Books

Book review: Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

I have so many other books I'd like to review but so little time, and this tome had been sadly collecting dust on my nightstand for ages, so here's a quick review for a quick read.*  Lipstick: A Celebration of the World's Favorite Cosmetic by Jessica Pallingston was released in 1998, just a few months prior to Meg Cohen's Read My Lips: A Cultural History of Lipstick which I reviewed in 2015 and vowed to compare it to Pallingston's book shortly thereafter (in other words, I'm a mere 5 years overdue for that task.  Sigh.) Anyway, I found the two books to be more or less the same in terms of content.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think if you were looking for a basic history of lipstick you could choose one or the other and not feel like you're missing out. 

Book review: Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

The introduction left a bit to be desired, as it placed emphasis on lipstick as a tool to either "empower" women or lure men; there was no mention of playing with color as a means of self-expression.  I also think, as I did with Cohen's intro, that the fetishization of lipstick and the overblown description of its alleged power were a bit much.  Lipstick can be life-changing, yes, but proclamations like "Lipstick is a primal need" made me roll my eyes.

Like Cohen's book, the first chapter is a brief overview of the cultural significance of lipstick throughout history, starting with ancient times and ending with the 1990s.  Not a bad summary, but since I've been doing this a long time there was little earth-shattering news.  This isn't the author's fault, however, as the book was released over 20 years ago so this sort of information wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now. Containing the standard tidbits about ancient Greek prostitutes and the patriotic duty lipstick served during World War II,  the chapter is a tidy summation of how lipstick was worn through the ages.  But the section on the '90s penchant for brown lipstick nearly made my eyes pop out of my head, as I had never come across theories about why brown lipstick (and brown in general) was so popular.  This will definitely inform my research for my '90s beauty history book!

Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

Chapter 2 presents no fewer than 14 theories outlining why lipstick wields more impact than other cosmetics.  I found them to be slightly lacking, as I believe the "lipstick as phallic object" or "painted lips mimicking sexual arousal" theories rather tired at this point, not to mention sexist.  Ditto for the idea that children feel more protected if their mother leaves a lipstick print as they kiss them goodbye before school, lipstick application as oral fixation, or as a rite of passage for teenage girls.  There was some truth to the theory about lipstick as a sort of armor or camouflage, but seeing no mention of how lipstick fits into the larger notion of makeup as a means of self-expression was disappointing.  And I would have liked to see more about makeup's transformational power, but the only theory about lipstick as metamorphosis came in the form of fairy tales, i.e. one's wildest dreams come true through makeup and one will magically become "pretty" if they wear it:  "When I put on lipstick I am as pretty as Cinderella" was one of the quotes included.  (Why is the author quoting a literal 5 year-old?)

Chapter 3, appropriately titled Lipstick Freud, delves into pop psychology as Pallingston takes us through the various lipstick shapes that are the result of one's unique wear pattern (which obviously also depends on the shape of one's lips), along with what various application methods say about the user and something called lip reading.  Much like astrology and palm reading, they're fun but not necessarily accurate or based on hard scientific data. 

Book review: Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

Chapter 4 was my favorite, as it provided a list of bite-sized anecdotes about lipstick as well as a lipstick-by-the-numbers section.  I miss Allure's by-the-numbers feature tremendously and am dying to include something similar in exhibitions.

Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

Chapter 5 gets into the nitty gritty of lipstick - the complete process of how it's produced and a lengthy list of ingredients, which is good information to have on hand.  This chapter also includes sections on colors and names, both of which I believe warrant their own books.  (There is actually an entire book on red lipstick, which I hope to review sometime this year.)  You can definitely see how times have changed, since black and grey aren't mentioned at all and blue and green are discussed as having solely negative connotations of illness or death.  These can be accurate, mind you, but as someone who has now fully embraced non-traditional lipstick colors (especially grey - I own no fewer than 9 shades), I found myself chuckling at the idea that blue or green lip colors used to be mostly associated with bad health.  There are incredibly vibrant blue and green shades on the market these days - what could possibly be more a reminder of rebirth and growth than something like Menagerie's Juniper lipstick, for example, or capture the vitality of a hot summer day like MAC's Blue Bang?  Anyway, while it was a nice read, it may have been good to include a section on different lipstick finishes and textures.  But once again, this is really just part and parcel of this book being released in 1998, when liquid and glitter lipsticks weren't absolutely everywhere.

Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

The naming section was notable for its inclusion of shade names from Renaissance England: apparently Beggar's Grey, Rat and Horseflesh were all listed as lipstick colors.

Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

Chapter 6 gives some tips on how to navigate choosing and buying a lipstick in-store.  With the advent of online shopping and swatches, this is largely obsolete and the advice itself was pretty basic. One unusual tip was to try swatching a lipstick on the inner wrist.  I'm personally a fan of trying colors on fingertips since they are allegedly closer to your natural lip color, but if you want to find out how the color will look next to your overall facial skintone, the wrist is the place to swatch.  Chapter 7 was more of the same, a list of lipstick application and color-coordination techniques that aren't anything you couldn't find online or in any beauty magazine. 

Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

Chapter 8 is probably the only chapter that is not in need of a major update, as it provides recipes for making your own lipstick that are still totally doable today.  Even as technology and customization options evolve, there will always be a subset of the population who like to DIY their lipstick for various reasons - ingredient preferences, cost, or just because they like experimenting.  Chapter 9 continued with recipes, but they were really intended more as a joke to show what people did throughout history to make lipstick.  "From the medieval glamour guides, here's a recipe for making lipstick at home:  Go outside. Get a root.  Dry it.  Pulverize it.  Add some sheep fat and whiteners to get desired color.  If you are upper class, go for a bright pink.  If lower class, use a cheaper earth red.  If you are having trouble being pale, and have the money to pay for it, get yourself bled.  If you're alive during the Crusades, wait for the Crusaders to come back, as they'll bring some glamorous and exotic dyes, ointments and spices, and you'll be able to experience the makeup golden age of the Middle Ages." LOL.

Lipstick book by Jessica Pallingston

Chapter 10 was a mishmash of suggestions for alternative uses of lipstick and a list of famous art history and pop culture lipstick moments.  Most of the suggestions were good ideas, but some, like no. 21, made me cringe.  Yikes.

Lipstick by Jessica Pallingston

But I did love all the artist references, for they included two I plan on writing about for Makeup as Muse (Rachel Lachowitz and Sylvie Fleury) and Claes Oldenburg's Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks which I covered back in October. The final chapter (if you can even call it that, as it's only a page and a half) sings the praises of lipstick yet again, and honestly, probably wasn't necessary.

Overall, Lipstick is a nice book for those in need of a primer on lipstick, but if you're in the mood for something more academic or a thorough feminist analysis of lipstick, this is not it.  As noted previously, if you're looking to purchase a book on lipstick history I would go with either this or Read My Lips, but I don't think both are necessary for a beauty library (unless you're like me, who obsessively hoards makeup books in addition to makeup itself).  Lipstick has sound sources, although by now they are a bit dated and I believe are mostly the same as Cohen's.  I will say that the advantage of Cohen's book over Pallington's is the inclusion of photos, which were non-existent in Lipstick.  So it just depends on whether you want a glossier tome with more eye candy or one with less visual frills and more anecdotes, as the information in both is basically identical.

