have already been registered, once more serve to illustrate the fact that frequently a slight change in the selling note will result in tremendously increased interest on the part of the prospective purchaser. Kazoo Suspenders, it should be explained, are a support for pants and hose of boys from four to eighteen years. A different model is also marketed for holding up the undergarments of little girls. They are worn like regular “grown-up” suspenders with the addition of adjustable buckles for the children’s stockings. In the early campaign, they were recommended for both boys and girls—in the same single piece of copy. But when the company decided to intensify its publicity, an investigation revealed the fact that the major portion of the output was sold for boys. Being, however, pigeon-holed by department and other stores along with children’s underwaists, sales were restricted because on entering a store the mother would often be referred from one department to another before she finally located the merchandise she was seeking. In some shops, Kazoo was classed with children’s underwaists together with muslin and knitted garments, whereas it properly belonged in the boy’s department—for ninety per cent of the Kazoo Suspender Waists (as they were then called ) were sold for boys between the ages of six and twelve.

UNDESERVED COMPETITION: Moreover, being generally confused with a supporting waist, Kazoo came into strict competition with the undergarments having buttons and [hose supporter] attachments—more often than competing with other supporters of a similar type. Independent shoppers in New York and other cities were instructed not only to check up on the demand, but the selling arguments used to induce purchase and find out whether the merchandise was displayed or not.

“The results of this investigation,” said G. C. Sherman of Sherman & Bryan, who have charge of the account, “proved conclusively that there is a clear-cut division and distinction between an underwaist for a girl and a suspender waist for a boy. It is perhaps because every mother has been a girl that she selects for her children something she has worn herself. That is why she chooses muslin or knitted waists for the child—either boy or girl—up to the age of six or eight years. She prefers a waist a little more dainty for feminine; and she can buy a muslin waist made up in plain, embroidered or lace-trimmed. “The survey brought out another vital point, viz. when the boy is six or eight years old, there are two strong reasons why he stops wearing a waist. The boy becomes conscious that the waist looks like a girl’s garment, and the mother discovers that the muslin or knitted waist isn’t strong enough for a real, live husky youth. She is kept busy sewing on buttons and patching up rips and tears. “When the boy and mother both discover that it is time to discontinue wearing waists, that was the moment, we reason, when they would both be susceptible to an argument why the boy should wear a Kazoo. Moreover, no mother wants her boy to be called a ‘Sissy’ and we believed that an appeal to the pride of the boy and the instinct of the mother would make the strongest kind of human interest selling copy.

“The young girl continues to wear a waist until she wears a corset. But the average boy from six to eight discontinues the underwaist. He is the legitimate customer for the Kazoo from the time he puts on short pants until he dons his first trousers. And this was the field—the boy from 4 to 18 years—on which to concentrate the new selling policy that suggested itself as a result of the investigation.”

An incident in the consumer survey also gave the keynote for the boy appeal. Discussing waists in general, one mother remarked: I remember the day my boy came home from swimming last August. Opening his blouse and pulling out his waist he said: ‘This is the last time, mother.’ I found that one of the boys had called him a perfect little lady—and there had been a fight.” This personal experience was woven into one of the advertisements and made a human, realistic appeal. One pice of copy in the series shows a picture of a little girl poking fun at her brother for wearing a knitted waist. “The Last Straw” is the headline, while the copy goes on to say “When sister begins to tease Bobbie about his underwaist, it’s time to get him a Kazoo.” Other advertisements are entitled “Don’t Humiliate Your Boy,” “Boys, Mother wants you to be a Real Boy,” and “Boys, Hold up your Pants, Man-Fashion.” Another piece of copy fictionizes a fight between two youngsters, emphasizing the fact the underwaists breed boy quarrels: “Underwaists for Sis, but regular suspenders for yours. Kazoo stands the shock and strain of the hardest game, but ‘gives’ to every move and muscle; keeps pants and hose neatly in place, evenly distributes the weight of the clothing, helps shoulders stay straight and erect.”

The essence of the sales story can be summed up as follows: 1—A mother cannot expect her boy to act like a little man, if she continues to dress him like a little girl; 2—Every mother knows there is no ‘give’ to a waist. When there’s a strain, something has to go. Buttons attached to muslin or light knitted fabrics are pulled out by the roots every day, and waists are always torn where the garters are attached; 3—No mother will allow her little boy to wear a belt that is too tight for him—and every mother knows that a piece of elastic worn around the leg restricts the circulation.

