Compacts and Cosmetics: preserving the lives of Victorian women and beyond

Left; Wikimedia Commons, Martha O’Driscoll – Max Factor Hollywood Face Powder, 1945; Right; Wikimedia Commons, Vanity Fair October 1913 cowl

Over the course of lockdown, an fascinating paradox made itself identified: whereas so many felt unwilling to choose up a make-up brush or placed on a ‘face’, merely with nowhere to go, I discovered myself realising the profound and transformative energy of make-up, each close to shallowness and feeling productive. Beauty and trend play such an intrinsic function in the lives of those that want it to, and in a recent local weather its prepared availability and presence in popular culture make it a free-flowing kind of expression for therefore many.
In pursuit of extra information, an astoundingly illuminating learn was creator, historian and collector Madeleine Marsh’s e-book Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day. Initially tasked with writing on the historical past of powder cosmetics, Marsh started inspecting the make-up of “odd individuals” in addition to that of the higher lessons, thus piecing collectively an ever-evolving image of every era’s bespoke magnificence beliefs, and the place of make-up in on a regular basis life. I used to be capable of communicate to Marsh, whereas she was getting ready for a pop-up gallery, about the creation of her e-book and her private insights into the enigmatic world of Victorian make-up.
Caterina Bragoli: I’m hoping this weird and tough interval has been okay for you!


Madeleine Marsh: It’s all been nice for me, given I’m a maker and I’m a mudlark, and mudlarking on the Thames… the place might you be extra remoted than that! If you’re a maker it’s totally different since you make in response to issues. I’ve been making my lockdown bracelets and necklaces all made with classic keys, reflecting lockdown and desirous to be unlocked, and one other one all with damaged classic watches about how we’ve misplaced our sense of time!
CB: And it’s so paradoxical too as a result of it seems like time is flying by however can also be so stagnant.
MM: I do know, that’s precisely what I needed to precise. Gosh will probably be good when that is throughout. In phrases of trend, I ponder, when that is throughout, whether or not we can have a roaring twenties, having been wandering spherical in trainers, will there be heels and outrageous celebration frocks? There might nicely be.
CB: I believe there may very well be, particularly with trend and this concept of wanting to interrupt free.

“Fashion all the time tells the story of the time”

MM: Fashion all the time tells the story of the time. I gown classic quite a bit. Cambridge Market was once the most implausible place. When I began gathering classic it wasn’t a giant factor, it was extra of an underground factor, for instance a sixties gown for a fiver, that’s what I did at Cambridge. I wasn’t one for lectures!
CB: I’d like to understand how you started gathering! What was it about magnificence objects that impressed you to begin gathering?
MM: I like issues that give an image of odd life, and collectibles are 3D historical past you possibly can maintain in your hand. So a lot make-up comes with vestiges of its contents, you possibly can actually odor the previous! I used to be commissioned to jot down a e-book on powder compacts as a result of powder compacts have been a longtime collectible, *yawn*. I truly needed to see every part that goes with it and I received very serious about the historical past behind this stuff.
You can go and see the greatest clothes in the world… Is there a single tube of lipstick? No! You can go to locations and see garments, however no lady would ever have put these garments on with out make-up to match. So I grew to become fascinated by the historical past of make-up and I needed to see this stuff. What I used to be serious about was the lipsticks, the woman shavers, the deodorants, the actually odd issues which you don’t see wherever. I needed issues that had been used as a result of there was this story developing earlier than my eyes from the objects I used to be shopping for. The story got here out I received completely fascinated, as a result of it’s a narrative of women and it’s a narrative that in some methods may be very unchanging.

Vintage lipstick on show at the Makeup Museum in NYCWikimedia Commons

CB: Yes, the circularity in phrases of make-up and tendencies.
MM: Yes! The dichotomy of it, from the daybreak of time make-up has each been a pleasure and obligation, and a blessing and a curse… we do various things at totally different durations, we emphasize totally different components of our physique, however there are particular truths that stay and that basically me as nicely.
CB: I used to be fascinated if you talked about that Jonathan Swift’s The Lady in the Dressing Room makes use of make-up as mockery. Victorian women have been subjected to an awesome deal of disgrace for sporting make-up, why was this?

