Category Archives: Cosmetics, Beauty Products

Fingernail Polish Ads from 1917 to 1937

Fingernail polish in an illustration from 1931.  The tips and “half moons” remain white. This was the fashion during the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Delineator, November 1931. The artist was Dhynevor Rhys.

By 1931, the liquid product we call “nail polish” was widely available, but there was an earlier way to shine your fingernails: nail polish powder. It persisted into the 1920’s.

From an ad for Cutex nail powder and polishes, Delineator, November 1924.

Back in the 1940s, my mother still had her old celluloid dresser set, (not as nice as that one!) which included — in addition to a hair brush and a mirror — a button hook, a hair receiver, a container for collar studs, a file, and a nail buffer. She showed me, once, how to put the polish, which came in a small jar, on my bare fingernails and then buff them to a soft shine with a chamois nail buffer.

Using a nail buffer; illustration from an article on nail care, Delineator, July 1924, p. 37.

Buffing your nails was supposed to improve circulation; it gave them a temporary rosy glow. (Pink fingertips go back a long way; Homer describes the dawn as “rosy fingered.”)

“Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, Nestor left his couch and took his seat on the benches of white and polished marble that stood in front of his house. [Odyssey]”  Thanks to Gary Corby.

In 1917, this is what nail polish could look like:

From an ad for Cutex nail polish, Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1917.

Cutex Nail Polish ad, 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1917.

The range of Cutex products in a sampler set from 1917 included “the ideal cuticle remover,” an emery board for shaping the nails, an orange stick for cleaning under nails and pushing back the cuticle, a ball of cotton, nail white, “polishing paste pink” and a bar [or is it a box?] of polish.

Cutex manicure products, 1917. This sampler kit “sent for 14 cents” includes two forms of polish, nail white, cuticle remover, “Cuticle Comfort” moisturizer, and basic tools.  Ad from LHJ, October 1917.

There is an excellent history of the Cutex company, which was founded by Northam Warren, complete with product descriptions and early advertising: click here.

This Cutex cuticle remover ad from October 1917 explains how to use it by soaking cotton in the Cutex and applying it to the cuticle with an orange stick. (The thimble-like object is the cork bottle stopper.)

The Cutex company’s initial product was a liquid for softening and minimizing cuticles without cutting them:  Cuticle-“X,”  became the “Cutex” brand.

Cutex Cuticle Remover ad, October 1917; Ladies’ Home Journal. “Discard forever your manicure scissors!”

After removing the cuticle and buffing your nails to a rosy shine, you could finish by whitening the tips of your nails:

Applying Cutex nail white, from a 1917 advertisement. “A touch of Cutex Nail White underneath the nails leaves them immaculate — snowy white.” Later,  Nail White came in a tube, making it easier to apply. This is an ancestor of the “French Manicure” popular at the end of the 2oth century.

In 1917  — and into the 1920’s — the ideal was an almond-shaped nail with a distinct half-moon at the base and white tips:

The twenties’ ideal was almond nails with white half moons and tips; from an ad for Cutex, November 1927; Delineator. Colored polish was not applied to the tip or the base of the nail.

Half moons and lovely oval fingernails. Cutex ad, April 1928. Delineator. The “ideal nail shape” changed to sharply pointed nails in the nineteen thirties, but the half moons and tips remained white.

According to several sources, clear liquid nail polish was available in 1916, and Cutex sold a clear liquid polish, tinted “natural” pink, after 1920, but in this Cutex ad from 1924, Cutex Liquid Polish which “lasts a whole week” is just one option among the older buffing products like powder polish, cake polish, and paste polish.

An introductory set:  Cutex powder polish and liquid polish plus cuticle remover and cuticle cream. Ad in Delineator, October 1924. Full sizes cost 35 cents each.

Throughout the nineteen twenties, liquid polish gained popularity.

The “sophisticated Parisienne” applies Cutex Liquid Nail Polish in this ad from November, 1926. Delineator. The brush is now part of the bottle cap.

Cutex packaging was changing, too.

A sample of Cutex liquid nail polish in a bottle with separate brush. Ad from November 1926. “In two shades, “Natural or the New Deep Rose.” A bottle of nail polish remover was included.

By 1928, Cutex ad campaigns featured celebrities like Anita Loos.

Anita Loos appeared in an ad for Cutex liquid nail polish in 1928.

Illustrator and industrial designer Helen Dryden praised liquid Cutex nail polish.

Fashion Illustrator Helen Dryden illustrated many magazine covers for Delineator. Cutex ad, 1928.

So did this “lady explorer” (Osa Johnson) on a zebra….

Cutex ad, January 1929, Delineator. Cutex liquid nail polish was advertised as nail protection in the late 1920’s.

Also in the late twenties, Cutex packaging took on an Art Deco look:

Cutex Liquid Nail Polish and Nail Polish Remover. January 1929 advertisement. This introductory offer included both for 6 cents, but normal sized bottles cost 35 cents each.

