Accounts of vintage makeup and cosmetics use are well documented throughout the centuries. Oils and ointments have been used by Egyptians to clean and scent their body since 10,000 BC. They rouged their cheeks, painted their lips, and rimmed both upper and lower eyelids with a kohl pigment. They extended eyeliner upwards to affect an almond eye shape and heavily shadowed lids and brows for protection from the sun’s glare.
Makeup history indicates the use of beauty enhancements gained and lost favor throughout the centuries. Although cosmetics were frowned upon during the Middle Ages and Queen Victoria considered makeup usage vulgar, fragrances, skin softening balms, and the light use of powders have always been popular.
The widely reported 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and artifacts depicting the young King with eyes and brows darkly rimmed coincided with the emerging motion picture industry. Early stage makeup techniques were primitive and did not translate well to everyday wear. We have vintage makeup pioneer Max Factor to thank for the proliferation of present day cosmetics.
Vintage Makeup Pioneers
- Becoming the authority on and perfecting the medium for greasepaint in film-making as early as 1914, Max Factor began marketing cosmetics to the public in 1920. He is credited with coining the term make-up for cosmetics, the first waterproof mascara, and development of makeup in cake form that is applied with a damp sponge. His innovative pancake makeup is now called Max Factor Pan-Stik.
- Learning beauty and facial techniques in Paris salons during the early 1900s, Elizabeth Arden returned to America to build an empire teaching women the proper application of cosmetics. She was instrumental in making 1950s makeup en vogue with her Red Door Salon and Spas.
- Helena Rubinstein moved from Australia to America in 1918 to open beauty salons that would soon become known as spas. She was one of the first to understand that to market fifties makeup products effectively, luxurious packaging was essential. Her mantra was, “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”
- Revlon was founded in 1932 with a nail polish only line. By the end of World War II they had become one of the top five cosmetics firms in America and began marketing their products overseas in the late 1950’s. They introduced the world’s first American fashion designer fragrance, Norman Norell.
- Estée Lauder began marketing her own cosmetic line in 1935 after learning the beauty products business from her uncle. Lauder revolutionized how women used fragrance with the 1953 development of her bath oil, “Youth Dew.”
- Initially working as a chemist for Standard Oil company, Hazel Bishop envisioned a longer lasting lipstick that would not leave a smudge on clothing or cups. She founded Hazel Bishop, Inc. and manufactured “No Smear Lipstick.” It was a 1950s make up success.
- While watching the very popular soaps, fifties ladies answered the familiar “Avon Calling” tone for their local cosmetics representative’s presentation of the latest toiletries, perfumes, and make up. Vintage makeup products from Avon are collector’s items today.
- Not only did fashion icon Hattie Carnegie transform the delivery of haute couture to the wholesale and retail ready to wear public, her shops provided a line of cosmetics, perfumes, and jewelry. She said she dressed women from “Hat to Hem”. Most department stores followed suit with cosmetic consultants advising fifties housewives on the latest 1950s makeup techniques.
- The Maybelline Company began manufacturing Maybelline Cake Mascara in 1917 when 19 year old Tom Lyle Williams got the product idea after watching his sister Mabel use Vaseline and coal dust to thicken and lengthen her eyelashes. It was touted as the first modern eye cosmetic for everyday use.
- Worldwide leader in fragrance manufacturing during the 1940s, Coty, Inc. established The Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards to aid the American fashion industry gain recognition. Launching Coty 24 in 1955, the brand allowed 1950s women to continue their love affair with glamour and beauty – a romance that remains today.
These and other vintage makeup pioneers paved the way for today’s multinational cosmetics and perfume industry’s worldwide distribution of beauty products. This growing demand has expanded to not only fragrances and face makeup but to makeup primers, concealers, moisturizers, sunscreens, and exfoliates. They are purchased at corner markets, department stores, and online. Although higher end cosmetic brands continue to market their products in extravagant packages, most companies are trending toward more ecologically friendly containers.
There continues to be a market demand for the vintage makeup bottles, jars, and applicators from these innovators in early makeup development and design.