By the second half of the 1920s, print advertisements began appearing in color, making it infinitely easier for brands to sell eye-catching colored cosmetic products such as lipstick.
Featuring bold makeup on their covers, fashion magazines were instrumental in the proliferation of makeup in mainstream society.
Would your husband marry you again?
Overtly negative, sexist, and patronizing beauty advertising that created and played on women’s insecurities began in the 1920s and continued into the 1960s when a second wave of feminism hit the western world; although many would argue it still exists (albeit in a less obvious way) today.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, beauty advertising often had a gently chiding if not blithely threatening tone, selling products to women by playing on their insecurities. An ad in US Vogue from 1909 screams, VEIL OR NO VEIL? THAT IS THE QUESTION. Are you Proud of your complexion? Of course all girls wear veils some times but some girls wear veils all times. An editorial feature from the same magazine in November 1922 stresses the opinion that you only have yourself to blame for not looking good (unless, of course, you are positively disfigured): Women have always been more or less interested in cosmetics, but it is only the modern woman who had realized that while all the sex cannot rival Helen of Troy in beauty, still with proper care any woman who is not positively disfigured is justified in believing that she can attain a clear skin and greatly improve the appearance of teeth and hands. A Helena Rubinstein advertisement for various youthful skin procedures from 1923 is particularly scathing: Looksusually account for the fact that some women are escorted to parties, while others are merely seen home.
Advertisers decided that the best way to get women to buy more beauty products was to frighten them into it. Makeup was sold as glamour’: The philosophy was that the more effort you put in, the more beautiful you could be, and if you didn’t put in the effort, well, you only had yourself to blame. The headline of an Elizabeth Arden ad from 1929 reads, Some husbands are worth holding Mere beauty of face may win a husband, but it takes more than that to hold one in this day of competition. A 1921 ad for Palmolive soap asks, Would your husband marry you again? with a later ad (1932) from the same company showing little progression in selling style: I learned from a beauty expert how to hold my husband and why so many women fail Keep that schoolgirl complexion. Thankfully, overtly sexist beauty advertisements of this type peaked in the 1950s; afterward, they steadily declined as a second wave of feminism swept through the Western world in the sixties and seventies although again, many would argue that beauty advertising continues to patronize women to this day.
The Birth of Hollywood
The emergence and boom of the silent movie industry, from 1894 to 1929, had a dramatic effect on the development of cosmetics that continues to reverberate today. The makeup used for silent movies was initially the same as for the theater, although the audience’s inability to hear the actors made it even more crucial to emphasize their features to enable them to convey a wide range of emotions. Not only were cosmetics used to help actresses act, but the style and type of makeup that they wore could also signal to the audience the type of character they were playing from the typically downturned eyebrows of the fun-loving flapper (Clara Bow) to the almost black lips and smoky eyes of the vamp (Theda Bara).
Reflecting back on this period now, one of the first questions we might ask is: When did actresses evolve from being regarded not just as experts in makeup due both to its intrinsic role in their day-to-day work and their advance exposure to new products but as the individuals on whom women based their own appearance and look?
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