Incredibly, it seems that liquid nail polish was sold in the 1910’s before nail polish remover appeared, but in this 1929 introductory package, they are offered together.

The ideal fingernail was not overly long in the 1920s — and nail polish did not cover the “half-moon” or the tips of the nails. Cutex ad, Delineator, June 1928.

Elegant hands wear colored nail polish on a Delineator cover, February 1932. Dynevor Rhys illustration.

As liquid nail polish became available in a range of bright colors, Cutex had to convince women to wear them. There was an ad campaign stressing that respectable socialites and debutantes wore colored nail polish. Presumably, conservative women thought red nails were the sign of a scarlet woman, and had to be persuaded otherwise.

Do 1932 debutantes choose tinted nails or natural? Cutex ad, Delineator, February 1932. “The popular girl of 1932 is way past losing sleep over whether to wear her nails bright or pale.”

Debutantes were encouraged to wear colored nail polish — and sharply pointed nails. Cutex ad, Delineator, February 1932. Applying polish to just part of the nail is definitely more difficult than painting the entire nail, but fashion is rarely practical….

Pointed nails shaped like claws appeared in the early 1930’s.

The picture of innocence? Strawberry soda and very sharp fingernails painted to match. Delineator cover, July 1933. Dynevor Rhys illustration.

If respectable women were going to have bright red fingernails, they needed to be taught how to coordinate their nail polish with their clothing.

Three highly respectable socialites wear brightly colored nail polish. From left, ruby red nails with a black outfit, rose nails with a green dress and silver fox fur, and coral nails with a beige dress. Cutex ad, February 1933, Delineator.

Tinted or natural colored nail polish? It depended on what you were wearing. Cutex ad, February 1932. “Wear Cardinal with black velvet — Natural with brocaded [metallic] lame — and Coral to accent white satin.”

A larger range of colors was available:

Cutex advertised six nail polish colors in February 1933. Delineator. A woman had to have several choices so she wouldn’t “commit Atrocities” with clashing colors. “If there’s any dress in your closet that hasn’t its special shade of polish to snap it up, go get it!” That should increase sales….

There was also price competition:

Ad for Glazo liquid nail polish, Delineator, February 1934. At 25 cents, Glazo was much cheaper than 35 cent Cutex, which made it easier to own several colors.

From an ad for Glazo nail polish, Delineator, February 1934. “Six authentic shades. Natural, Shell, Flame, Geranium, Crimson, Mandarin Red, Colorless.”

Women also needed more nail polish in the nineteen thirties, because they were encouraged to paint their toenails, too.

A “manicure” included matching polished toenails in this beauty advice article from July 1934. Delineator, p. 37. The new, open-toed sandals for day or evening showed off twinkling toes.

In the thirties, open-toed shoes came out of the bedroom and on to the dance floor. These high-heeled evening sandals , trimmed with gold, were featured in 1934:

Right, evening sandals, June 1934, Delineator.

The sandals pictured below are for daytime wear, but not necessarily on the beach.

Fashion article in Delineator, June 1934. Sandals to show “your tanned feet and tinted toe-nails.”

Daytime sandals described in Delineator fashion article, June 1934.

EXTRAS:  You can still buy a nail buffer and polishing cream at Vermont Country Store.

There is a History of Cutex with color ads at the Chronically Vintage blog, and an authoritative history of Cutex with color ads and images of products 1920, etc. at the Northam Warren (Cutex) site.



Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, World War I

Beauty Advice from the Nineteen Twenties: Keep Your Chin(s) Up

Ad for Catherine McCunes’s Silk Muscle Lifting Mask, January 1928, Delineator magazine. “Note How Mask Lifts and Supports Sagging Facial Muscles.”

Title of a page of beauty advice by Celia Caroline Cole, Delineator, May 1927, p. 35.

The cherubs turn away in distress from the sight of a double chin.

Cherubs avert their eyes from a double chin in this illustration by L. Fevrier. 1927.

In this 1918 ad for rubber reducing garments, a chin strap could be bought for seventy-five cents.

In 1918, the Bailey Rubber Company sold reducing garments, including a “chin band for reducing double chin.” The rubber garment idea was to dissolve body fat by sweating — like rendering lard from a side of beef. Fat and water, however, are not the same thing.

Catherine McCune promised that wearing her Muscle Lifting Mask would wipe out wrinkles, too. Ad from Delineator, Oct. 1927.

Elizabeth Arden ran a series of ads with this disturbing image; this woman is not recovering from surgery, but receiving a beauty treatment:

The Elizabeth Arden salons sold cold cream, skin tonic, astringents,  and other beauty preparations. This image comes from an ad in Delineator, April 1925. “Tones, firms, whitens and refines the skin.” “Use a Patter for brisk resilient strokes.”

This ad is selling Elizabeth Arden’s Amiral “reducing soap” “for a double chin:”

Ad for Elizabeth Arden’s Amiral Soap, November 1924. “Absorbed by the skin, it breaks down fat by a natural harmless process, stimulates circulation to remove fatty waste.” [If only spot reduction were that easy….]

