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Published: Friday 14 July, 2017

(The ad was for hosiery: "It's like, your husband is back from the war, he's damaged, and you want to awake his virility and give him hope so you have to dress the part," Thomas said.) In 1920, the first year American women could vote in a national election, a woman can be seen with a flapper haircut behind the wheel of a car.Thomas read aloud the tag for a Maxwell House ad from the 1920s, where two butlers in blackface serve an immensely satisfied middle aged white woman coffee. The line that would supposedly emphasize the pleasure of buying Maxwell House was: "GOLLY MIS MARIA. Folks jus can help havin a friendly feelin for dis heah coffee!" to which Thomas sighed and said, "Kind of amazing."He turned to an illustration depicting the antebellum South, with a young white couple dressed in ornate evening wear, while Nike Mercurial Vapor XI FG a black servant slices up pieces of ham and gently slides them onto their plates. "What would you guess this is for?" Thomas asked. There was a long pause. I couldn't come up with anything."Exactly," Thomas said, then displayed the original ad text and all from his portfolio. It was for Budweiser. Thomas rationalized this as best he could. "I guess someone told them that in the old days you'd have your servant your slave offer people ham," he said. "And now you can offer somebody a Bud. That's the only real logic that there possibly can be."One thread, then, in Thomas's work is progress Maxwell House wouldn't get away with such blatant racism today.

And a 1952 ad for lingerie featuring a woman in a skirt and bra standing on a platform beneath the line "I dreamt I won the election my Maidenform bra!" seems completely ridiculous in light of Thomas's initial impetus for compiling this work. The ads increasingly tell a story of advancement of second wave feminism, of a growing black middle class, of the slow dissolve of the rigidity of gender roles. Thomas was genuinely moved when we came upon a Tylenol ad from a few years ago, featuring a happy lesbian couple taking a selfie in front of the Manhattan skyline.But of course, another story Thomas tells is of stereotypes merely shifting, of racism and sexism simply becoming more understated, and only in some instances. 50 Cent is still a criminal, in other words."We find images like this," Thomas said. He was looking at a picture of a blonde woman, swinging from a vine through a jungle and wearing a ragged bikini. "Christie Brinkley," he said, and then read the tagline: "The natives will get very restless." The ad was for Coppertone blend tanning oil, Nike Mercurial Vapor XI FG Soccer Boots Thomas said, and because of that, "Of course you have to speak about the tropics, about the dark people, and of course they have to be savage. And you have to have the blonde with the bone necklace and cowry shells, swinging from a vine." He chuckled slightly, then paused. The date on the image was 1976. "This is the year I was born," he said.

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