“Ladies’ faces have been alleged to be unpainted and a very good soul was supposed to offer you a good complexion”

MM: We had simply come out of the eighteenth century, suppose of photos of that point and women with their patches and wigs. It had been a interval of enormous partying and extra, and one of the icons of the interval was King George IV, with all his mistresses, and the nation was in debt, the monarchy was in shambles. So, Queen Victoria is the one who shapes the monarchy and the picture of a stable household, heaps of children, emphasis on obligation. Ladies’ faces have been alleged to be unpainted and a very good soul was supposed to offer you a good complexion. One era all the time has to react towards one other.

Queen Victoria, 1838Wikimedia commons

CB: But why was it seen as so vulgar, with males particularly mocking women?
MM: What was actually fascinating with the Swift poem was, from the male angle, there was a requirement for women to be excellent and you don’t need to learn about the smelly bits and the furry bits. It’s a duality and a dichotomy that simply is an element of magnificence and half of being a lady. I imply, now issues have modified, and males fear much more about their seems and their magnificence. We inhabit a distinct age now: male anxieties and the quantity of males who’ve consuming issues. We’re in a world now that’s outlined by the selfie.
CB: That leads onto a dialogue of magnificence requirements and perfection in an age of social media, maybe like the perfection Victorian women have been subjected to?
MM: Impossible perfection may be very scary each psychologically and in phrases of individuals being a goal for producers of magnificence merchandise, since you are – we’re all – money cows and persons are very simple to focus on and market. One of the issues that basically fascinated me in the 20s was the improvement of unfavorable promoting in magazines, and that’s: “are you wrinkly”, “are you furry”, “do you’ve gotten a saggy chin…”. I imply, the adverts are vicious in case you learn the textual content.
CB: Is this what drove the mass manufacturing of magnificence merchandise?
MM: It actually takes off massive time once more, as a result of that’s cemented by one other tech innovation, which is cinema. Thanks to cinema we’d by no means seen faces that massive and there are new icons for us. With cosmetics, it goes hand in hand with technological innovation and the way you see individuals, whether or not the invention of cinema or the telephone in your pocket now… it’s all doing the similar factor. How we see our icons, what that makes us suppose we needs to be and what we must always purchase. Maxfactor additionally pioneered these movie star seems, then produced his retail line which sells throughout the world.
CB: And that’s how it began!
MM: It started as a result of individuals needed to seem like Jean Harlow or Clara Bow. Maxfactor was the massive identify, so his identify can be marketed as “Right, so, do you need to seem like the stars? Now you possibly can!”

Left; Jean Harlow, 1935; Right; Clara Bow, 1929Wikimedia Commons

CB: So it grew to become acceptable in a means it by no means had earlier than?
MM: What you probably did discover in the 1900s to 20s have been ads and occasional references to face lotions or powders, virtually no make-up. Suddenly by the 30s, it’s all about make-up ads, and by the early 30s in case you’re not placing your make-up on you’re letting the aspect down! It’s such a fast change, and you possibly can see it in the magazines. Suddenly, there’s adverts for lipsticks, individuals like Helena Rubinstein, one of the nice pioneers of magnificence. When she begins off, she’s doing lotions and powders (one of her adverts says “Buy cream: in case you put this on you wont want duplicitous cosmetics”) however by the 30s shes saying “oh look, thrilling lipsticks!”

CB: Going again to Victorian magnificence beliefs, have been they linked to the ‘digital jail’ that you just say trend was throughout the Victorian instances? The waist was even squeezed with metal and whalebone, and it ended up injuring women. The crinoline too.
MM: I’ll always remember going to an exhibition as soon as and they really had the skeleton of a lady who would have worn a corset for a very long time, and how her physique would have distorted. It’s actually fascinating… we’re so fortunate to stay – now pandemic apart! – however the concept of that constraint for trend the complete time, and by no means letting the solar contact your physique, or going out with gloves on and layers of petticoat. The sheer tedium of it and bodily discomfort!
CB: All for what I ponder.
MM: The picture of magnificence and what we’re informed magnificence is for therefore many causes at a sure interval. Women’s gown mirrored the undeniable fact that we have been managed. We didn’t have management over our funds, women couldn’t do jobs and what not, we have been so managed and now it’s totally different!
CB: Thankfully!
MM: We have our personal issues in the trendy age, however there’s a freedom, a freedom of alternative.

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