It’s probably not a coincidence that Delineator’s beauty writer, Celia Cole,  vouched for the efficacy of astringent soap, “skin food,” and even salon reducing treatments that used electricity. She doesn’t name the salon, but those monthly ads paid for by Elizabeth Arden may have had some influence on the editorial choices of Delineator magazine.

From “Chins in the Air”, by Celia Cole. Delineator, May 1927, p. 35.

Those Elizabeth Arden ads offer the “Arden Patter” (for spanking your double chin) for five dollars. Five dollars! In 1925 !

“Perfectly scientific” beauty treatments as described in Delineator, May 1927. To be fair, Celia Caroline Cole also recommended exercise.

Illustration by Brunner for an article on weight loss, Delineator, September 1928. “Floors trembled and ceilings fell from woman’s effort to get thin. Somebody wrote a book about calories…. The lettuce business increased six-fold in ten years.”

Compared to chin “patters,” pseudo-scientific ointments, and electric shocks, maybe the Silk Muscle Lifting masks weren’t the craziest way to spend money in a attempt to preserve your youth.

Complete ad for Silk Muscle Lifting Mask, Delineator, January 1928.

Complete ad for Muscle Lifting Mask, Delineator, October 1927. It was worn while sleeping, or for a few minutes every day. “Much less expensive than plastic surgery or deep peel.” [Did you realize those treatments were available in the 1920’s?]

A no-longer youthful woman ponders her reflection, May 1927. Delineator.

If you are interested in the history of fashion for the mature woman, you might enjoy a visit to AmericanAgeFashion.

Wrigley's gum Curve of Beauty ad 1934 july

Another, [perfectly unscientific] series of ads recommended chewing Wrigley’s gum as a beauty treatment for the facial muscles. I took me three blog posts to share all the ads I found: Chew Gum for Beauty (Part 1), Part 2, and Part 3. The ad above is from 1934. “Keep [your cheek line] from looking old and saggy; chew Double Mint gum. This gentle exercise 5 to 10 minutes daily aids in toning up unused and lazy facial muscles. Try this new Beauty Treatment.”


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Freckles and Freckle Creams, 1920s and Later

Top of an ad for Othine Double Strength Freckle cream, Delineator, May 1925, p 29.

I’ve already written about skin bleaches from the 1920’s and 1930’s. I’ve also collected a number of ads for freckle removers, from several different makers, ranging from 1917 to the 1940’s. They use a standard advertising strategy: First, make women feel self-conscious about something that’s perfectly normal, then sell them something to “fix” it.

“Your freckles ruin your appearance;” ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, Aug. 1924.

“Are you one of the 14,695,000 folks who wish they could get rid of freckles?” Ad for Othine cream, Redbook magazine, 1949.

Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, July 1917. “Freckles are ‘as a cloud before the sun’ hiding your brightness, your beauty.”

Freckles were O.K. on boys, apparently, but not on their sisters.

The freckled face of child actor Mickey Daniels was an asset to his career in the Our Gang Comedies.  Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream, Sept. 1924. Delineator.

“Your freckles always attract attention, no matter how well you dress.” Stillman’s promised to “dissolve away” freckles and whiten, refine and beautify your skin. “Guaranteed to remove freckles or money refunded.”

Stillman’s ad from Chatelaine, a Canadian magazine, August, 1939. p. 31.

Probably the creepiest anti-freckle ads were for a product called Mercolized Wax. “Better than trying to hide or cover up such disfigurements. Simply apply the wax at bedtime and wash off in the morning. This actually peels off the freckled cuticle, gently, gradually, without harm or inconvenience. Unveils the young, healthy, beautiful skin underneath. Unequaled as a blemish remover and complexion rejuvenator.”

Mercolized Wax seemed to promise to lift the freckles right out of your skin. Ad from 1924.

In that ad, freckles were equated with “disfigurements” and “blemishes” — I began to wonder whether they were talking about blackheads or freckles. Pulling the freckles out of your skin would not be a pleasant or beautifying act.

Astonishingly, Mercolized Wax was was still running ads in 1942!

Mercolized wax ad, Redbook magazine, September 1942. I found this ad via Pro-Quest. “Mercolized Wax Cream flakes off the surface skin in tiny, almost invisible particles, revealing a fairer, fresher, more attractive underskin. Start bleaching skin now.”

At least, by 1942, the ads no longer imply that freckles will be yanked right out of your face; it’s more like a “skin peel.” Use according to directions, indeed.

This 1934 ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream is almost identical to an ad Stillman’s ran in 1924. They even used the same photo. Delineator, June 1934.

Here’s a more lyrical Stillman’s ad from 1921:

Ad for Stillman’s Freckle Cream in Vogue magazine, August 15, 1921.

Ad for Othine Freckle Remover, August 1926, Delineator.

“Don’t try to hide your freckles or waste time on lemon juice [used for its acidic bleaching properties] or cucumbers; get an ounce of Othine and remove them.”

