The life of a makeup museum curator is insanely glamorous. For example, a lot of people go out on Friday nights, but not me - I have way more thrilling plans. I usually browse for vintage makeup at Ebay and Etsy on my phone while in bed and am completely passed out by 8pm. EXCITING. It was during one of these Friday night escapades that I came across a fabulous box of vintage lipstick pads and naturally, that sent me down quite the rabbit hole. Today I'm discussing a cosmetics accessory that has gone the way of the dodo: lipstick tissues. This is by no means a comprehensive history, but I've put together a few interesting findings. I just wish I had access to more than my local library (which doesn't have much), a free trial subscription to newspapers.com and the general interwebz, as anyone could do that meager level of "research". I would love to be able to dig deeper and have more specific information, but in lieu of that, I do hope you enjoy what I was able to throw together.
The earliest mention of lipstick tissues that I found was January 1932. It makes sense, as several patents were filed for the same design that year.
(images from google)
While they might have existed in the 1920s, I'm guessing lipstick tissues didn't become mainstream until the early 30s, as this December 1932 clipping refers to them as new, while another columnist in December 1932 says she just recently discovered them (and they are so mind-blowing they were clearly invented by a woman, since "no mere man could be so ingenious".)
In addition to the tear-off, matchbook-like packages, lipstick tissues also came rolled in a slim case.
This lovely Art Deco design by Richard Hudnut debuted in 1932 and was in production at least up until 1934. I couldn't resist buying it.
By 1935, restaurants and hotels had gotten wind of lipstick tissues' practicality for their businesses, while beauty and etiquette columnists sang their praises. Indeed, using linens or towels to remove one's lipstick was quickly becoming quite the social blunder by the late 30s.
Kleenex was invented in 1924, but it wasn't until 1937, when the company had the grand idea to insert tissues specifically for lipstick removal into a matchbook like package, that these little wonders really took off. You might remember these from my post on the Smithsonian's collection of beauty and hygiene items. The warrior/huntress design was used throughout 1937 and 1938.
(image from americanhistory.si.edu)
Kleenex started upping the ante by 1938, selling special cases for their lipstick tissues and launching campaigns like these "true confessions", which appeared in Life magazine (and which I'm sure were neither true nor confessions.) With these ads, Kleenex built upon the existing notion that using towels/linens to remove lipstick was the ultimate etiquette faux pas, and one that could only be avoided by using their lipstick tissues.
These ads really gave the hard sell, making it seem as though one was clearly raised by wolves if they didn't use lipstick tissues. Or any tissues, for that matter. Heaven forbid - you'll be a social pariah!
Look, you can even use these tissues to cheat on your girlfriend! (insert eyeroll here)
(images from books.google.com)
Not only that, Kleenex saw the opportunity to collaborate with a range of companies as a way to advertise both the companies' own goods/services and the tissues themselves. By the early '40s it was difficult to find a business that didn't offer these gratis with purchase, or at least, according to this 1945 article, "national manufacturers of goods women buy." And by 1946, it was predicted that women would be expecting free tissue packets to accompany most of their purchases.
Needless to say, most of them consisted of food (lots of baked goods, since apparently women were tethered to their ovens), and other domestic-related items and services, like hosiery, hangers and dry cleaning.
(images from ebay.com)
(images from ebay and etsy.com)
(images from ebay.com)
(image from ebay.com)
Naturally I had to buy a few of these examples for the Museum's collection. Generally speaking, they're pretty inexpensive and plentiful. The only one I shelled out more than $5 for was the Hudnut package since that one was a little more rare and in such excellent condition. Interestingly, these have a very different texture than what we know today as tissues. Using contemporary Kleenex to blot lipstick only results in getting little fuzzy bits stuck to your lips, but these vintage tissues have more of a blotting paper feel, perhaps just a touch thicker and ever so slightly less papery. It could be due to old age - paper's texture definitely changes over time - but I think these were designed differently than regular tissues you'd use for a cold.
Anyway, Museum staff encouraged me to buy the cookie one. ;)
I took this picture so you could get a sense of the size. It seems the official Kleenex ones were a little bigger than their predecessors.
Wouldn't it be cool to go to a restaurant and see one of these at the table? It would definitely make the experience seem more luxurious. I certainly wouldn't feel pressure to use them for fear of committing a social sin, I just think it would be fun.
(image from etsy.com)
(image from mshhistoc.org)
I figured having a restaurant/hotel tissue packet would be a worthy addition to the Museum's collection, since it's another good representation of the types of businesses that offered them. I'd love to see a hotel offer these as free souvenirs.
Here's an example that doesn't fit neatly into the baked goods/cleaning/hotel categories.
(image from ebay.com)
This one is also interesting. Encouraging women to be fiscally responsible is obviously more progressive than advertising dry cleaning and corn nut muffins, but it's important to remember that at the time these were being offered by Bank of America (ca. 1963), a woman could have checking and savings accounts yet still was unable to take out a loan or credit card in her own name. One step forward, 5 steps back.
(image from ebay.com)
Of course, cosmetics companies also made their own lipstick tissues.
(image from etsy.com)
I was very close to buying these given how cute the graphics are, but didn't want to spend $20. (I think they're now reduced to $12.99, if you'd like to treat yourself.)
(image from ebay.com)
Plus, I already have these DuBarry tissues in the collection.
Funny side note: I actually found a newspaper ad for these very same tissues! It was dated July 27, 1948, which means the approximate dates I included in my DuBarry post were accurate.