Have you read this one?  I'm really hoping someone will write an updated cultural history of lipstick, as after reading this I think one is sorely needed.

 

*Another reason I chose to review this book first instead of the others I have planned is that I was recently interviewed by a journalist who is writing a brand spankin' new cultural history of lipstick, so hopefully in the next year or so we will have an updated version (and hopefully I will be quoted!) Stay tuned. ;)


Book review: Facing Beauty by Aileen Ribeiro

I'm embarrassed to say that Facing Beauty:  Painted Women and Cosmetic Art has been in my possession for well over a year (along with many others).  As usual, it's not due to lack of interest that I hadn't gotten around to reading and reviewing it but rather the relentless lack of time.  I was more than excited to dive into Facing Beauty, as it's written by Aileen Ribeiro, a renowned fashion/art historian (ahem!) and I always welcome an examination of makeup through an art history lens.

Aileen Ribeiro, Facing Beauty

Ribeiro's premise is the exploration of Western beauty ideals from the Renaissance through the early 20th century (roughly 1500-1940) as portrayed in painting and literature, and how cosmetics both helped create and achieve these ideals.  Facing Beauty is not intended as a fairly straightforward history of makeup nor is it strictly art history with a dash of cosmetics; rather, the book seeks to trace the evolution of what the Western world considered beautiful in particular points in time using art from those eras, and along the way, identifies makeup's role the formation and realization of beauty standards.

Chapter 1 covers the Renaissance period and appropriately begins in Italy, as the country served as the primary locus for Europe's cultural rebirth.  Ribeiro reminds us that it was a time of lively cultural debate, and the topic of what constituted beauty was fervently discussed.  Renaissance thinkers pondered beauty in all its forms, including the ideal female face and body.  By and large, the ideal Renaissance woman possessed pale, flawless skin, sparkling yet dark eyes (sometimes achieved with the essence of the deadly nightshade plant, a.k.a. belladonna), a long straight nose, and a small mouth. Tidbit:  did you know that blonde hair was preferred throughout the Renaissance?  I didn't, nor did I know of the ridiculous lengths women would go to in order to acquire it, such as using this crownless hat (known as a solana) combined with a thorough application of various dyeing potions (some made with dangerous ingredients such as alum, some with harmless ones such as lemon juice) via a small sponge (sponzetta), along with a hefty dose of sunshine.

Venetian Woman Bleaching Her Hair, c. 1598-1610

In painting and literature, women were still viewed as mostly decorative objects, existing only to be admired.  Women's attempts to adhere to the established beauty standards, including the use of makeup, were actually expected and encouraged: it was their duty to appear pleasant to look at.  "It was important for a woman to be physically beautiful (or try to be so), as a courtesy to others, and thus cosmetics were allowable as long as they were used in moderation.  These themes appear over and over again throughout the [16th] century, as the idea of dress and appearance being pleasing to others began (unevenly at times) to replace the traditional Biblical belief that such things were indicative of pride and vanity." (p. 71) But as the Renaissance spread to Northern Europe, in the early 1600s cosmetics were becoming increasingly criticized for allegedly inciting vanity among women.  Indeed, the debate over whether women should or shouldn't wear "auxiliary beauty" reached a fever pitch by the middle of the 17th century.  By the late 1600s, with flourishing trade leading to an increase in the number of beauty products available to the average woman, the pendulum had swung back towards a mostly positive view of makeup.  This in turn set the stage for the fashion excess so emblematic of the 1700s, as well as the establishment of a woman's "toilette" (formal beauty routine).

This brings us to Chapter 2, an overview of beauty ideals during the Enlightenment, which spanned approximately from 1700 through the early 1800s.  Ribeiro explores how the era's leading philosophers continued the Renaissance's debate on beauty.  Theoretically it represented a departure from Renaissance thinking in that writers and artists of the time no longer believed that a woman's face and body had to be perfectly proportional or symmetrical in order to be beautiful.  Beauty was now in the eye of (male) beholder and also took a woman's personality into consideration.  However, Enlightenment thinkers still clung to the usual standards of fair, clear skin, a high forehead, straight nose, and rosy lips and cheeks.  One of the highlights of this chapter was the author's discussion of excess in fashion and beauty, including the fabulously elaborate toilette.  I mean, look at this set from around 1755.  How opulent!  Wouldn't you love to get ready with this on your vanity?  It's currently housed in the Dallas Museum of Art, but obviously I think its rightful home is the Makeup Museum. :)

Cosmetics box, c. 1955
(image from the Dallas Museum of Art)
Cosmetics set, c. 1755

Another fun little nugget of information:  I knew a bit about how beauty patches were all the rage during this era and that their placement symbolized certain things from Sarah Jane Downing's Beauty and Cosmetics:  1550-1950, but I did not know that each area of the face corresponded to a zodiac sign - put a patch on your chin to show you were a Capricorn, or one over the left eye to signify your Aquarius sign.  I'm astonished that the notion of matching beauty products to your zodiac sign goes all the way back to the 1700s!  Of course, the heavy makeup worn by royalty and other upper-class women was not without its critics, especially artists.  Ribeiro thoughtfully points out another connection between makeup and art:  The excess caused painters to question whether they could capture a woman's true likeness and what exactly they were painting - the sitter or her makeup.  "How much face painting was there meant to be in the painting of a face?" (p. 184) It also moved the age-old question of how one could determine a woman's "real" beauty if she was wearing layers of makeup to the forefront once again.  But as we know, the passion for over-the-top fashion and makeup quickly died out as heads rolled in the late 1700s.  Thus Chapter 2 concludes with a discussion of the return to a more natural look, in keeping with the Neoclassical style that permeated every aspect of post-revolution French culture.  Makeup was still used to achieve what was thought of as ancient Greek or Roman beauty (think LM Ladurée and Madame Recamier), but the days of wearing thick layers of white paint (the ever-deadly ceruse), heavily rouged cheeks and patches were over.  Nevertheless the market for makeup and skincare products continued to grow despite the even more austere approach to makeup following the decline of the Neoclassical style during the 1820s.

Beauty ad, late 1700s

The last chapter was my favorite, as it outlines the development of modern beauty ideals from the 1830s through the early 20th century as well as how the beauty industry both shaped and was shaped by these notions - a topic I'm endlessly fascinated by due to its complexity and the fact that it serves as the foundation (haha!) of the makeup styles and looks we've come to rely on in the new millennium.  Ribeiro's take on the rapid developments during this time, which represented a sea change in beauty culture, is quite different from other modern beauty histories such as Kathy Peiss's Hope in a Jar and Madeleine Marsh's Compacts and Cosmetics.  As I noted earlier, Facing Beauty isn't meant to be a fairly straightforward history of cosmetics, and the last chapter describes some parallels between art and makeup that, in my opinion, are even more insightful than those in the previous chapters.

