The Modern Girl: Feminine Modernities, the Body, and Commodities in the 1920s

The Modern Girl: Feminine Modernities, the Body, and Commodities in the 1920s

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By Jane Nicholas
Studies in Gender and History
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2014
World Rights
320 Pages 27 Images
ISBN 9781442626041
Published Mar 2015
Online discount: 25%
 $27.95    $20.96
ISBN 9781442648289
Published Mar 2015
Online discount: 25%
 $70.00    $52.50
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442616530
Published Mar 2015
Online discount: 25%
Full purchase $27.95

With her short skirt, bobbed hair, and penchant for smoking, drinking, dancing, and jazz, the “Modern Girl” was a fixture of 1920s Canadian consumer culture. She appeared in art, film, fashion, and advertising, as well as on the streets of towns from coast to coast. In The Modern Girl, Jane Nicholas argues that this feminine image was central to the creation of what it meant to be modern and female in Canada.

Using a wide range of visual and textual evidence, Nicholas illuminates both the frequent public debates about female appearance and the realities of feminine self-presentation. She argues that women played an active and thoughtful role in their embrace of modern consumer culture, even when it was at the risk of serious social, economic, and cultural penalties. The first book to fully examine the “Modern Girl”’s place in Canadian culture, The Modern Girl will be essential reading for all those interested in the history of gender, sexuality, and the body in the modern world.

Jane Nicholas is an associate professor in the Department of History and Department of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies at the University of Waterloo.

List of Figures

Introduction: The Canadian Modern Girl
1. Making a Modern Girl’s Body: Commodities, Performance, and Discipline
2. Dear Valerie, Dear Mab: Beauty, Expert Advice, and Modern Magic
3. Urban Modernity, Race, Nation, and the Modern Girl
4. The Beauty Pageant: Contesting Feminine Modernities
5. Modern Art and the Girl: Nude Art and the Feminine Threat
6. Modern Girls and Machines: Cars, Projectors, and Publicity 
Conclusion: Losing the Modern Girl


“Jane Nicholas offers an original history of Canadian modernity, told through the figure of the ‘Modern Girl.’”

Lara Campbell, Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Simon Fraser University

The Modern Girl contributes in unique ways to discussions about gender, the body, and modernity in early twentieth-century Canada. The book does an excellent job navigating the complex terrain between perceptions of the Modern Girl and the lives and choices of Modern Girls themselves.”

Katrina Srigley, Department of History, Nippissing University

The Modern Girl is a very delightful read that brings to light an innovative perspective on working class women’s role in consumer society.’

Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Labour/Le Travail vol 78:2016

‘Nicholas skillfully blends theories of gender and sexuality with close readings of commodified cultural objects, media driven discursive patterns, and Canadian local practices.’

Judith Patin, Canadian Literature vol 225 summer 2015

‘Nicholas’s work as a whole offers an engaging, exhaustive study of the Canadian modern girl, one that will excite much notice with its keen analysis.’

Liz Conor, American Historical Review vol 121:03:2016