Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


House and Home

New Woman, New Consumer

Gordon Conway

Chic, talented, and well-educated, Gordon Conway arrived on the New York publishing scene when a dinner party companion introduced her to the art director for Condé Nast's magazines. Only twenty years old, the Dallas-born Conway soon found herself regularly drawing cover illustrations and caricatures for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Her twenty-two-year career as a graphic artist and costume designer embodied the "new woman" that she was hired to represent in images.

Vanity Fair and Vogue

Condé Nast purchased these magazines earlier in the century with a mind to remaking the image of the "new woman," long viewed as an unattractive, politically radical social misfit. Nast believed that women "could better their lot by acquiring buying power," an idea that nineteenth-century feminists had promoted. Considering himself a feminist, he believed women were capable of entering into any field and saw his magazines as offering cultural support for their growth as self-sufficient, confident, and charming people.

The products in his magazine were targeted at this "new woman" audience—women who felt they needed modern clothing and cosmetics to express their independence and freedom of thought and action. Conway's dynamic images of the "new woman" conveyed these women's desires, tastes, and activities. Her flappers wear bright, gauzy dresses and dance with abandon to jazz music. Her cosmopolitan socialites wear furs and ride in elegant automobiles; her sportswomen swim in short bathing suits and smoke in public. Her career girls wear smart suits. Nast geared his magazine toward the "new woman" and her needs both out of his sympathy for women and his business acumen. Early on, he instinctively knew that modern women would represent a huge consumer market, and, in part, he built his publishing empire on that instinct.

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Photograph of Gordon Conway
Photograph of Gordon Conway

Gordon Conway influenced the fashion tastes of women throughout the 1920s. This portrait of Gordon Conway in her studio conveys the elegance and success for which she was known.

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