While looking over the Painted Ladies pages, the Retro Corner sparked a familiar feeling. I have been collecting vintage compacts since 1997, with the oldest piece from 1918. Excitedly, I asked Sheila if Painted Ladies needed any additional submissions to the Retro Corner. So here I am. Enjoy!
After much deliberation, I decided to begin this topic with the history of compacts and beauty products, and then end with a piece from my collection to honor and bid farewell to a MAJOR cosmetic company that is now stopping all distribution in the U.S.
Dating back to the ancient civilizations of the world, cosmetics and its containers were used to adorn and decorate both men and women. The oldest known surviving powder was originally made by pulverizing flowers and fragrant leaves. Of the many different origins and types of cosmetics used, kohl (then in a loose mineral powder form in a small pot, nowadays called eye kohl pencil) was used by the Egyptians in the eighteenth century to embellish the lashes and lids on the eye, and to protect from insects and shield from the desert’s sun.
Cosmetics were used throughout the middle ages, and in Renaissance periods. In the late eighteenth century, the use of cosmetics was so widespread that Parliament passed a law that made the use of cosmetics part of a seduction, which to them meant witchcraft. From that law being passed, women that used cosmetics were basically called “ladies of the night”.
In the late nineteenth century, cosmetics went through a revival in parts of Europe. The lipstick cases and compacts were adorned with gems, ornately painted landscapes and the like. In America, during the Victorian era and before World War I, the artificial use of beauty aids was frowned upon still and considered immoral. The opinion of society was, “to improve on nature, all women needed was proper diet, fresh air, and exercise”. You should all remember the scene from “Little Women” when they pinch their cheeks to look healthy, fresh and get that natural rosy glow. Now you know why!
In 1923, Dorothy Grey introduced The Face Patter, to stimulate circulation and make the cheeks naturally pink! From then on, attitudes regarding cosmetics changed dramatically in the beginning of the twentieth century. The use of makeup during the day was finally accepted and looked upon with respect. We have the silver screen’s trend setting film stars to thank for that!
The word “make-up” was actually coined by Max Factor, beauty consultant to the stars. Women began to see that they could achieve a “modern” image with cosmetics, and then recognized the importance of personal beauty. As women became liberated and entered the business world, the cosmetic compacts and carryalls were a necessity.
Excerpts and information from Vintage Ladies’ Compacts Identification & Value Guide, 1996
The piece I am showing you was purchased in Fargo, North Dakota. I was there for my best friend’s wedding and my flight was delayed as I was heading home to the west. Having some time to kill, I found the nearest antique shop and below you’ll see just one of the gems I found! I was sad the package was a bit thrashed, when I found it, but you can make out the stamping on the dry rouge itself! Gasp, they just don’t make rouge like that today!
Max Factor was a true founding forefather in the world of cosmetics! My inspiration continues with all the prized antiques in the beauty world. There will be more to come, and I hope it inspires you as well!
Max Factor Pressed Dry Rouge, in Rasberry from 1938. I found a Max Factor Pressed Powder with the same packaging in 1996 ed. Collector’s Encyclopedia of Compacts, Carryalls & Face Powder Boxes.