Saturday, 18 April 2009

Powders and perfumes

It’s said that women started wearing heavy makeup in the 1920s to attract the attention of men, who were in much shorter supply after the First World War. Prior to this, wearing makeup was frowned upon, with pots of rouge and powder puffs being carefully hidden away from husbands and fathers - kept in underwear drawers and applied in secret. Ivory coloured foundation and bright red lipstick soon became the norm – and there were other inventive fashion trends:

For the eyes, in addition to mascara, ladies of the day used a toothpick to apply liquid wax to the ends of each eyelash, giving the impression of a row of tiny pearls. Eyebrows were often plucked out completely and then penciled back on somewhat higher up than nature intended. Other eye makeup included kohl - often made of ingredients like soot, lead, or goose grease – that was smudged all around the eyes, creating a look reminiscent of a vampire. The ‘vamps’ would sometimes add a dramatic line of kohl from the corner of the eye outwards to create a slightly Asiatic look that was considered sexy and bad.

For the face, powder made from rice gave the skin a very pale hue, referred to as “the pallor usually associated with innate vice” by one writer of the time. Portable makeup containers like powder compacts and lipstick holders were the stylish fashion accessories of the day, sometimes even made with precious metals, or encrusted with jewels. The styling for makeup products often took its inspiration from the Orient, like the unique and exotic vintage powder compacts at ShopCurious. Women of the twenties loved to apply their makeup in public at parties and at the dinner table in order to show off their beautiful and unusual compacts.

For the cheeks, red rouge was the order of the day, until advances in manufacturing produced new colours like orange. Girls who worried about the consequences of being found out for wearing makeup resorted to vigorous cheek-pinching instead.

For the lips, red was also the only colour available and was applied to create a ‘cupid’s bow’ above the upper lip. Lipstick often stopped short of the natural crease in the lips to minimize their thickness. Smudgeproof lipstick was essential for vamps who wanted to neck without leaving any evidence.

The invention of modern nail polish in 1920 made varnishing the fingers and toes very popular. Nails were usually worn very long and painted only in the middle, with the tip and cuticle areas left bare.

Of course, ladies also wished to smell beautiful. In 1921 Coco Chanel invented her timeless scent – Chanel No.5. Other scents of the time captured the passions of the age, like the desire to travel to far flung exotic lands that inspired the creation of Guerlain’s Shalimar.

Modern day perfumes, like those from L’Aromarine, successfully capture the memories and mystery of the era - and the art nouveau style bottles are rather chic as well. If you’re lucky, you might even find an authentic 1920s perfume bottle, like the one above, that will look great on your dressing table - these are also highly collectable and can be a great investment too.

Will you?

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