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“I collect car ads”: not the greatest revelation if you want to make a hit at dinner parties, true. But that’s what I do – and have been doing – every day, all my life since I was ten: I collect car ads. I would wander with my backpack from car dealer to car dealer all over Scandinavia and later the rest of the world. I cut out every imaginable car advert from new and vintage men’s magazines. The office is bursting at the seams with them. So what is the conclusion after all these years and tons of glossy car photographs? Well: us men used to dress better. “Used to” clearly means in the sixties, when the car became seriously democratized. Trousers were never creased. Shirts always looked freshly ironed. Nowadays male models in car commercials on film and TV look as if they have been untrained: three-day stubble, unbrushed hair, hungover expression. Some call it in keeping with the times, but from a purely bacteriological point of view it’s not far from contagious decay. The car is still among the main possessions – and status symbols – people invest in, apart from a house. Posing beside your car is best done in clean, beige trousers, not scuzzy jeans. Cars and clothes have a long history in common. During the roaring twenties it was almost exclusively the combination of women and cars in the ads. Whether it was Hispano-suiza, Horch, Packard, Volvo or Ford. When colour pictures were still not too common the focus moved to the design of the car. Later on the colour of the woman’s dress would match the car. During the fifties and the cold war the male model came to dominate: cars went from being a sport, rich men’s playthings, to being like any old piece of clothing. Without a car you were not a real man. The brochures and ads that I have collected from the sixties show unusually well pressed legwear and shirts. Leafing through the old magazines in my office – like Playboy or Gentleman’s Quarterly, I find some adverts that might help to clear up the mystery. “Car trousers”. ”Car pant – easy iron pants for driving”. The advert promises that the trousers will look just as great when you arrive in New York as when you left Chicago. Car travel – and tourism as a whole – is not something that has been associated with nice clothes. Modern tourists travel shamelessly in baggy beach shorts and creased, sweaty t-shirts. Car trousers or car pants were a fantastically popular phenomenon that has now almost disappeared. Polyester was the solution to lots of hours behind the wheel. The answer to why men looked so good in car ads from the sixties: polyester. Forget linen, cotton and wool. Polyester does not breathe. It smells by the end of the journey. Sometimes it stinks. But who cares – it always LOOKS good. The fashion industry discovered car trousers, the crease-proof, rust-proof solution for everyone who has to sell something when they arrive at their destination. The car was the Facebook of its age. The car industry, on the other hand, rust-treated their products without being able to save them from the ravages of time. When an otherwise stylish Cadillac Eldorado arrived at its journey’s end it was not only dirty but also had holes in it from rust and other wear and tear. Late in the seventies both men and women disappeared from car ads. After the oil crisis in the autumn of 1973 the photographs became less funky, more sober. Nothing more nor less than a simple “packshot”. From then on the car was more or less the property of the bank. Let us therefore linger a while, and enjoy the pictures from the time when men still had style by the mile. The guys in the pictures, usually models – have done themselves up to match a twotone product of which a fair part consists of plush, leather, chrome and vinyl. Now that the motoring experience is monitored, with police speed cameras between Gothenburg and Stockholm, it does not feels as masculine as it did. You can’t even smoke in the car. So why get all tarted up like they do in the HBO series Mad Men? Myself I want to carry on collecting old car ads and sharing the pleasure with as many people as possible. It does not do anyone any harm and something good does come of it: the pictures remind me of how I can dress in a less slovenly way.
Well-dressed in an Oldsmobile ad the sixties.
Norwegian Karl Eirik Haug is the founder and editor-inchief of Carl’s Cars, the wellknown car magazine.