This book is just excellent – Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture
by Kathy Peiss. It tells the story of the development of the cosmetics industry – from Victorian puritanism to the triumph of consumerism, covering the period from the turn of the 20th century up until the 1960s. With so many angles – from entrepreneurship, to class, to race politics, celebrity and identity, its a vast topic that Peiss manages to render down into a fascinating read.
Some favourite excerpts follow. On the inherent political virtue of eschewing cosmetics:
In a republican society, manly citizens and virtuous women were expected to reject costly beauty preparations and other signs of aristocratic style. The transformation in self-presentation was most pronounced in men, who spurned luxurious fabrics, perfume, and adornments as effete and unmanly. In a personal declaration of independence, Benjamin Franklin discarded his periwig. The “great masculine renunciation,” as fashion historians call it, replaced spectacular male display, once considered an essential symbol of monarchial rule, with a subdued and understated appearance. Republican ideals of manly citizenship reinforced the idea: men need not display their authority, since their virtue was inherent. (p. 23)
I like thinking about the “great masculine renunciation” because of how deeply it connects to the idea of work as something to be proud of. Inherent in the trappings of fashion – pointed, uncomfortable shoes, time-consuming hairstyles and makeup – is the idea of flaunting leisure. So, just as men were renunciating the trappings of fashion, they were also renunciating leisure – turning the idea of doing useful work itself into a sort of fashion. I believe that there is a feminine renunciation too – though its been a somewhat less dramatic process of turning the idea of a working woman into a respectable, fashionable ideal. I like thinking about these things because I believe that fashion is not just about what you wear, but also about what you do.
On the effects of widely available, affordable photography for consumers:
A fundamental and far-reaching change was taking place: the heightened importance of image-making and performance in everyday life. Photographic and stage techniques of making up and posing introduced external and standardized models of beauty that challenged the “natural” ideal. For some advice writers, social life itself had become a performance that called for makeup, but only if used, paradoxically, to enact the part of one’s true, natural self. (p. 49)
I just found this revelation to be so reflective of the things I’ve been pondering lately in regards to exhibiting “personality” through blogs. Its strange to think that this is just a continuation of a trend that began with inexpensive tintypes, nothing new at all, just the inevitable result of humans and their relationship to the ever-expanding implications of media.
On the genesis of the modern brands we are familiar with:
The sensual Revlon woman who “only went out at night” was one of several beauty types in the postwar decades. … When Noxzema developed Cover Girl as a medicated makeup for teens as well as adults, it knew that a frankly sexual appeal would anger girls’ parents. So advertisers consciously established the product’s image against the Revlon woman with a consistent look of daytime, wholesome beauty. Interviewed about the campaign years later, they repeated the mantra that Maybelline was “for not too intelligent girls,” “Revlon was for tarts,” and “Cover Girl was for nice girls.” (p. 251)
I found this scan of Revlon’s famous “Fire and Ice” ad on this blog. Peiss uses it as an example of how advertisers began to appeal to women’s fantasies as they relate to their own identities, rather than through the conventional appeals of attracting a mate.
There’s so much good stuff in here I could go on – if you like, why don’t you go get the book so we can discuss it in the comments?