Although many of the ads during this period were illustrated, it is worth noting the importance of the development in photography, like the printing press before it. As photography steadily became more popular, so too did cosmetics. English photographer Henry Peach Robinson opened a portrait studio in Leamington Spa in 1857, and he soon had a successful business taking and selling portraits of the general public. Lamenting the vanity of his clients, he reportedly said, all kinds of powders and cosmetics were brought into play, until sitters did not think they were being properly treated if their faces and hair were not powdered until they looked like a ghastly mockery of the clown in a pantomime.
Although we know women were definitely using makeup at the beginning of the twentieth century the photographic evidence is there it was still deemed unacceptable to straightforwardly depict them wearing it. Most beauty ads were for facial and skin products, and any that did exist for what we’d consider more obvious types of makeup (like rouge) went to pains to disassociate themselves from being viewed as explicit products. An advertisement in US Vogue at the beginning of 1909 proclaims threateningly (and a bit vaguely): PINK CHEEKS. Artificial Complexions Repel. What are requisites of womanly fascination? secretlet free. Women’s Attractiveness Intensified. Another promises Perfect Liquid Rouge Which Cannot Be Detected. As one particularly flowery ad phrased it:
True lovers of beauty do not attempt to paint the lily or add perfume to the rose; but as the rose and the lily need rain and sunshine to blossom forth in pristine freshness and fragrance, so do we mortals require the little accessories of the toilette to look our radiant best.
Fan magazines were instrumental in expanding exposure to the growing makeup and film industries, which went hand in hand in the early twentieth century.
It’s the same old story: One was able to use cosmetics, but one must never appear to have used them. Taking it one step further, a beauty-themed column in US Vogue, On Her Dressing Table, asked readers to write in, enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope, to find out where to purchase the cosmetic products mentioned. It’s hard to imagine such a thing today, and even more bizarre considering that in the same year as the column launched 1909 Selfridges opened on London’s Oxford Street and became the first British department store to display cosmetics openly.
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