Earlier in the 1800s, beauty was more prominently linked to health and hygiene than in previous eras, hence the rise of historic soap companies like Pears, and remained that way till the early 1900s.  The middle of the century also witnessed the birth of the societal norm of less makeup on "proper" (i.e. upper and middle-class) women; a noticeably painted face became associated with prostitutes, or at least the lower classes.  This is more or less a twist on the long-standing association between beauty and virtue.  Ribeiro notes that improvements in sanitation and medicine had largely eradicated the need for heavy makeup anyway.  Shops were now promoting mostly skincare, light face powder and blush, eyeliner and brow powder.  The author also points out how beauty became synonymous with cosmetics, perhaps rendering traditional ideas of beauty obsolete.  In 1904 Australian artist Rupert Bunny depicted a modern-day version of the Three Graces applying powder and lip color, which, according to the author, is most likely the first time in the Western world that ideal beauty is directly associated with makeup.

Rupert Bunny, Apres le Bain, ou la Toilette, 1904

In the 1910s makeup became more visible, both on the women wearing it and its widespread commercial availability.  Ribeiro identifies another interesting connection between art and makeup during this time:  bolder, more colorful abstract art inspired vibrant makeup.  As an example the author uses the painting Maquillage by Natalia Goncharova, which "shows the bright primary colors and abrupt angular lines that [Goncharova] saw in contemporary makeup, a startling contrast to the soft and tender, 'ultra-feminine' beauty of the turn of the century.  Cosmetics as art were influenced by art - the vivid colors seen in the work of the Fauves and in the clashing and barbaric beauty of the designs for the Ballet Ruses." (p. 298). 

Natalia Goncharova, Maquillage, 1913-1914
(image from the Dallas Museum of Art)

At this point makeup was also seen as essential for a woman's professional success in addition to landing a husband.  Nevertheless, the free-spirited flapper era might be the first instance of women wearing makeup solely for themselves, as a symbol of their independence.  The 1930s, a decade in which movie stars captured the hearts of audiences across the globe, is when cosmetics became inextricably linked to glamour and the ultimate symbol of femininity.  And by the end of the second World War, makeup "was no longer associated with deceit, with disguising the real woman, and it had largely (if not completely) become free from association with immorality and sexual temptation.  Most of all, beauty was regarded as something achieved by cosmetics, by science, rather than inherited; it was a commodity, no longer elitist but democratised," Ribeiro concludes (p. 325). The epilogue summarizes the attempts made from the mid-20th century until roughly now to define beauty and where cosmetics fit into a discussion about modern-day beauty ideals.  It was well-written, but obviously I think another entire book on that time frame would make an amazing sequel.

Overall, I'd say Facing Beauty is a more in-depth version of the aforementioned book by Sarah Jane Downing, as they cover the same time periods and draw on many of the same sources.  While it was an excellent read, I remember my dismay regarding the brevity of Downing's bookFacing Beauty expands on Downing's work by offering a lengthier analysis of art and literature to help tell the story of makeup and beauty, as well more information on beauty recipes and ingredients.  The latter reminds me a bit of Susan Stewart's wonderful Painted Faces.  However, Facing Beauty does not delve much into the societal role of cosmetics, an aspect that makes Stewart's book stand out from other cosmetics history tomes.  In any case, it's a thoroughly enjoyable and well-researched read, and a must-have for anyone who wants to learn more about the intersection of art and makeup.  As compared to other books in the same vein, Facing Beauty provides the quintessential overview of Western beauty ideals as seen through an art historian's perspective and thoroughly covers how makeup corresponds to them. 

Have you read this one?  If not, are you interested in checking it out? 


Book review: Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart
Before I get to my review of Susan Stewart's Painted Faces, I must disclose that I received a copy for free from the author.  In no way, shape or form did getting it for free influence my review, nor was it intended as a bribe for a positive one - I believe I was given a copy in exchange for me lending photos of some of the Museum's collection to be included in the book.  Not only did Dr. Stewart provide an autograph, she also included me in the acknowledgements, which was incredibly kind.

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Again though, I'd like to reiterate that this did not sway my opinion of the book at all.  Now that that's out of the way, I can dive into the review.

The goal of Painted Faces is much the same as Lisa Eldridge's Face Paint in that it strives to provide a history of makeup from ancient times to the present day.  However, a trained scholar/historian approaches this vast topic in a markedly different way than a makeup artist such as Eldridge.  Neither perspective is better or worse than the other; ways to tell the story of makeup are nearly as varied as the people who wear it.  Nor do I believe one has to have a set of particular credentials to write accurately and compellingly about makeup history, as I believe it comes down to a matter of preference for a certain writing style.  As we saw with her first book, Painted Faces is more academic than Face Paint and relies on highlighting the economic and sociological aspects behind various beauty practices, whereas Eldridge adopts a more artistic tone, choosing instead to communicate makeup's history by focusing on application and styles as they evolved. 

Stewart begins with an introduction (which also serves as the first chapter) summarizing the need to study makeup and beauty practices as it gives valuable insight into history that we may not have considered before.  "Because of its wider significance, researching makeup, its uses, ingredients, its context and application, can provide clues not only to the nature and circumstance of the individual but can also help us to interpret the social, economic and political condition of society as a whole in any given period.  That is to say, studying cosmetics can further our understanding of history...they are a window into the past and can encapsulate the hopes and ideas of the future.  In short, makeup matters" (p. 8 and 10).  Can I get an amen?!  Stewart also carefully sets the parameters for the book, outlining the sources used and why she is primarily writing about cosmetics in the Western world.

Chapter 2 is essentially a condensed version of Stewart's previous tome on cosmetics in the ancient world, which doesn't need to be rehashed here (you can check out my review of that one to peruse the content).  That's no small feat, considering how thorough it was.  The next chapter covers the Middle Ages, which is interesting in and of itself since so little information about makeup and beauty exist from this era.  As Stewart points out, the rise of Christianity meant people were no longer being interred with their possessions as they were in ancient Greece and Rome - these artifacts provided a wealth of knowledge about beauty practices then.  Thus, any time after the spread of Christianity and before the modern age historians must rely primarily on texts, such as surviving beauty recipes and classic literature, rather than objects to infer any information about the use of makeup and other beauty items.  The dominance of this religion also meant even more impossible beauty standards for women and more shame for daring to participate in beauty rituals.  "According to medieval religious ideology, wearing makeup was not only the deceitful and immoral - it was a crime against God" (p. 60).  The other interesting, albeit twisted way Christianity affected beauty is the relentless belief that unblemished skin = moral person.  Something as innocuous as freckles were the mark of the devil, and most women went to great lengths to get rid of them or cover them so as not be accused of being a witch.  I shudder thinking about those who were affected by acne.

