Winter 2002

Public toilet signage (text in full)

Lynne Ciochetto
Common knowledge

The particular in the universal

There is an almost universal recognition that pictures of men and women on doors signify public toilets. The provision of public conveniences was a product of the changes in society that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, as home, workplace and leisure activities became separated. As industrialised countries colonised the rest of the world, they took those conventions with them, especially in the later postwar era of mass tourism.

When images show the actual use of the facilities, women are never portrayed. The visual imagery used ranges from Modernist abstraction, to illustrative and representational styles that reflect the local culture.

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