Amazingly, both Stillman’s and Othine offered a money-back guarantee. In addition to freckle creams like Stillman’s, Othine, and Mercolized Wax, bleach creams like Golden Peacock were also touted for freckle removal.

1933 ad for Golden Peacock skin bleach, Delineator, Aug. 1933. The “before” photo is very unconvincing!

I’ve been watching a lot of young artists on YouTube lately; I’m happy to see some of them drawing women with freckles. One of my favorites, Minnie Small (aka,) sketched this freckled beauty.  I like the way her freckles are intrinsic to her look. (If you like, you can watch a 3 minute video of this sketch being created. Just click on the image.)

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Hairstyles for April 1937

Illustration of “Six New Hairdressings for Gadabout,” Woman’s Home Companion, April 1937. Ben-Hur Baz, illustrator.

The Womans’ Home Companion had hairstyles from leading salons illustrated in April of 1937.

Text for “Six Hairdressings” article, WHC, April 1937. The letters next to each head are the call numbers for radio stations, where readers could listen to fashion reports..

These hairdos look very fussy to me — would a lover would ever dare run fingers through them? –and they were probably full of hidden hairpins.

On the theory that product advertisements use models that women can identify with, I browsed through advertisements from 1936 and 1937 in the same magazine, looking for photographs, rather than drawings. Some hairstyles in ads did have this tightly curled and controlled look.

Tight, sculptured curls in an ad for Ipana toothpaste. WHC, Oct. 1936.

Here, the hair seems to reflect the models’ state of digestion….

Woman to woman advice in a Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia ad, WHC, Dec. 1936.

One of the models in this ad for Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia [a laxative] is definitely curled “up tight” (constipated hair?)

And so is the mother in this article about hairstyles for mother and daughter:

Supposedly, this is how the daughter wished her mother would update her hair style. WHC, May, 1937.

I get the impression that tightly controlled hair styles were aimed at the sophisticated or “mature” reader.  But not necessarily; there’s not a sculptured curl to be seen on these women who are pictured in an ad for Brownatone Hair Dye.

Women in an ad for hair dye show a range of styles, from a late 1920’s Marcel with tiny bun (lower left), to loose, almost collar- length waves. February 1937.

This chic sophisticate has far-from-casual hair…

Ad for Dorothy Gray cosmetics, March 1937. WHC.

… compared to this model in the same issue:

Soft, loosely waved hair on a model in an ad for Colgate toothpaste, March 1937.WHC.

Another off-the-face style from later in 1937:

Natural looking off-the-face waves in an ad for Doggett and Ramsdell cleansing cream. WHC, Dec. 1937. The asymmetrical hairstyle leaves room for an off-center hat.

Below, on the right, a group of models as “career girls.”

Top left, thick, loose curls from an ad for Dodge cars; right, shorter hair for “career girls;” and bottom left, a mother in an ad for Lux laundry soap. 1936-1937, WHC.

The Ponds face cream ads showed a series of lovely women; both the debutante and the duchess have loose, fluffy hairstyles:

Miss Phyllis Konta, New York debutante, in an ad for Ponds cold cream, WHC, March 1937.

The Duchess of Leinster’s hair had to accommodate a tiara. June, 1937, WHC. Ad for Ponds cold cream.

Colgate ran a series of toothpaste ads featuring women who looked lovely until they smiled.

Toothpaste ad, May 1937.

Toothpaste ad, September 1937.

This Bayer Aspirin ad shows two views of the same headache-sufferer. Did taking an aspirin relax her hair?

Before and after in an ad for Bayer Aspirin. WHC, Dec. 1936.

As in the ad for Milk of Magnesia, relief and comfort are symbolized by a more natural hairstyle.

Of course, in 1937, a woman’s hairstyle was dictated by the need to wear a hat while shopping or dining in restaurants, so a curl-free area was usual in daytime hairdos.

Women in a color ad for Dodge, Dec. 1937

Women in an ad for Ponds cold cream, Oct. 1937. The hostess is the only one without a hat, and the crown of her head is smooth — and hat-ready..

Two women wearing hats; Kotex ad, Nov. 1937.

With the exception of motion picture actresses, the hair is usually worn rather close to the head.

Movie starlets in an ad for Richard Hudnut makeup, April 1937.

Actress Merle Oberon in an ad for Richard Hudnut makeup, December 1937. Her hair softly frames her face. Her plucked and penciled eyebrows look more 1920’s than 1930’s. (Compare them with the other models from 1937.)

The brushed-back hair of this model could almost pass for a 1950’s style — but it’s from February, 1937, before the “Six Hairdressings” article was written.

A brushed, almost casual hairstyle from an ad for Dorothy Gray cosmetics, February, 1937. Cartier supplied the jewels.

The model is far from girlish (and the jewels are from Cartier), but she seems much more “timeless” than Merle Oberon, and miles away from this:

Suggested “Hairdressings” from April, 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

Maybe the ad agencies were more in touch with popular fashion than the editors of Woman’s Home Companion?