Chapter 4, which discusses beauty in the late 15th and early 16th centuries (i.e., approximately the Renaissance) presents the continuation of certain beauty standards - pale, unblemished skin on both the face and hands, a high forehead, barely there blush and a hint of natural color on the lips- as well as judgement of those who wore cosmetics.  As we saw previously, it's the old "look perfect but don't use makeup to achieve said perfection" deal - women who wore makeup were viewed as dishonest, vain sinners.  But one's looks mattered greatly in the acquisition of a husband, so many women didn't have a choice.  "Clearly a woman had to get her makeup just right not simply for maximum effect but to avoid getting it wrong and spoiling the illusion of youth and beauty entirely, a fault that could cost her dearly in terms of wealth, status and security" (p. 94). 

However, there were some notable differences between the Renaissance and medieval periods.  For starters, due to inventions such as the printing press, beauty recipes were able to be much more widely disseminated than they were previously.  Increased trade meant more people could get their hands on ingredients for these recipes.  Both of these developments led to women below the higher rungs of society (i.e. the middle class) to start wearing cosmetics.  So widespread was cosmetics usage at this point, Stewart notes, that the question became what kind of makeup to wear instead of whether to wear it at all. 

This chapter was probably the most similar to those on Renaissance beauty in Sarah Jane Downing's book, Beauty and Cosmetics: 1550-1950.  Given the lack of information regarding cosmetics during this time period, both authors had to draw on the same sources to describe beauty habits.  However, as with Eldridge, the approaches Downing and Stewart take are slightly different.  Once again, Stewart opts for a straighter historical approach whereas Downing looks more to paintings and literature of the time, and doesn't take quite as deep a dive into the larger social and economic forces at work.  There's also not much overlap between the descriptions of recipes and techniques, as you'll find different ones in each book.  For example, one that was mentioned only in passing in Downing's book was using egg white to set makeup. I'm thinking of it as a early version of an illuminating setting spray (although obviously it was brushed on, not sprayed in a bottle) as it lent a slightly luminous, glazed sheen.  Stewart points out that it also caused one's face to crack, thereby eliminating the wearer's ability to make any sort of facial expression.  It seems certain beauty treatments, whether egg white or Botox, occasionally come with the side effect of suppressing women's expression of emotion.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Chapters 5 and 6 are tidily sequential, discussing beauty during the the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively.  As in the Renaissance, both eras witnessed significant growth in the number of women who wore makeup due to technological advances and increased trade.  Growing literacy rates drove demand for the new medium of ladies' magazines. Pharmacies selling raw materials to make beauty treatments had started to crop up in the 17th century and their numbers increased dramatically by the beginning of the 18th century.  Not only that, pharmacies and chemists started offering their own pre-made formulas, and these goods became commercially exported to other countries.  The widespread sale of these products came with several undesirable effects:  counterfeit cosmetics and downright false claims about the product's efficacy. 

The 1700s also saw the rise of excessive, decidedly unnatural makeup being worn by members of the aristocracy in both France and England, followed by a post-French Revolution return to more subtle makeup in the early 1800s. This brings us to Chapter 7, which outlines the myriad changes leading to what would become the modern beauty industry, including department stores, industrialization and the new commercial market of the U.S.  As for beauty standards, a natural look was still strongly preferred by both men and women, with the emphasis in terms of products on skincare rather than color cosmetics.  Here's a literal lightbulb moment:  despite my research on Shiseido's color-correcting powders, in which I learned some were meant to counterbalance the effects of harsh lighting, I had completely overlooked the influence of artificial light on the skyrocketing production of face powders.  "Suffice it to say that in the early years of the twentieth century, the use of artificial light in homes of the wealthy as well as in public places such as theatres and concert halls would become more widespread, in the latter years of the nineteenth century there was already an understanding that to make the best impression, makeup needed adjusting to suit the light, whether it be natural or artificial" (p.198).

Chapter 8 leads us into the 20th century.  While there are more detailed accounts of makeup during this time, Stewart does an excellent job describing the major cultural and technological influences that shaped modern beauty trends and the industry as a whole.  I was very impressed with how she was able to narrow down the key points about 20th century beauty without regurgitating or simply summarizing other people's work.  Some of the information presented is familiar, of course, but the manner in which it's arranged and categorized sets it apart.  It just goes to show that everyone's individual background equals an infinite number of ways to tell the story of makeup.

I'm partial to this chapter since the items I took photos of for the book are all from the 20th century.  :) 

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Here are some powder boxes on the dust jacket. 

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

While I was deliriously happy to see some of the Museum's items in a real published book and get credited for them, I was also pleased to see photos of other pieces as well.  Their inclusion in addition to illustrations was a bit of an upgrade to Stewart's previous book.  This is a minor issue to be sure, as I believe solid writing more than makes up for a lack of photos, but they are a nice touch if available.

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

The last chapter serves as an addendum in which Stewart reflects on how the past, present and future of beauty are linked, noting that while some things have stayed the same - the use of ancient ingredients in modern formulas, the connection between health and beauty - 21st century attitudes towards cosmetics represent a significant change from earlier times.

Overall, this is a more scholarly history of makeup than we've seen before, but by no means dry and boring.  Stewart's gift for wading through hundreds of historical documents and neatly consolidating the major social, economic and cultural forces that shaped makeup's history, all while sharing fascinating snippets such as ancient beauty recipes and anecdotes from people who lived during the various eras she covered, makes for a thoroughly engaging read. 

Will you be picking this one up? 

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Book review: Cosmetics and Perfumes in the Roman World

Cosmetics and Perfumes in the Roman World

I don't know how this tome managed to slip under my beauty book radar.  I wasn't aware that this little gem existed until the author followed me on Twitter.  Much has been written about the modern beauty age (20th-21st centuries), but there are not many in-depth resources available on beauty practices prior to that.  Fortunately, Dr. Susan Stewart, an independent scholar and librarian at Scotland's Broxburn Academy, is here to help fill in the gaps.  Drawing on literary texts, visual arts and material objects as primary source material, Cosmetics and Perfumes in the Roman World presents a thorough history of makeup and fragrance usage during the Roman Empire (roughly 1-300 A.D.) 

The introduction also serves as Chapter 1, which is an overview of the author's sources, geographic areas and time period that are covered - basic but necessary.  Chapter 2 is probably my favorite, since it summarizes the ingredients used in cosmetics as well as the beauty ideals of the time.  Empresses and mythical goddesses set the beauty standards that most women aspired to.  Unsurprisingly, the key beauty goals for women were identical to today's - clear skin, large eyes and silky hair.  And lest you think our obsession with a youthful appearance is a fairly new scourge, this chapter highlights several recipes for wrinkle creams and hair dyes. Even some ingredients haven't changed much; mascara and brow filler were made from soot, which is almost identical to what we think of as the first modern mascara concoction.  Stewart also notes that most of the recipes and techniques date back even further, as the Romans borrowed them from the ancient Egyptians.