By the late '40s, lipstick tissues had transcended handbags and became popular favors for various social occasions, appearing at country club dinner tables to weddings and everything in between. I'm guessing this is due to the fact that custom colors and monogramming were now available to individual customers rather than being limited to businesses.
While the matchbook-sized lipstick tissues are certainly quaint, if you wanted something even fancier to remove your lipstick, lipstick pads were the way to go. These are much larger and thicker than Kleenex and came imprinted with lovely designs and sturdy outer box. This was the item that made me investigate lipstick tissues. I mean, look at those letters! I was powerless against their charm.
I couldn't find anything on House of Dickinson, but boy did they make some luxe lipstick pads.
This design is so wonderful, I'd almost feel bad using these. If I were alive back then I'd probably go digging through my purse to find the standard Kleenex ones.
I also couldn't really date these too well. There's a nearly identical box by House of Dickinson on Ebay and the description for that dates them to the '60s, which makes sense given the illustration of the woman's face and the rounded lipstick bullet - both look early '60s to my eye.
However, the use of "Milady" and the beveled shape of the lipstick bullet, both of which were more common in the '30s and '40s, make me think the ones I have are earlier.
By the mid-late '60s, it seems lipstick tissues had gone out of favor. The latest reference I found in newspapers dates to November 1963, and incidentally, in cartoon form.
I'm not sure what caused lipstick tissues to fall by the wayside. It could be that there were more lightweight lipstick formulas on the market at that point, which may not have stained linens and towels as easily as their "indelible" predecessors - these lipsticks managed to easily transfer from the lips but still remained difficult to remove from cloth. Along those lines, the downfall of lipstick tissues could also be attributed to the rise of sheer, shiny lip glosses that didn't leave much pigment behind.
While these make the most sense, some deeper, more political and economic reasons may be considered as well. Perhaps lipstick tissues came to be viewed as too stuffy and hoity-toity for most and started to lose their appeal. My mother pointed out that lipstick tissues seemed to be a rich people's (or at least, an upper-middle class) thing - the type of woman who needed to carry these in her handbag on the reg was clearly attending a lot of fancy soirees, posh restaurants and country club dinners. This priceless clipping from 1940 also hints at the idea of lipstick tissues as a sort of wealth indicator, what with the mention of antique table tops and maids.
Lipstick tissues were possibly directed mostly at older, well-to-do "ladies who lunch", and a younger generation couldn't afford to or simply wasn't interested in engaging in such formal social practices as removing one's lipstick on special tissues. Plus, I'm guessing the companies that used lipstick tissues to advertise labored under the impression that most women were able to stay home and not work. With a husband to provide financially, women could devote their full attention to the household so advertising bread recipes and dry cleaning made sense. This train of thought leads me, naturally, to feminism: as with the waning popularity of ornate lipstick holders, perhaps the liberated woman perceived lipstick tissues as too fussy - a working woman needed to pare down her beauty routine and maybe didn't even wear lipstick at all. Lipstick tissues are objectively superfluous no matter what brainwashing Kleenex was attempting to achieve through their marketing, so streamlining one's makeup regimen meant skipping items like lipstick tissues. Similarly, after reading Betty Friedan's 1963 landmark feminist screed The Feminine Mystique, perhaps many women stopped buying lipstick tissues when they realized they had bigger fish to fry than worrying about ruining their linens. Then again, one could be concerned about women's role in society AND be mindful of lipstick stains; the two aren't mutually exclusive. And the beauty industry continued to flourish throughout feminism's second wave and is still thriving today, lipstick tissues or not, so I guess feminism was not a key reason behind the end of the tissues' reign. I really don't have a good answer as to why lipstick tissues disappeared while equally needless beauty items stuck around or continue to be invented (looking at you, brush cleansers). And I'm not sure how extra lipstick tissues really are, as many makeup artists still recommend blotting one's lipstick to remove any excess to help it last longer and prevent feathering or transferring to your teeth.
In any case, I kind of wish lipstick tissue booklets were still produced, especially if they came in pretty designs. Sure, makeup remover wipes get the job done, but they're so...inelegant compared to what we've seen. One hack is to use regular facial blotting sheets, since texture-wise they're better for blotting than tissues and some even have nice packaging, so they're sort of comparable to old-school lipstick tissues. Still, there's something very appealing about using a highly specific, if unnecessary cosmetics accessory. I'm not saying we should bring back advertising tie-ins to domestic chores or the social stigma attached to not "properly" removing one's lipstick on tissues, but I do like the idea of sheets made just for blotting lipstick, solely for the enjoyment of it. I view it like I do scented setting sprays - while I don't think they do much for my makeup's longevity, there's something very pleasing about something, like, say, MAC Fruity Juicy spray, which is coconut scented and comes in a bottle decorated with a cheerful tropical fruit arrangement. As I always say, it's the little things. They might be frivolous and short-lived, but any makeup-related item that gives me even a little bit of joy is worth it. I could see a company like Lipstick Queen or Bite Beauty partnering with an artist to create interesting lipstick tissue packets. Indeed, this post has left me wondering why no companies are seizing on this opportunity for profit.
Should lipstick tissues be revived or should they stay in the past? Why do you think they're not made anymore? Would you use them? I mean just for fun, of course - completely ignore the outdated notion that one is a boorish degenerate with no manners if they choose to wipe their lips on a towel, as those Kleenex ads would have you believe. ;)