Added consideration: One disadvantage of close-to-the-head hairstyles is that, without a hat or fuller hair to balance the width of shoulders and hips, a normal woman can’t come close to the long, lean 1930’s fashion silhouette; this fashion photo from Woman’s Home Companion shows how small the head can look in relation to the figure. [Hair — and shoulders — got much bigger by the forties!]

A photo of “styles in stores;” WHC, March 1936.

In the mid-thirties, as photography replaced fashion illustrations in the “women’s magazines,” women had a more realistic image of what was possible.

Instead of adjusting our idea of beauty, the magazines and designers eventually adjusted the height and weight of the models they used.


Filed under 1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Hairstyles, Makeup & Lipstick, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Beauty Spots, Court Plasters, and Patches

A package of gummed black beauty spots, from Johnson and Johnson, circa 1915-1927.

A package of gummed black beauty spots, from Johnson and Johnson, between 1912 and 1927.

When I inherited my Aunt’s house, I found this little envelope, about three inches wide. It originally contained “100 Assorted Beauty Spots manufactured by Johnson and Johnson.”
There are quite are few left in the envelope.

Gummed beauty spots in the shape of circles, stars, crescent moons, triangles, etc.

Gummed beauty spots in the shape of circles, stars, crescent moons, squares,  triangles, etc.

According to the very helpful Kilmer House website, Johnson and Johnson first made this item in 1912, and continued to sell Beauty Spots until 1927. You can read a very good article from Kilmer House about court plasters, beauty spots, and their relationship to Band-Aids (TM) by clicking here.

Butterick pattern 4298 for a "Martha Washington" costume. February, 1924.

Butterick pattern 4298 for a “Martha Washington” costume. Delineator, February, 1924.

When I was writing about this vintage masquerade costume pattern a few days ago, I noticed that “Martha Washington” had beauty spots on her face, and remembered the little package that belonged to my Aunt Dot. (no pun intended.)

Pattern for an 18th century costume, from 1924. Accessories: a white wig, a small mask, and beauty spots.

Pattern for an 18th century costume, from 1924. Accessories: a white wig, a small mask, and beauty spots.

The satirists Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, writing in their magazine, The Spectator in 1711, produced a much quoted satire on ladies wearing beauty spots (then called “patches.”) You can read it by clicking here. (It’s followed by a satire on the size of petticoats in 1709.)

The young man has a patch on his neck; the woman is wearing at least two patches. Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, Plate III. From Engravings by Hogarth, Sean Shesgreen, Ed.

The young man has a patch on his neck; the woman is wearing at least two patches. Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, Plate III, 1745. From Engravings by Hogarth, Sean Shesgreen, Ed.

These little black patches (called “mouches” in France) could be stuck to the face to draw attention to an attractive feature (like the natural mole near Cindy Crawford’s lips.) A small black star near the eye might give importance to that feature, while  distracting us from a missing tooth, or a pimple on the nose. In fact, Steele mentions a lady who used a patch to cover a pimple, which made people misjudge her political affiliation. (He says patches on the right or on the left cheek proclaimed a lady’s politics in 1711.)

There is a wonderful gallery of 17th and 18th century images featuring beauty marks and patches at Poor Little Rich Girl by Boudoir Queen. Click here to enjoy them.

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette, Costumed by Adrian in 1938. From Creating the Illusion, by Jorgenson and Scoggins,, p. 144.

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette, Costumed by Adrian in 1938. From Creating the Illusion, by Jorgenson and Scoggins, p. 144.

Here is 1930’s star Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette wearing beauty patches. Her costumes, by Adrian, were many yards over the top (and the movie was in black and white!)

Here is an Italian diagram for the placement of beauty spots.

Marilyn Monroe sometimes accented her mole, or beauty mark.

This Pictorial Review cover from 1927 shows a woman in an 18th century white wig and a beauty spot.

Men wore beauty patches, too.  According to The Encyclopedia of Fashion,

“Beginning in the late sixteenth century, fashionable men and women imitated this natural mark by sticking black beauty patches on their faces. These patches were eventually used to send signals to members of the opposite sex in flirtatious courtship rituals, but they had a practical use as well. Carefully shaped black patches could be applied to hide blemishes and scars on the face, especially the deep round scars left on those who survived the frequent outbreaks of smallpox.” Read more here.

The historical film spectacle Orphans of the Storm (the storm was the French Revolution) opened in 1921. Rudolf Valentino’s movie Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) may also have prompted some people to wear 18th century masquerade costumes in the twenties. In this poster,  both Valentino and his female co-star wear “patches.” Here is another view.

There  was even a language of patches, just as there was a language of fans and a language of flowers. With three patches you could day “I am married” but “I entertain propositions” and “I know how to keep a secret, ” among other things.