Chapter 3 tackles the health and hygiene aspects of Roman beauty products.  While I prefer reading about actual face paint, this chapter is important since it provides the foundation (see what I did there?) for understanding modern cosmetics.  Since its infancy the beauty industry has linked good health with attractiveness:  glowing skin, bright eyes, a pleasant scent and white, even teeth are all still considered markers of beauty.  If one was beautiful and smelled nice they must be healthy and vice versa.  "One's appearance in general is improved by good health and reflects good health; making health a constituent of beauty and beauty in turn a constituent of health" (p.51).  One of the most interesting pieces of proof of this belief among the Romans were the images of Venus commonly displayed at bath houses.

Whereas the previous chapters laid out the what and the how, the next two chapters examines the who and the why, i.e. the differences in use of beauty and hygiene products based on gender, race and class power structures, along with society's perception of women who used cosmetics.  Needless to say, by and large women were heavily critiqued for wearing makeup for the same reasons we see today.  "A woman displayed her inferiority by feeling compelled to improve upon her appearance, her weakness by being tempted by luxury (in the form of expensive beauty products), her obsession with sex by trying to make herself attractive to men other than her husband, her deviousness by disguising her true appearance with makeup and finally, her idleness by having too much time to spend on personal grooming" (p.65).  Once again women who wear makeup are vain and shallow, and women generally were expected to look perfect but not use any beauty aids.  Same old story, right?  Sadly, it wasn't really any better for men; Stewart notes that men who were overly prettified by society's standards were seen as effeminate and unfit to perform traditional men's work. Despite all of these negative perceptions, literally hundreds of makeup/perfume containers and application utensils have been recovered from Roman ruins over the years, which serves as hard evidence that most people engaged in beautification and grooming practices.  However, while these items were widely used, class played a significant role in the types of products and their application.  As was the case in the early 20th century, a more "natural" look achieved with higher quality ingredients was a mark of the middle and upper classes, while heavy makeup and scent made from cheap, readily available sources were associated with prostitutes (obviously, since the latter couldn't afford more expensive beauty products.)

The last chapter explores the notion of luxury as it relates to cosmetics and perfumes during the Roman empire.  As noted previously, given their widespread use among different economic classes, most beauty products weren't luxury items. Male philosophers (especially those damn Stoics) believed makeup and fragrance to be highly unnecessary and therefore luxury goods, but physical evidence suggests this wasn't a widely held view.  While empresses and other high-class women used only the "good stuff" made from extremely pricey ingredients, there were many options available at all price points.  And this range isn't reflected only in the ingredients but in the containers as well; everything from silver, bronze and clear, colorless glass (high-end) to blue-green glass (the most inexpensive type of container) was used to store beauty products. 

All in all, this is a well-researched and fascinating read, and most importantly, it's accessible for the masses.  Despite all of the classic literature and art history references, Stewart makes it easy for non-academics to understand.  The information is presented in a straightforward yet compelling manner, i.e. there was no boring, bland spouting of one fact after another but rather a narrative that flowed from describing the basics (makeup ingredients, utensils, etc.) to more complex ideas (the cultural and political climate that influenced why and how they were used.)  Also, even though I shouldn't be, I'm amazed (and a bit sad) by how little things have changed; beauty standards are still more or less the same as they were 2,000 years ago, despite current efforts to diversify them.  My only critique is that I would have liked to have seen more photos rather than illustrations.  The drawings were able to communicate the ideas and objects well enough, but they lacked the visual impact photos would bring.  I'm assuming museums wanted exorbitant fees to use their photos so the author had no choice but to use illustrations.  

Will you be picking this one up?  Oh, I almost forgot - Stewart has a new publication on cosmetics history coming out in December, which obviously is already at the top of my Christmas list.  ;)  Keep your eyes peeled!


Book Review: Face Value

I read Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women's Lives when I was at the beach over a month ago, devouring it in one sitting.  But it took me forever to write something at least approximating a review.  As you may know, my book reviews often sound like a 4th-grader's book report rather than actual writing, and since I admire Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, author of Face Value so much and have been an ardent fan of her blog for years, I didn't want to do my usual sad review.  I finally decided to bite the bullet and share my thoughts on this book, simple though they are, because I want my readers (all 2 of you) to know how excellent it is.

Face-Value-book

I was so very excited to hear via Autumn's blog that she was writing a whole book!  Naturally I had high hopes, and she exceeded my expectations.  The general aim of Face Value is to gain a better understanding of the role beauty plays in women's everyday lives, something the author achieves through a combination of scholarly research, interviews with a diverse selection of women, and her own insightful analysis of beauty culture.

I was really curious to see how Autumn would handle the perspectives of women who are not white, straight and middle-class, as this would be my chief concern if I were undertaking a book about the relationship between women and beauty.  I should have known she'd be on top of it though - right off the bat, even before the introduction, she included an author's note about her effort to interview women "demographically unlike" herself and identify the commonalities that exist in terms of beauty regardless of their ethnic/racial/class/age/sexual orientation differences.

The first chapter explores how, despite science's best attempts, we are unable to decisively quantify human beauty, and also why we even want to measure it in the first place.  Autumn carefully examines research by evolutionary psychologists, biologists, and other scientists, all of whom try to (unsuccessfully) identify specific features that make someone perceived universally as attractive.  The thigh gap, waist-hip ratio, the pencil test (something I'm guilty of conducting every year on my birthday since I turned 30), facial symmetry - all were invented as supposedly indisputable methods of calculating beauty.  Autumn points out the flaws with most scientific studies and standards for determining beauty and how, on occasion, they even contradict one another.  She concludes that the inability to quantify beauty isn't necessarily a bad thing: "quantifying beauty can alert us to the places where we instinctually challenge beauty norms, revealing to ourselves that allure is more multifaceted than hitting all the right neurons " (p.33).

The second chapter discusses the language we use to describe beauty.  "Cute" has many more connotations that one would initially consider, and "gorgeous", "pretty", "lovely" and "beautiful" all signify different things.  The author details the significance of beauty vocabulary and how we have the power to change our notions of beauty through the descriptors we use.  Chapter 3 was my favorite, as it provided an in-depth analysis of why we wear makeup and the various ways, positive and negative, our decision to wear (or not to) is viewed in society, as well as how makeup fits into the larger notion of beauty.  Autumn gets down to the nitty-gritty by asking the age-old question, "Is makeup quite literally a tool of the patriarchy, or an instrument of women's self-articulation?" (p. 87). There are a multitude of reasons we wear or don't wear makeup, and one is no more or less valid than the others.  She ends the chapter by noting how makeup can be a way of challenging our comfort zones and, by extension, questioning the bigger meaning behind these zones.  And she absolutely hit the nail on the head: posting a picture of my bare-faced self online is unthinkable for me; for my non-makeup-wearing sister, putting on a full face of cosmetics is totally out of her realm.  What do these polar opposite approaches to makeup indicate about our feelings towards our various public and private roles in life?

