If you’re a company, a surefire way to anger a large portion of the general public is to release a product that’s needlessly gendered. Pepsi learned this lesson the hard way last year when they introduced the notorious Lady Doritos, a quieter snack chip for women who don’t want to draw attention to themselves with loud crunching. Before that, Bic learned the very same lesson when they tried to sell “Pens for Her,” and then got dragged online.
Patronizing at it may be, the practice of marketing a unisex product specifically for women (or men!) goes back a lot farther than you might think. Way before Lady Doritos or Pens for Her were a gleam in a marketing executive’s eye, Dodge debuted a car specifically for women: the 1955 Dodge La Femme. Which looks exactly what Don Draper would think a woman would want in a car.
The story of the La Femme begins a few years earlier. In the early 1950’s, car manufacturers had met nearly all the demand for automobiles, so they began looking for new markets. Chrysler’s marketing department noticed that women were taking more of an interest in automobiles, and having more of a say in household car purchasing decisions–specifically, what color the car should be. As a result, the Big Three car companies were beginning to market cars to women. Chrysler simply took the next step and made a car for them.
Chrysler debuted two cars for the 1954 season, based on the Chrysler Newport. These “his and hers” cars were named the Le Compte and the La Comtesse, and featured traditionally masculine and feminine colors. The La Comtesse was available in powder pink.
The La Comtesse was so well-received that in 1955, Dodge tried again. The Dodge La Femme was available as a $143 add-on for the existing Dodge Custom Royal Lancer model. Marketing materials were over-the-top. One brochure invited women to come check out the La Femme “by appointment to her majesty….the American woman.”
The La Femme wasn’t just a regular car with a pink paint job. It was a fashionable automobile for fashionable women. The 1955 La Femme came in two colors, “Sapphire White” and “Heather Rose.” The interiors were upholstered with matching rosebud fabric. Behind the front seats were two boxes that could store rain gear–the La Femme came with a matching rain coat, bonnet, and umbrella.
On top of that, the La Femme came with its very own purse. That’s right! The first car for women came with a purse!!! The purse included a face-powder compact, lipstick case, cigarette case, comb, cigarette lighter and a change purse. Available in either faux-tortoiseshell or pink calfskin, the purses were designed by “Evans,” a luxury accessory company based in Chicago.
In 1956, the La Femme received some updates. Heather Rose and Sapphire White were gone, replaced by either Misty Orchid or Regal Orchid color schemes. There was a push-button transmission control located to the left of the steering wheel, which Dodge called “The Magic Touch of Tomorrow.” Sadly, the purse was discontinued.
But by the end of 1956, the La Femme was discontinued. The most likely reason for its poor sales was a simple lack of marketing. Researchers haven’t been able to find almost any contemporary radio, TV, or magazine ads for the La Femme. Dodge dealerships didn’t even receive showroom models. Instead, they just got a one-sheet pamphlet detailing the car. Most of the American public probably didn’t know the La Femme existed. It’s estimated that only 2,500 were manufactured in two years. Today, only about 60 La Femmes survive as collector’s items.
The Dodge La Femme is a product of its time, and it definitely wouldn’t fly today. And we know that for a fact, because as recently two years ago, another car company tried to make a car for women and was justly owned. In 2017, Cosmo magazine teamed up with Spanish automaker Seat to introduce the “Seat Mii by Cosmopolitan,” a car specifically for women. It was available in purple or white, with champagne-colored mirrors. It included jeweled mirrors, and “eyeliner-rimmed” headlights, which “emphasize in the same way as make-up emphasizes the eye.”
The Seat Mii by Cosmo was met with widespread ridicule. Just like the La Femme, it didn’t sell. In a way, it’s encouraging. In 1956, the only thing that stopped the La Femme was a lack of marketing. Today, we can shut down stupid car ideas with our collective outrage. And that’s progress!
Or, they could just stop trying to make “cars for women,” but we’re not holding our breath.
h/t: Messy Nessy Chic