In novels of the early twentieth century, a small cut may be treated with a self-adhesive “court plaster,” which you cut to size as needed. Practical big sisters often carried court plasters in their pockets.  Kilmer House — the history division of Johnson and Johnson —  explains the name:

“Johnson & Johnson made Beauty Spots out of materials left over from making plasters.  Since 1887, Johnson & Johnson had been making Court Plasters, which had the same origins but were the more practical cousin to Beauty Spots.  To confuse matters, Beauty Spots were sometimes referred to as Court Plasters, a name that goes back to their origins in the royal courts of Europe.  They had been used by court women, who set the fashions in their day.  According to Fred Kilmer, Court Plasters started out as fashion statements, before being used by the masses to cover small cuts and scratches. “

Into the Gloss wrote a nice summary of attitudes toward moles and beauty marks over the years.

My Aunt Dot, sitting on a roof as a teenager in 1919. She like costume parties. I wonder when she bought that package of beauty spots.

My Aunt Dot, sitting on a roof as a teenager in 1919. She liked costume parties. I wonder when she bought that package of beauty spots, and how she used them.

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Filed under 1700s, 1800s-1830s, 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Costumes for the 17th Century, Costumes for the 18th Century, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Chic Wigs for September, 1927

Transformations in the mode of the present day.... All the pictures are of the same charming woman. Top of page 37, Delineator, September, 1927.

Transformations in the mode of the present day…. All the pictures are of the same charming woman. Top of page 37, Delineator, September, 1927.

Yes, fashion wigs, or “transformations,” as they were called, allowed a woman to change her hair color and hairstyle to suit her mood in the 1920’s. This full page of transformations, from Delineator, September, 1927, shows five wigs, all on the same model.

"A deep wave accents the gold in blonde hair." Delineator, Sep.t 1927, p. 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“A deep wave accents the gold in blonde hair.” Delineator, Sept. 1927, p. 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

She doesn’t seem blonde to me, but that is a lovely hairstyle, and no one would guess it wasn’t her own hair.

500 blond hair wig 1927 sept p 37 transformations one model many wigs white silver page

“At the top of the page is a blonde bob, the only bob in the group. The other transformations all have the small knot at the neck. This transformation is parted far on the left, drawn low on one side of the forehead and low over the ears.”

text of article delineator sept 1927 p 37

“In the center, dark brown hair, parted a little on the right is brought low on the forehead in the curled fringe one sees so often on the smart Parisienne. Faintly serious, a  little demure, there is yet a piquancy about this transformation.”

A dark brown wig with "curled fringe." Delineator, Sept 1927. Photo by Johnston.

A dark brown wig with “curled fringe.” Delineator, Sept 1927. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“The silver head is so lovely that we couldn’t resist showing you two views of it.”

A silver wig for women sixteen or sixty, Delineator, Sept. 1927, p 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston

A silver wig for women of sixteen or sixty, Delineator, Sept. 1927, p 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston

“There is an enchantment and coquetry in silver locks. Whether one is sixteen or sixty, pure white hair deepens the color and adds brilliance to eyes, and the skin becomes more delicately pink and glowing. [18th century aristocrats wore white wigs, or powdered their hair, to get this look.] Here the wave is very wide so that the shadows will not lose their subtlety.”

A white wig worn by a young woman, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

A white wig worn by a young woman, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

A dark wig with a tiny bun low on the neck in back. September, 1917, Delineator, page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

Formal elegance: A dark wig with a tiny bun low on the neck in back. September, 1917, Delineator, page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“…A transformation is arranged with simple elegance for a formal occasion. The contour of the head is closely followed and an air of extreme dignity is attained.”

A chestnut wig, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

A chestnut wig, Delineator, Sept. 1927. Page 37. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston.

“… A soft chestnut coiffure is very graceful. It has a flattering soft bang, covers the ears and has the small chignon, which is most attractive.”

Credits for the "transformations" photo shoot.

Credits for the “transformations” photo shoot in 1927.

Wig tips for costumers:  If you have ever worn a wig, you’ll know that it will look most realistic if the hair is not swept straight back from the hairline, but has at least a few hairs covering the forehead where the wig begins — something all these “transformations” have in common. They were intended to be worn in private life, and seen from inches away.  “Movie wigs” and good theatrical wigs have a delicate flesh-toned mesh at the front, with individual hairs “ventilated” into the mesh — The process is much like making a hooked rug (a very tiny one, with hairs instead of yarn.) This mesh can then be glued to the actor’s forehead, and looks very realistic — although I don’t know how HDTV is affecting that! Sean Connery’s crew-cut gray wig in the movie Red October was amazingly convincing — My husband and I came out of the movie talking about that wig!

If you can’t afford a high quality wig to wear with your off-the face-Gibson girl updo, try positioning a Gibson styled wig the same color as your hair slightly behind your hairline. Use a rat-tailed comb to pull about a quarter inch of your own hair out from under the wig cap, and carefully brush it into the hair of the wig before spraying it.


Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Hairstyles, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Accessories, vintage photographs

To Tan or Not to Tan 1920s – 1930s

Elizabeth I, the Rainbow Portrait, in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Elizabeth I, detail of the “Rainbow Portrait” in Hatfield House; image via wikimedia commons

Three centuries after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, American women still believed that beautiful skin should be pale.

Advertisement, 1917.

