Summary Of What The Dog Saw Chapter 4: True Colors

by Sandy Baird

This chapter is a free excerpt from Quicklet on What The Dog Saw.

Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America

Gladwell tells the stories of two female copywriters, who summarized in short catchy phrases, the particular feminist sensibilities of their day. The peculiar thing is that both of these women created advertising material for hair dye companies. The first of these women is Shirley Polykoff. She was described as flamboyant, brilliant, and vain in an irresistible way. She didn’t feel like her natural brown hair color matched the personality of the person she wanted to be. When she was a junior editor in 1956, she was given the Clairol account.


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Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America

Gladwell tells the stories of two female copywriters, who summarized in short catchy phrases, the particular feminist sensibilities of their day. The peculiar thing is that both of these women created advertising material for hair dye companies. The first of these women is Shirley Polykoff. She was described as flamboyant, brilliant, and vain in an irresistible way. She didn’t feel like her natural brown hair color matched the personality of the person she wanted to be. When she was a junior editor in 1956, she was given the Clairol account.

One of the products they were launching was “Miss Clairol,” a hair-color system that made it possible for women to lighten, tint, condition, and shampoo at home, in a single step. Polykoff’s thought was that if a woman had a right to be a blond, she also had the right to be able to exercise that right with discretion. “Does she or doesn’t she?” became the tagline for Clairol’s revolutionary product. The percentage of women who colored their hair jumped from 7% to 40% in two decades.

Commercials ran that featured mothers and their daughters sporting the same hair color as an attempt to undercut the otherwise sexual undertones of the ad. This allowed Miss Clairol to be seen as a product that wholesome mothers and women with feminist inclinations would feel comfortable using. As it turns out, “does she or doesn’t she?” didn’t just reveal the answer to what you did with your hair, it spanned further into answering the deeper question of who you really are.

The second woman is Ilon Specht. She worked for L’Oreal, a French company that was a competitor of Clairol. By the end of the sixties, women wanted to know, not just that the husband or boyfriend they “waited for” was worth it, but that they themselves were worth it. Speech ran with this idea and phrased her copy for L’Oreal beautifully when she wrote, “I use the most expensive hair color in the world, but I don’t mind spending more for L’Oreal, because I’m worth it!”

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