Another significant detail was in the selection of national mediums. In the past, the appeal had been directed exclusively to the mother—in copy, illustration and choice of magazines. The boys who wear Kazoo Suspenders, however, are at the age when they are voracious readers of boy’s publications. So magazines catering to their exclusive interests were added to the schedule, and the still life family-group illustrations were scrapped in favor of real, honest-to-gosh American youngsters in action. The new advertising is aimed directly at the boy with the appeal to the mothers being indirect. An example of this is given in the “Code of Youth,” taken from one of the firm’s booklets: “Boys of vim and firm principles knock a mighty good time out of life. Their code of living is as sound as it is simple. “First, they play hard and clean. “Second, they speak truthfully and act honestly. “Third, they respect their elders. “Fourth, they apply to their persons and dress the highest standards of neatness and healthful manliness.” Incommenting further on the masculine note in boy advertising, Mr. Sherman said: “A mother told me the other day that she bought her boy a pair of pumps last summer, and the first time he wore them one of his playmates told they look like girl’s shoes. The mother could never get her son to wear them again—they ‘hurt his feet.’ You can call it custom, convention, sex consciousness, or any other name. But there comes a time when a real boy will absolutely refuse to wear anything that a girl could wear. This is about the time a boy wears short pants. “When the boy begins to go to school and sees what the other boys are wearing, he influences his mother in the purchase of his clothes. I was told that a mother bought a little sailor suit for a boy seven years old. He strutted around like an admiral in a movie show. When he discovered, by reading a description of the emblems that were illustrated in the newspapers, that the insignia on the sleeve of his blouse labelled him as a cook, the deal was all off.”

The name Kazoo Suspender Waists has been changed to Kazoo Suspenders, and the advertising in national publications and New York subways is strictly boy advertising—boy advertising, it might be mentioned, with a red-blooded, athletic appeal. No longer are the suspenders advertised for boys and girls alike, expect in an incidental way in a booklet describing all types and models, and where mothers of girls prefer to purchase them for developing erect bearing and straight shoulders. As a result of this campaign, Kazoo Suspenders are now distinctly labelled as boy merchandise—where once they were unconsciously grouped along with waists, muslin underwear and things obnoxious to the boy’s sensitive mind. “You’ve outgrown nursery games, and are a full fledged outdoor fellow now,” the boy is told. “And to play hard—without rips, tears, or restraint—you need Kazoo in place of frail underwaists. Be a regular chap. You can in Kazoo.”

Reader Comment

This article accurately reflects the attitudes of many boys who increasingly hated wearing underwaists (or "panty waists") to hold up short trousers and long stockings during the early decades of the 20th century. The campaign to get mothers to buy Kazoo suspender waists for boys between the ages of eight and eighteen instead of the common underwaists, either knitted or muslin, that were made for children of both sexes up to the age of 12 (or even 14) seems to have been quite successful, judging from the amount of advertising that we notice for the Kazoo especially during the 1910s and very early 1920s. But the article exaggerates the degree to which ordinary underwaists or garter waists were rejected by mothers as underwear for their sons, especially during the 1920s when the Kazoo Suspender waist fell off greatly in popularity. Also the article somewhat falsifies the properties of many underwaists as being frail and easily ripped or torn by the vigorous wear growing boys would give them. Most commercial underwaists by at least 1915 were very sturdy garments. They had reinforcement straps of self material built into them with buttons double-sewn on tapes so that they couldn't be pulled off by the fiercest of tugging and also garter tabs for the attachment of hose supporters that were fastened to very strong tape webbing and held in place by metal fixtures (pin-tubes). The article also ignores the fact that although many underwaists were unisex garments, many of the major manufacturers continued to design underwaists specifically for boys which were totally unadorned (unlike the waists for girls) and made of material such as jean or coutil that was virtually indestructible. Sears and Montgomery Ward continued to make underwaists for boys up through the age or 12 (or even 14), and the famous Hickory garter waists, even more widely advertised than Kazoo waists and very popular with mothers, were probably more widely worn by American boys during the 1920s and early 1930s than Kazoo waists. These continued to be shown in Ward's catalogs long after the Kazoo waists had been dropped during the early 1920s. Dr Parker garter waists were aimed equally at boys and girls up through the age of 14, and we don't hear of boys rejecting them very vociferously even though there was no difference between the boy's and girl's model. Kazoo waists obviously had a special appeal to boys who associated underwaists with what girls wore, but the widespread advertising of the 1920s and 1930s shows quite clearly that boys as old as fourteen continued to wear underwaists with waist buttons for their short trousers and garter tabs for holding their hose supporters up through the age of twelve (and often fourteen).


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Created: 9:04 PM 12/2/2013
Last updated: 9:04 PM 12/2/2013