Guest Post: Skin Deep?: Delving into beauty history - Part 1

I know some very clever people. but one of the cleverest is Lucy AKA The Glamourologist. I learn lots from her, she's a 'proper' historian and combines her constant studies with running a full time business and working on various other projects. She also likes to go to the pub and set the world to rights with me. 

These are just some of the reasons why I love Lucy. Over the next two posts Lucy shares both her knowledge and some of her makeup collection. There's also several book suggestions if you fancy reading more. 

Part one

Skin Deep?: Delving into beauty history


Eye-Lash-Ine, 1916 (author’s own collection)
This US eyelash remedy was trademarked on 20 June 1916 by Dr. F. Formaneck Co of Chicago, Illinois.

Inside the tin are instructions telling the user to bathe their eyelids for ten minutes in warm water before “applying Eye-Lash-Ine to the edges of the eyelids with the finger tip, rubbing or massaging the eyelids at the same time”.
Retailing for 50 cents, it was released around the same time Maybell Laboratories produced their Lash-Brow-Ine, another eyelash growth promoter, and the first product released by the company that eventually became the giant, Maybelline.

Lash-Brow-Ine (1919) (author’s own collection)

It wasn’t new to want fluttering, long dark eyelashes but during the early decades of the twentieth century a new type of manufacturer was growing across Europe and the United States – utilising new technology, advancements in scientific knowledge and an increased interest in women’s appearance. By 1919 the production value of cosmetics and toiletries had reached $60 million in the US compared to only $355,000 in the mid nineteenth century. 
>Read more: 

The Tweaker, 1927 (author's own collection)

Introduced in 1927 by the Tweaker Manufacturing Company of Chicago it sold for $3.50 and advertising stated:
“Your daintiness demands arms and legs free from unsightly hairs. When you mingle with the happy summer throng at the beaches.. whenever you “go formal”.. every time you wear a pair of gossamer chiffon hose… you are conscious of the importance of taking every precaution against embarrassment. Your happiness, your peace of mind depends so much on this one thing.”

Despite looking more like a weapon of torture this “pleasing method” promised a new freedom for women that could be kept up in just a minute or two of each day. The Tweaker itself came in a box with rubber bands which were to be stretched across between the front and rear posts of the instrument .Then “take hold of the Tweaker with your thumb and forefinger, as you would a pair of scissors. Open and close it a few times quickly” and remove your unwanted hair. Simple, no?
The Tweaker Advertising Board, 1927 (author's own collection)

The Tweaker was one of the new innovative products that came out of the 1920’s increasing focus on the body beautiful and, in particular, the new and growing need for women to remove unwanted hair – a “need” which increased as hemlines grew shorter and sports, dancing and visits to the beach became more popular. The Tweaker is presented as a lifestyle choice for this new generation of women who “until now have had to be content with unsatisfactory makeshift methods – razors that left a stubby, prickly after growth – dangerous depilatories that were so messy to use “painful wax” 
The advertising emphasises the freedom that using the Tweaker presents for women when in fact it appears to offer the opposite – a time consuming, never ending and painful process. However there was a freedom in showing your legs off, in the movement of less restrictive clothes and the new public face of women during the 1920s and you can imagine the woman who received or bought the Tweaker felt she was embracing this new modern definition of feminity and freedom. 

Poudre Tho-Radia, 1938 (author's own collection)

This is a slightly more ‘niche’ market but you will excuse me as I am writing a PhD on the subject! 
After radium was discovered in 1898 it was greeted with great enthusiasm by both the medical world and, a bit later, by consumers. Initial reports indicated that the effects of radium were miraculous and soon it was being prescribed for a variety of conditions including impotence, ulcers, arthritis, high blood pressure and cancer. 

Newspapers compared its magic to the golden healthful rays of the sun and its use quickly spread to consumer products to such an extent that it has been estimated that between 1914 and 1945 over 200,000 products containing (or said to contain) radium were produced.

Tho-Radia was launched in March 1933 in Paris and the line initially consisted of powder, creams, soaps and toothpaste before expanding to include rouge, lipsticks and perfumes during the 1940s. Selling all over Europe the original Poudre Tho-Radia formulation contained thorium, radium and titanium and was marketed for the prevention of, amongst other things, sunburn, herpes and as a deodorant. 
Tho-Radia Advert, 1933 (author's own collection)

The beauty industry was, and remains to this day, very adaptable and quick to tap into any innovation – especially one that was so popular. But it was also more than that – the use of radium was a way which the fast growing industry – could exploit ideas of beauty and ageing at a time when women’s perceptions of themselves were changing. Women were faced with a barrage of new and seductive marketing techniques which targeted the female population. 

But the use of toxic subjects in beauty products was itself not new either and throughout history women have been prepared to risk their health by using arsenic, lead and mercury to enhance their appearance to fulfil the desire to be beautiful. In England there is perhaps no more recognisable example than that of Elizabeth I, who famously utilised lead based paints, which probably contained arsenic, and may have been responsible for the death of many women who adopted a similar practice. 

Read more> 

Bourjois War Time Packaging, 1940s, (author's own collection)

This is the back of a 1940s box of naturelle powder. It helpfully states that it is a “war-time pack” which places it firmly in the 1940s as well as gives us an insight into the changes and challenges the beauty industry was facing during the Second World War. 

After developing into a massive worldwide industry during the 1920s and the 1930s the cosmetic industry was heavily reduced in size during the period after the declaration of war in 1939. In the UK the June 1940 the Limitation of Supplies Act (Misc) Order cut production of consumer goods and there were also mass shortages of many essential items – such as alcohol, petroleum and packing materials – leading to the introduction of utility packaging. 

Utility packaging saw cardboard boxes being used instead of metal compacts, cardboard tubes instead of metal lipstick cases. In some cases companies were unable to supply products at all and urged their customers to use makeup sparingly. Within a Bourjois box of rouge from the same period a woman would have found a little note stating “We regret owing to wartime restrictions PUFFS are unobtainable.”

Factories owned by cosmetic companies were given over to the war effort and shifted their production away from make up to war time essentials. For instance Stratton, the famous compact company, changed production from lipstick casings to producing shell cases.

Factories were also often built in urban areas and were at risk. Stratton lost 4 out of its 5 factories in the Midlands and Bourjois’ factory in Purley was gutted on 15 August 1940.
Bourjois factory, Purley. 1940.

Cosmetics were pricey and in short supply and to make up  for this shortfall women experimented with all sorts of household products to get the same effect – such as using cold tea to stain the legs to simulate stockings and rubbing beetroot on their lips to stain them a red colour.
Read more> 

Part 2 to follow

As Director of the Crime Writers Association  Lucy has also organised a Crime Writers Festival in Norwich - 10 - 14 September 2014 

If you're an author or a budding author of the crime genre take a look at the CWA website

For blog posts on the history of beauty and more visit Lucy's blog 


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