Advertisement, 1917. “So tanned, so colorless …. However unattractive exposure to the summer sun may have made” your face….

“Fair and tender ladies” with “peaches and cream” complexions — that was the fashion ideal promulgated for thousands of years, and not just in Europe. (Click here for the disturbing “White Skin: A Chinese Obsession.

"So tanned, so colorless -- What shall she do?" Ad from Ladies' Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

“So tanned, so colorless — What shall she do?” Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, 1917. Advertisement for Woodbury soap.

Then came the nineteen twenties…. When chic American and European women wanted to be sun-tanned.

"Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!" Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

“Sun-tan makes Maybelline more necessary than ever!” Ad for eye makeup, Delineator, July 1929, p. 81.

One of the many bizarre ideals of beauty — one that has given pain to as many women as the fashions for impossibly thin bodies or bound feet — is the crazy idea that beauty requires a light or pale skin tone. The Ancient Egyptians and Etruscans often portrayed women in a lighter shade of paint than men. “The feminine ideal during the Han period (2000 years ago) for women of the court was almost unearthly white, white skin. Moon-like roundish faces, long black hair,” writes Ann Rose Kitagawa.  Cosmetics that were supposed to lighten your skin have been around for thousands of years. For women of color, there are plenty of depressing  vintage ads for preparations that are supposed to lighten or bleach your skin. (And plenty of modern ones, too….)

“The Greeks favored light complexions, which they maintained using white lead. This was later replaced by chalk powder (around 1000 BCE) due to the many deaths caused by slow lead poisoning.” [White lead, which was also used in cosmetics by the Elizabethans, is a form of arsenic.]— read more at

At a time when almost all people worked out of doors (that is, for most of human history,) tanned skin was the mark of a peasant, and lighter skin the mark of higher social status: the educated, the administrators, and the aristocrats. This idea was turned upside down between the 1920’s and the 1930’s, when more people worked indoors, and only wealthy people could afford to vacation at beach resorts during the winter months. Suddenly, a winter tan became a status symbol for Americans and Europeans, influencing dress, as explained in this 1929 magazine article:

"Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion." Article in Delineator Magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

“Tan Takes its Turn as a Maker of Fashion.” Article in Delineator magazine, February, 1929, p. 25.

This article even mentions artificial tanning: “Last summer’s tan, acquired on the Lido or American Beaches, conserved during the winter months with a sun machine and ready to deepen now at Palm Beach or Bermuda…,” could be maintained with a tanning lamp like this one.

"Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;" ad for a Health Developer Tanning Lamp, 1929.

“Now you can afford Ultra-Violet sunshine;” ad for a Health Developer Twin-Arc Tanning Lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Applliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

Ad for National Health Appliance Corp. tanning lamp, 1929.

To be fair, the “health” claims were related to the relatively recent discovery of Vitamin D, its part in calcium absorption, and the need for sunshine to prevent the bone-deforming disease, rickets, in children. But the sunlamp was undoubtedly as much a fashion item as a health item in 1929.

It’s not surprising that women were confused in the late twenties and early thirties — To tan, or not to tan? [Personal note:  I am very pale, as California girls go, but my mother, who prized her extremely white skin, was terribly disappointed that her little girl was not as fair-skinned as she was. Apparently, some women who lived through this “tan/not tan” era were never enthusiastic about the new fashion.]

Even in the thirties, not every woman chose to get a tan. Story illustration from Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

Even in the thirties, not every fair-skinned woman chose to get a tan. Two blondes in a story illustration from Woman’s Home Companion, Jan. 1936.

I was amused to find these two ads facing each other in the pages of Delineator in 1924, before tanning became chic.

Left, an ad advising a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a bleaching cream. Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Left, an ad suggesting a remedy for sunburn; right, an ad for a skin bleaching cream.   Delineator, Aug. 1924.

Nadinola “whitens the skin to milky purity. It bleaches freckles, sun-tan and wind-tan.”

Absorbine, Jr. promised that “the next day,” users would have “only a slightly deeper coat of tan as a reminder of the day’s sport.”  In 1924, getting a tan was an accident that called for a remedy like Nadinola Bleaching Cream, which promised “The Lure of Southern Loveliness.” [Hmmmm.]

In 1928, the unlucky girl who accidentally got a tan could buy Gouraud’s Oriental Cream to cover it up:

"A Sunproof Complexion" -- or the illusion of one -- could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream. Ad, July 1928.

“A Sunproof Complexion” — or the illusion of one — could be applied with a bottle of Oriental Cream, which “renders an entrancing film of pearly beauty….”  Ad, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, a makeup which covered up a tan. Delineator, July 1928.

Text of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, a face and body makeup which covered up a tan, and theoretically prevented one. “You appearance will not be blemished by the sun or wind.” Delineator, July 1928.

Bottom of ad for Gouraud's Oriental Cream, apparently a liquid body makeup. July 1928

Bottom of ad for Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, which seems to be a liquid body makeup. July 1928. Delineator.

