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Roaring 20’s and on into the post-prohibition days of the 1930s, cigar girls were a common site roaming nightclubs and bard
Our History of the Cigar Girl begins in pre-war America, during the Roaring Twenties. It was an Era during which America enjoyed considerable prosperity, particularly in her urban centers.
Fueled by this newfound wealth, entrepreneurial restaurateurs began to expand their establishments from pure eateries to “supper clubs,” a destination where patrons could spend an entire evening eating, drinking (despite the prohibition of alcohol), socializing, and listening to live music.
The cigar girl was a common fixture at such clubs. She was an invariably pretty, young girl who wore a bright (often red trimmed in black), short saloon-style dress and sported a pillbox hat. Around her neck, she holstered a tray with a considerable selection of cigars, cigarettes, and various other tobacco products and sundries. Depending on the venue or the wishes of its owner, she might also carry candy, snacks, drinks, chewing gum, flowers, or novelty items.
Her job was more than just selling tobacco products; she became part of the ambiance, mixing among the patrons while adding a touch of class and full-service. The cigar girl relied on her charm, quick wit, and a flirtatious manner to catch the attentions of businessmen, who would tip graciously for the pleasure of speaking with such a beautiful young woman. She is often described as having been the “life of the party,” and thus while her refrain of “cigars, cigarettes?” certainly enticed tobacco buyers, most customers were paying as much for her company as they were for her wares.
She is depicted in many films, with a notable early example from 1924 in the Soviet silent comedy “The Cigarette Girl from Mosselprom” (Papirosnitsa ot Mosselproma) in which a man frequently purchases tobacco from a girl he’s become infatuated with, despite not being a smoker. Within a few years the cigar girl archetype was well-established by Hollywood, and when the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed in 1933, she had caught on as a cultural icon: she could be found in restaurants, social clubs, bars, casinos, and even airports. Her popularity continued to soar through the postwar era into the 1950s, when she could be seen at sporting events and in the lobbies of theaters and music halls during intermissions.
Companies like Hollywood Cigarette Girls will send their ladies to your event to distribute cigars, cigarettes and other items to add a touch of old-school class to your party.
But she was ultimately no match for modernity. The mid-1950s brought automated vending machines which worked for free, and could earn the venue-owner a tidy profit besides. Changing attitudes about smoking notwithstanding, she was increasingly seen as a relic of the past.
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These days, you are more likely to see a cigar girl at a Halloween costume party than you are inside NYC’s Algonquin Hotel. But even though she has been largely relegated to a romantic yesteryear curiosity, there is still a demand for her services. A simple internet search reveals numerous companies like Peachy Puffs and Hollywood Cigarette Girls that specialize in hiring out models for private parties and corporate events whose organizers are looking to add a touch of old-school sophistication to their event. Many of these companies even offer cigars and cigarettes on their trays. Who knows? Maybe the cigar girl will make a full-fledged comeback toting some great Acid Cigars and other premium smokes.
You’ve come a long, long way”
Virginia Slims (excerpt)
“We make Virginia Slims expecially for women because they are biologically superior to men”, 1971, via
Virginia Slims were introduced by Philip Morris in 1968 and “marketed as a female-oriented spinoff to their Benson and Hedges brand”. The slogans “You’ve come a long way” and later “It’s a woman thing” and “Find your voice” were supposed to link smoking with “women’s freedom, emancipation, and empowerment” (via). It was not the first product to speak to women “in the language of liberation” but it was the first one that interpreted feminism as something that could sell (Zeisler, 2008).
“Rosemary for president. Someday. Meanwhile you’ve got Virginia Slims. The taste for today’s woman.”, via; 1968, via
Philip Morris continued this strategy and in 2008 launched a campaign targeting women and girls. The “purse pack” – repackaged, compact, pink Virginia Slims – implies that smoking is both feminine and fashionable. “Super slim” communicates the association between smoking and weight loss (via). John T. Landry, former Philip Morris marketing chief: “I knew thinness was a quality worth talking about. It’s an American obsession.” (via).
This gender marketing strategy changed statistics encouraging girls to start smoking. “Six years after the introduction of Virginia Slims, the rate of smoking initiation for 12-year-old girls had increased 110 percent.” (via). In fact, apart from social factors, marketing strategies are considered to be one reason for the rise of smoking among women. Smoking as a symbol of emancipation was the core of the campaign. In 1991, an internal industry document describes the strategy targeting only women as follows: “To convince fashionable, modern, independent and self-confident women aged 20-34 that by smoking VSLM, they are making better/more complete expression of their independence.” (Hitchman & Fong, 2011). The market share grew from 0.24% bo 3.16% (Toll & Ling, 2005).
In the 1980s, the number of cigarettes sold declined dramatically. Women were “a saving grace” who just had to be convinced that a woman “needs her very own cigarette as absolutely as she needs ther own underwear” (via). To women, smoking Virginia Slims meant “independence, slimness, glamour, and liberation”. Despite the equality progresses the commercials showed since the early twentieth century, “the only equality this campaign ended up supporting involved lung cancer. Today, women and men die at similar rates from the diseases.” (via).
The campaign was developed by the Leo Burnett Agency and was launched on 22 July 1968. It was a huge success and the slogan more or less became “a national catch-phrase”. According to a 1986 corporate study, the so-called brand personality was the key to its success (via).
Slogan, catch-phrase and song:
– Virginia Slims commercial from 1970s watch
In 1978, the US-American country music singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn was in the charts with the song “We’ve come a long way, baby”. “The title song was a top ten hit for Lynn, playing on the famous Virginia Slims slogan of the day, You’ve Come a Long Way Baby” (via).
– Loretta Lynn We’ve come a long way, baby watch
Hitchman, S. C. & Fong, T. G. (2011) Gender empowerment and female-to-male smoking prevalence ratios. Bulletin of the World Health Organization; via
New York Times (1986) Why They Stretched The Slims via
Toll, B. A. & Ling, P. M. (2005) The Virginia Slims identity crisis: an inside look at tobacco industry marketing to women. Tobacco Control, 14, 172-180
Zeislere, A. (2008) Feminism and Pop Culture. Berkeley: Seal Press
M. Laura Moazedi