Chapter 4 covers how notions of beauty shape our romantic relationships and dating. While maintaining the quality of the other chapters, I didn't find it quite as relevant since I'm an old married lady and the thought of dating makes me shudder.  Again though, it's well-written and researched, I simply had a personal preference for other chapters.  Chapter 5 investigates the double-edged sword beauty becomes in relation to other women.  Beauty can be a bonding mechanism and a way to form meaningful friendships.  At the same time, perhaps "beauty chatter" is just another way of enforcing traditional femininity.  Beauty notions can also lead to fierce competition in terms of both self-esteem and men's attention (in the case of straight women, anyway).  However, the conflation of beauty with other desirable traits, i.e., charisma, confidence, sex appeal, etc., or, as Autumn says, "masking life envy as beauty envy", can actually be helpful once one recognizes that it's not beauty they're coveting but some other attribute.  

Chapters 6 and 7 examine the impact of the media's images of women and the influence of social media on self-representation, respectively.  These were my next favorite chapters since I'm always up for a discussion of beauty advertising along with a more general critique of women's magazines, TV, blogs, etc., not to mention that I basically live online and am always thinking about how to best present myself to the world.  Chapter 7 is particularly notable in that it delves into the recent online trend of men requesting feedback on their own, ahem, erotic photos (read: dick pics) in which they turn the male gaze on themselves, and also traces the rise of the male grooming industry and its implications for what we expect of a man's appearance.  Autumn argues that instead of being an equalizer, the surge of products being offered specifically for men is actually harmful for both genders: "we create a separate sort of beauty myth for men...we're giving men the same old scripts.  We're content to shunt the possibilities of 'hope in a jar' into a reservoir of conventional masculinity...in doing that, we shut down one possible route of bettering the lives of women, too." (p. 195-6).

The last chapter studies what the author calls the "therapeutic beauty narrative", or the story of how a woman's relationship with her looks evolves over her lifetime. Specifically, it explores how women (sometimes) arrive at a place of peace with their appearance, as well as how cosmetic companies have seized on the opportunity to exploit the narrative to sell more products.  The book's conclusion explains why the topic of beauty is important and emphasizes that it should be taken seriously.  While we can assume that most of the audience for this book already recognizes this, it doesn't hurt to have a reminder of the tremendous impact it has.

I may be biased, but overall I thought this book was fabulous.  Both eloquent and humorous (I literally LOL'ed at some points), Face Value is a thoughtful approach to beauty and helps us understand our individual relationships to it. I must say it's downright awe-inspiring how Autumn was able to seamlessly intertwine heavy-duty scientific research, interviews with women from various backgrounds and personal anecdotes to create a compelling, cohesive analysis of how beauty affects women's day-to-day lives.  Go and buy it!

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Book review: Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup

Maybe it's because I read this when I was incredibly cranky for various reasons (I had a stubborn cold and was dealing with nearly an entire month of rain/overcast skies) or maybe it's because I was so impressed by Lisa Eldridge's Face Paint last fall, but in any case I was completely underwhelmed by Gabriela Hernandez's Classic Beauty:  The History of Makeup.  I hate to be harsh because I admire the Bésame line, which Hernandez founded, and I know she shares the same love of makeup as the rest of us beauty junkies, but this book disappointed me on virtually every level.  Hernandez, like Eldridge, takes us through a basic history of makeup from ancient times to today, but without any nuance or even excitement.  The tone was distinctly monotonous and dull, whereas with Face Paint I was positively glued to the text.

First, this tome was riddled with typos and inaccuracies.

Classic Beauty book
Just one example of a typo...should be "drawn", yes?

Little things, like Madonna's "Material Girl" coming out in 1985 (it was released November 30, 1984), or that YSL introduced "his" Touche Eclat in 1992 when it's common knowledge that the brains behind the YSL line at that point, Terry de Gunzburg (who started her own By Terry line in 1998) was the person responsible for that particular item, were driving me crazy.  Or citing L'Oreal as a department store line, or stating that Chanel introduced her quilted bag in 1957 - the bag is named the 2.55 for the month and year Coco created it, for God's sake.

Classic-beauty-book-80s
Also, I thought Grace Jones was the ultimate androgynous beauty?

Classic Beauty book

Classic Beauty book

Classic Beauty book

Speaking of Chanel, by far the worst offense was the claim that Chanel introduced their lipsticks in the 1940s (p.121) and then on page 215 it's stated that Chanel introduced their lipstick line in 1975.  Which date is correct?  Trick question:  neither!  Chanel actually introduced their makeup line in 1924.  (I also remember this because there was an amazing Chanel lipstick case from the '20s in Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg's Lips of Luxury book.)  It's just odd because I checked the sources in the bibliography and they seem reputable, but perhaps they were wrong and Hernandez was unfortunately relying on their incorrect information.  However, that doesn't explain the issues with what should be easy-to-find information, like the dates of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  (She died in 1603 so maybe the numbers here were transposed?)

Classic Beauty book

At least in a different timeline the starting date of the queen's reign is correct.

Classic Beauty book

Also, why have all these timelines?  I understand not every beauty milestone can fit onto one, but there were ones by decade and then a larger one in a completely different format towards the end of the book, and it just didn't make any sense.  Which brings me to my second issue: visually the book was unappealing.  I understand that it's not possible to get the rights to certain images, but there were some things that I think should be fairly simple to include, like a photo of Elizabeth Arden.  You mean to tell me there was not a single photo of Arden that could have been used?  And in its place was this rather sad sketch. 

Classic Beauty book

And who did these illustrations for each decade?  They're college art student-quality at best and certainly don't capture the look of each decade.

Classic Beauty book

Finally, the writing lacked any sort of clear personality or voice.  It was just so...flat.  Definitely not the kind of thing you'd expect from someone who was so inspired by vintage makeup that she started her own vintage-looking line.  Makeup "facts" were presented in a bland, tedious fashion - how a makeup artist could make something like the history of cosmetics so lifeless is beyond me.  Hernandez also concludes with a rather unfeminist perspective.  She starts with some drivel about believing that "each woman possesses unique features that make her beautiful inside and out", which, insipid though it may be, isn't that bad.  But then she immediately contradicts it by saying that the overarching goal of makeup application is to look attractive.  At least, that was my takeaway.  "The challenge is to recognize your best features and to create the most confident and attractive person you truly can be.  It is true that when you look attractive, you feel good.  It is uplifting when you look your best at all times, even for the simplest of tasks."  Um, no.  I can think of at least 5 instances where I look nowhere near what you'd call attractive and yet still feel okay about myself (running, for example.)  And I don't always use makeup to look attractive, I use it as a creative outlet.  A few weeks ago I wore that matte grey Smashbox lipstick I picked up in my spring haul.  Sure I looked like a zombie but I didn't care - it was so much fun! I didn't give a flying fig that grey lipstick isn't flattering on me, and I will continue to buy shades that make me "unattractive" for the pure joy that using those colors gives me.   None of that seemed to be addressed here, which was troublesome for me.  Finally, "look your best at all times" is a sequence of words that has no business existing, like, ever.  It is not "uplifting" for me to look my best when I'm at the supermarket or getting the mail.  Sheesh.