Apparently a liquid body makeup, Oriental Cream was available in “White, Flesh and Rachel.” “Rachel” was a dark-ish makeup color for olive or tanned complexions. Here is a “don’t fear the beach, use Apex Bleach” ad aimed at women of color in the 1920’s.

[I can’t read “Flesh” color without thinking about comedian and civil rights leader Dick Gregory‘s sixties’ joke (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that he really thought we were making progress towards racial equality — until he “tried to buy a flesh colored bandaid.” Dick Gregory opened some windows in my little, white world. And guess what? — that joke is still valid.]

However, by 1929 suntanned faces and bodies were in style, according to fashion magazines:

500 title 1929 feb tan article p 25

Beginning of text of suntans and fashions article in Delineator, February, 1929.

Beginning of article about fashions and colors to flatter a suntan in Delineator, February, 1929.

Notice the references to American and European resorts: Palm Beach, Antibes, the Lido (Venice), Bermuda…. French resorts like Deauville and Biarritz– where Chanel started her rise to eminence — were part of the phenomenon. “It has become smart to look healthy, smart to go in for tan, and smart to dress expressly for it.”

A sports suit with "sunburn back" used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929.

A sports suit with “sunburn back” used white with vivid colors to compliment the tan. Delineator, Feb. 1929. Her back is bare, but wrinkled by the model’s pose.

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 top lower

425 1929 feb tan article p 25 lower rt end

“Even the southern evening frock is deliberately more decollete than ever so as to reveal the extent of the day’s tan.”

“The necessity of being true to your tan and its outline,” e.g., U shaped, V shaped  or square-shaped, is important, since your bathing suit line would dictate the other clothes you could wear to show off your tan. “Tan is truly the maker of fashion.”

A deep U shape in front. Feb, 1929 Delineator.

A deep neckline in front and intense flower prints to go with a tan. Feb, 1929, Delineator.

Low-cut evening gowns also exposed your tan, front and back.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator Fe. 1929.

Evening gown in blue chiffon, Delineator, Feb. 1929. It “Follows the design of the sports suit” with the very deep “sunburn” back.

That’s not to say that women were not conflicted by contradictory advertising.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Top image from an ad for Golden Peacock Bleach cream. July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931.

Ad for Golden Peacock skin bleaching cream, July 1931. “Ten nights — and you’ll be a ravishing, fair skinned beauty!”

Note that these skin bleach ads from Delineator magazine were primarily aimed at women with Caucasian/European ancestry. Many other products that claimed to bleach or lighten skin were advertised to women with naturally dark complexions.

B. Vikki Vintage has written a well-illustrated review of  Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African-American Women, 1920-1975 by Susannah Walker. Visit her blog here.

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream. That is a low cut bathing suit!

1929 ad for Hinds Honey Almond Cream.  This extremely low-cut bathing suit matches some equally low cut evening dresses of the 1930’s. Click here.

"Sunshine weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it."

“Sunshine in moderation is good. Severe sunburn, however, weathers the skin unmercifully. Does more than anything else to age it.” Ad for Hinds Cream.

“To prevent that fiery sunscorch in the first place, — before going on the beach, smooth on Hinds Cream, and powder over it.”

“Powder over it?” In 1931, Dorothy Gray offered a product that claimed to prevent sunburn by “absorbing ultra-violet rays.” (It probably did work better than powder over moisturizer):

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit.

Ad for Dorothy Gray sunscreen. July 1931. Note the peculiar suntan lines that will be caused by this swimsuit, which the model has obviously not worn before. Judging by her legs and midriff, she tanned her arms and upper back while wearing a dress.

Text of Dorothy Gray ad, July 1931.

Text of Dorothy Gray Sunburn Cream ad, July 1931. $2.00 was not an insignificant amount of money. In 1924 and in 1936, a working woman paid about $20 per month for a rented room.

The fashion for tanning was not necessarily long, or universal, and like all fads … It faded.

Illustration from "Keeping Up and Making Up," Delineator, June 1934. "When Skins Change Their Color, It's News."

Illustration from “Keeping Up and Making Up,” Delineator, June 1934. Dark tan in 1932, lighter tan in 1933, and a big beach hat and cover-up in 1934.”When Skins Change Their Color, It’s News.”

“News” seems to suggest that very deep tans were losing their cachet by 1934. But this cartoon from 1936 contradicts it — at least for an English humorist:

"Don't worry, darling. You'll look quite respectable in a day or two." Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear'em, by Christina Walkley.

“Don’t worry, darling. You’ll look quite respectable in a day or two.” Punch magazine cartoon from 1936, in The Way to Wear’em, by Christina Walkley.

I’m afraid, from the dismay on the dark-suited girl’s face, that the cartoonist did not agree that a dark tan was “respectable.” The old “peasants versus aristocrats” stereotype had not died.

Sadly, millions of women in third-world countries are still using skin bleach products that contain mercury and other toxic ingredients in the quest for lighter skin. Click here to read The Global Phenomenon of Skin Bleaching: A Crisis in Public Health.










Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Cosmetics, Beauty Products, Costumes for the 17th Century, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits