A “give-Dad-a-Tie” campaign heralded Father’s Day in Australia in 1936. Honouring fathers on a Sunday in June had begun in the United States in 1909, prompted by a woman whose widower dad had raised six children.

Although the idea had reached Australia in the 1920s, not until 1936 did the Retail Traders’ Association recommend the first Sunday in September as Father’s Day. At that time, gifts were likely to be hand-knitted and the special lunch a fricassee of sheep’s head. Rationing and war service set sales back until the late 1940s by when biros were available and Tripe a la crème recommended.

The celebration was left to individual businesses until July 1957 when they formed a Father’s Day Council. Sydney lagged with only forty metropolitan businesses joining, in contrast to fifty-nine in Perth.

The success in Victoria came from a marketing firm’s linkage of Father’s Day with Legacy, a ploy which brought £125,000 of free publicity in 1960, though it raised only another £650 for War Orphans Day, the preceding Friday.

Belief that over-commercialisation had killed Father’s Day in the US between the wars led Australia’s marketeers to emphasise ‘spiritual values’. Their slogan for 1961 was ‘Juvenile Integrity Starts in the Home’ at a time when concern about teenagers sought to recreate father as both pal and disciplinarian.

The Fifties was also a decade of religious crusades with Roman Catholics campaigning around the theme ‘The Family That Prays Together Stays Together’, in which dad led his family in reciting the Rosary after dinner.

The Father and Son Movement flourished with public lectures and pamphlets that relieved dads of the embarrassments of educating their sons about sex. The Marriage Guidance Council was active as authorities monitored rates of divorce and desertion.

Hence, from 1958, the Father’s Day Council selected a Father of the Year, starting with Sydney’s Labor Lord Mayor followed by the New South Wales Premier, the Police Commissioner before finding an ideal in the President of the Surf Life Saving Association.

Father’s Day gave an opportunity to promote commodities that altered perceptions of maleness, as the menswear and advertising industries led the way to the color and creativity that we call The Sixties. Television spread this process. The 1957 print advertisement for Pelaco Shirt portrayed a family watching a commercial for the same product.

The markers of masculinity had changed as much as those of femininity during the first half of the century. The whiskers that had been nearly universal around 1900 appeared effeminate fifty years later because they were different. The hat was in decline, and young men were accused of ‘titivating’ their hair. The wrist watch and cigarettes had replaced the fob and the pipe. The difference between changes in the appearance of men and women was that males were not supposed to be subject to fashion or to have wants.

In 1950, advertisements showed father as practical and dependable, earning the money for any presents he received. Ten years later, dad appeared playful, his gift perhaps paid for by a working wife who appreciated that he needed to be courted with shortie pyjamas and raspberry sponge buttons.  The Dairy Produce Board encouraged kids to ‘butter up’ dad. Yet his depiction had to stay formal enough to promote that tie, or at least to revive the cravat. The 1960 advertisements seemed hedonistic in comparison with the post-war sobriety. Shirts were recommended for different reasons: non-shrink in 1950 but to brighten a ‘Dandy Dad’ in 1960.

The sexiest ad in 1950 was for a recent product, the electric shaver: ‘I know its going to make you even nicer to snuggle up to than ever – you old wire whiskers, you’. During the 1950s, the percentage of men using electrics rose from ten to forty. They were not cheap, costing about the male basic wage, which is why trade-ins were accepted and hire purchase available. They were marketed like jewellery in a ‘luxurious brown and gold suede presentation case’, with national advertising on television from 1957. Sales peaked around Fathers Day and manufacturers timed their advertising to underpin this curve.

One solution to what to give the old man was some item he would otherwise buy for himself such as matching handkerchiefs, socks and ties. The beach, a tropical holiday or even an ocean cruise allowed for more color with Hawaiian shirts. Because wives selected 90 per cent of the clothing worn by men, the marketeers aimed at women with wash-and-wear fabrics.

Jewellers promoted Toby jugs with characters from Dickens. A man with signet ring, tiepin, collar bar, cuff links, armbands, wrist watch and fob chain would be conspicuous. Getting Anglo males to copy migrants and wear wedding rings highlighted the difficulty that jewellers faced. Their trade journal reported every year that the prejudice against male jewellery was declining, which suggests that it was not. In 1956, one retailer declared that he had ‘yet to find the real dinkum Aussie’ who would buy a wedding ring. Those traders who succeeded did so by displaying the rings as a pair, though one acknowledged that his best customers were Greeks. Firms attracted ‘modern he-men’ with signet rings depicting sports, the Armed Forces, warrior heads and eagles.

Smoking was a boon to those choosing the present. Dad could be given a cigarette case or smoker’s stand. Pen and pencil sets were popular, with examples for every purse. A combination pen and lighter was among the novelties.

Lifting import controls in 1960 allowed for greater variety of gifts but the consequent credit squeeze checked growth in discretionary expenditures for a couple of years.

Toiletries were the hardest sell. Left to their own devices, men washed with laundry soap in the late Forties when Lifebouy offered itself as ‘an aid to romance’, which it was in comparison with Solvol. After-shaves were more for after work, to please the lady who more than likely had given the man his Old Spice. Pre-and after shave lotions were made astringent so that their sting excused smelling sweet. Underarm deodorants were less suspect than splash colognes. Toiletries were deliberately marketed through chemists to provide the veil of medical associations.

Male deodorants were designated ‘grooming aids’ with ‘man-sized protection’, with one branded 12 Gauge and packaged like a shot-gun cartridge with the caption ‘for men of calibre’. Although in 1964 sales surged from Father’s Day through to Christmas, demand was still limited in 1967 when Grace Brothers in Sydney refurbished its male cosmetic department to look like a hotel, named Harry’s Bar, in honour of he-man Ernest Hemingway.

US-linked firms imported father’s day cards which offered a ‘full virile range, from delightfully formal, to whimsical and humorous’. Images on cards were often gift ideas, with ties prominent. Hallmark’s advertising pictured dad as a knight in shining armour with a golf bag. John Sands had him in shirt sleeves but still wearing a tie when his pre-teen children were ready for bed. In 1960, newsagents underestimated demand, which continued to increase at 10-20 per cent each year. Cards that took ‘a quiet shot at Dad, were a big feature of the sales’ by 1962, as mums delighted ‘in reducing Dad’s ego a bit’.