Classic Beauty book

Bottom line:  If you're looking for a comprehensive history of cosmetics that is both accurate and a fascinating read, go with Lisa Eldridge's Face Paint and skip this one.

Has anyone else read Classic Beauty?

 

 


Book review: Face Paint: A History of Makeup by Lisa Eldridge

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

I had been salivating over this book since I found out the release date way back in the spring, and it did not disappoint.  Celebrity makeup artist Lisa Eldridge published a broad yet fairly in-depth summary of cosmetic products and usage from ancient times to today.

Section 1 is divided into three sections detailing the history of the base colors historically used for cosmetics:  red, white and black.  Eldridge covers not only the ingredients used to make these pigments but also traces exactly how they were used in various eras, i.e. how rouged cheeks and lips, fair complexions and black eye liner were trending (or not) throughout history.  Equally impressive is that these first two categories weren't simply a parroting of the information in Lips of Luxury, or the powder history in Ode to the Complexion (which I will get around to reviewing eventually.)

Section 2 focuses on all aspects of how the beauty industry developed into the one we know today, beginning with the evolution of cosmetics marketing and advertising.  I know what you're thinking - this section probably started with the late 1800s/early 1900s, but you'd be wrong.  Eldridge traces beauty marketing all the way back to the Renaissance, dissecting how the messages contained in beauty advertising changed over time.  The second part of this section discusses the big beauty company founders like Max Factor, Helena Rubinstein, and Elizabeth Arden.  But there were some unexpected bios of the women who began more indie lines, like Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki, who started Biba.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

The third part of Section 2 deals with the rise of our basic products - mascara, lipstick, eye shadow, blush, foundation/powder, bronzer and nail polish - along with the companies that pioneered these items. I liked how Eldridge came up with a logical arrangement of these brands into overarching categories:  couture houses, perfume companies, drugstore mainstays and makeup artists.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge
Could you imagine having this on your vanity?

Section 2 ends with what lies ahead for makeup in terms of technological advances, while the afterword is a brief but meaningful analysis of the significance of wearing (or not wearing) makeup nowadays.  I like the last line:  "Ultimately, nothing empowers a woman more than the right to a good education, and the freedom to choose whether to wear a red lip and smoky eye...or not." 

The whole book is sprinkled with profiles of Eldridge's "makeup muses," women who are associated with particular beauty looks that continue to inspire makeup artists today.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

There are also some really cool avant-garde looks throughout...I just wish I knew whether Eldridge herself created them.  I'm assuming she did.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

I loved the back cover too - doesn't this picture just make you want to dive into a pile of makeup?!

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

Relating a global history of makeup is a daunting task, and Eldridge did it well.  This is not your standard makeup history book as it provides an in-depth look at not just the industry and cosmetic products but also their applications throughout history.  Now, I love me some coffee table books with pretty pictures of beautiful makeup and hope to publish my own someday.  I adore books that are basically eye candy and provide scant information on the objects.  And obviously one of the main goals of the Makeup Museum is to show that beauty objects themselves can be art or cultural artifacts and that their meaning goes beyond their basic utilitarian purpose. But what I liked about Face Paint is that it got me out of my usual way of thinking about makeup mostly as art/cultural object.  That's all well and good, but it's important to also reflect on makeup's roots, i.e. why it was invented in the first place.  Face Paint was a great reminder for me to consider not just the design or cultural significance of a makeup object but how it's used, and hopefully I will keep this in mind going forward with various books and exhibitions.  This aspect of Face Paint has the added bonus of appealing to a wide market -  it's a gem for makeup collectors and non-collectors alike.  Also, if anyone is going to discuss makeup application throughout the years, it's Eldridge.  She has the same appreciation I do for package design, but also the perspective of a world-famous makeup artist who has spent countless hours actually applying it on thousands of people. 

Will you be buying Face Paint, either for yourself or for that special makeup aficionado in your life?  If you do treat yourself, be sure to check out the sources at the end.  I know I've added several books to my wishlist!


Book review: Read My Lips: A Cultural History of Lipstick

Here's a nice little addition to your makeup library.  Read My Lips:  A Cultural History of Lipstick (1998) explores the cultural significance of the world's most popular cosmetics product. 

Read My Lips:  A Cultural History of Lipstick

I was initially a bit concerned I wouldn't finish the book based on the rather clichéd, over-the-top introduction, which was written by a different author than the rest of the book. "Just try this test:  At the end of a meal in a restaurant, absentmindedly reach for your lipstick, uncap it with a quick nudge, twist the wand out of its cartridge, and stare at it briefly.  You'd think you pulled a gun.  All eyes are on you.  Sigh wistfully and look up.  How so much drama can be contained in such a small gesture, I don't know.  But there you have it."  This paragraph made me roll my eyes so hard they almost got stuck in my head. Reapplication isn't THAT attention-getting, or rather, it shouldn't be - no one is looking at you, and if they are, they're probably thinking you're rather gauche for making a touch-up so dramatic.  Just do a quick discreet swipe and be done with it.

Anyway, despite this blather I kept reading.  To my great relief I found the actual content of the chapters far less insipid than the introduction.  Chapter 1 gives a brief history of lipstick spanning from ancient Egypt to today.  Snapshots of lipstick trends in each decade in the 20th century are provided as well.  Hardly any of the content was new information for me, but a concise overview on hand is always useful.  One of the more notable facts for me, as I believe there's a significant connection between fashion and makeup, was the author's assertion that lipstick started being swayed by fashion trends in the '50s.  "Lipstick also began to take its cue from fashion...cosmetics companies looked to fashion designers to predict the shades of the moment.  This trend was strongly encouraged by Vogue, which would introduce a color for the season and then persuade cosmetics manufacturers to supply complementary shades."  In terms of helping shape a beauty museum, it's quite helpful to know when the important relationship between makeup and fashion started.

Chapter 2 is a primer on the nitty gritty of lipstick:  basic ingredients, production, shapes and textures.  One thing I wasn't aware of previously is that the various shapes of lipstick bullets actually have names. The kind that's angled on both side of the tip is known as a fishtail, while the pointed tip angled on one side is a teardrop.  A more rounded tip angled on one side is a wedge.  I knew about lip gloss applicator names (doefoot, etc.) but had no idea that lipstick bullets had them as well.  This chapter also includes a few pages on the harmful ingredients initially used in lipsticks, and how they weren't banned until the government thought it might affect men (no surprise there).  "It wasn't until 1924, when the New York Board of Health considered banning lipstick - not ironically because of the harm it might cause the women who wore it, but out of fear that it might poison the men who kissed the women who wore it - that the government finally stepped in."  Lovely.

Chapter 3 was probably my favorite, since it talks about the rise of lipstick advertising (including celebrity endorsements), brands launched by makeup artists and cosmetic companies' charitable efforts.  

Read my lips book - ads

Chapter 3 was also my favorite since it included a few pages on shade names, which is a topic I will hopefully cover in a few weeks. (I drafted the post over 2 years ago and just keep adding to it.)  Jean Ford, one of the founders of the ever-amusing brand Benefit, explains the inspiration behind two shades named Indecent Exposure and But, Officer:  "I had just gotten out of traffic school, so the line was all about things you could get arrested for...But, Officer is a real ingenue color, a fleshy tone, like you're really innocent." 

Chapter 4 discusses the meaning of lipstick for the average woman, providing anecdotes on its significance and in some cases, power.  "The simple gesture of applying color to the mouth represents myriad emotions.  It transforms a woman from her private to her public self, prepares her for the world with one quick smear of the waxy substance."  This was probably the weakest chapter, as I feel there have been much more in-depth pieces written on the subject of lipstick's meaning.  Additionally, there is a rather meager exploration of red lipstick, which I also think has been covered better elsewhere, such as in Jean-Marie Martin Hattenberg's Lips of Luxury (see my review.)

The book redeems itself in Chapter 5 with an informative review of lipstick's influences on art and pop culture.  Songs, scenes from TV and movies, sculptures and paintings inspired by lipstick are covered, which will be invaluable for my Makeup as Muse series.  There were actually a few art pieces that I hadn't heard of previously. 

My final thoughts:  This is an excellent overview of the general history of lipstick, but it wasn't meaty enough for me.  Each of the themes could have been a book on its own; instead, they just barely scratched the surface content-wise.   However, if you're looking for a quick read or a primer for someone who wants basic information on lipstick as a cultural icon, this is perfect.  Because it's not all that in-depth, I could see this being of interest even for someone who's not a beauty junkie.  So it's definitely good to have on your makeup book shelf.  I do wonder how it stacks up to Jessica Pallingston's Lipstick:  A Celebration of the World's Favorite Cosmetic, which looks like it was released a mere two months before Read My Lips.  Judging from its tale of contents the two tomes appear rather similar, so stay tuned for a review and comparison.  :)

Are you intrigued by this book? 


Book review: Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950

As I'm still trying to build my knowledge of vintage cosmetics and beauty history, I thought this book would a valuable addition to my collection.  Beauty and Cosmetics: 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing  is one of the few easily available resources that condenses the history of Western beauty practices and ideals in one short tome.  That's essentially my only gripe with this book - it's honestly more of a booklet, topping out at a mere 64 pages. I would dearly love to see something much longer and in-depth. 

Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing

The first chapter discusses beauty ideals in Renaissance Europe and their roots in medieval religious beliefs.  While it wasn't my favorite read, it provides the necessary groundwork for the upcoming chapters.  The second chapter, in my opinion, is where things get more interesting as Downing reveals some fascinating details on the ingredients and processes used in cosmetics production from that time.  She begins with the beauty regimen of Queen Elizabeth I, which included painting her face with the highly poisonous ceruse, "a concoction of finely ground white lead powder, mixed with vinegar and applied over the face and neck."  Ack!  The author notes that while alternatives made of alabaster or starch were available, these did not provide the luminous, completely smooth perfection that a lead-based product did.

The next chapters deal with cosmetics usage in the 17th and 18th centuries.  I was quite intrigued by the information on "patches", a.k.a. fake beauty marks or moles.  I have been meaning to write a post on these for a while now (I got the idea around the time I wrote about faux freckles) and Downing's work will definitely be included as a reference.  I'm now also a little obsessed with the idea of acquiring an antique patch box.  The illustration of an aging woman applying patches (below) is fabulous, but I would have loved to have seen a few pictures of actual patch boxes.

Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing

Another interesting tidbit: to counteract the hair loss caused by the frequent wearing of ceruse, women sported false eyebrows made from mice fur.  I guess this isn't so weird, given that in the 21st century we have fake eyelashes made from mink

Next up, Downing describes the dramatic turn beauty trends took in the early 19th century.  The heavily caked-on white makeup and patches so popular with the French aristocracy quickly fell out of favor after the revolution.  A more natural look was strongly preferred, although sometimes this also made use of an equally dangerous method as ceruse.  "A derivative of deadly nightshade, belladonna - 'beautiful lady' - was so named for its beautifying effects as it would dilate the pupils, making the eyes poetic, dark limpid pools.  Unfortunately the side effects were less than pretty as it could also cause blindness and possibly paralysis."  Yikes.

This chapter also touches on the monumental shift in how cosmetics were perceived and the rise of the beauty industry in the late 19th century.  While images of ideal beauty remained fairly consistent  (patches and plucked brows aside, other attributes - rosy cheeks and lips, sparkling eyes, clear skin - were still in style) there was a sea change in how the products required to achieve these qualities were produced.  Plenty of women still relied on homemade potions made with recipes passed down through generations, but pharmacies selling pre-mixed unguents were rapidly expanding . Below are some of the earliest beauty ads I've ever seen (1880 on the left and 1897 on the right).

Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950

The final two chapters outline how the industry took off in the early 20th century and the formation of the major brands we know today.  While other books have covered this era, it's refreshing to see another perspective joining in with different ads and bits of history. 

The bottom line:  as with basically all beauty books I've reviewed, this is a great read for anyone interested in beauty history.  However, it is by no means comprehensive (not that I think it was meant to be) so it left me yearning for more, despite the "further reading" list included in the back.  Perhaps Ms. Downing and I could collaborate and write a book on beauty in the same time period but have it be 10 times as long.  I can dream, right?


Book review: Beauty Imagined

Beauty-imaginedI was a little leery of this book.  While it's been on my Amazon wishlist for a while, I was concerned that the author, an economist from Harvard, would take a topic I adore and turn it into something dreadfully dry and boring.  Or worse, he would use all kinds of fancy jargon that someone with very little understanding of economics (i.e. me) wouldn't be able to comprehend.  However, Beauty Imagined:  A History of the Global Beauty Industry by Geoffrey Jones was quite enjoyable and informative.  Jones thoroughly traces the industry's origins in the late 19th century through its emergence as the mammoth business it is today, connecting company histories with cultural and economic shifts that ultimately helped shape the perception not just of the industry but also our very definition of beauty.  While Madeleine Marsh's Compacts and Cosmetics and Kathy Peiss's Hope in a Jar are similar in subject matter, Beauty Imagined delves more fully into the economic side of beauty's history.  Still, like his fellow authors on cosmetics history, Jones ensures his writing never gets dull by peppering the text with a plethora of interesting facts and figures.

In the first three chapters, the author gives us a compelling history of fragrance, hair products, toothpaste and soap and how these products laid the foundation for color cosmetics.  It was enlightening in that I hadn't really thought of these as being the ancestral relatives of makeup; I had thought of them each having their own discrete background and not integral to, say, the development of lip gloss.  But as Jones explains, without these more basic items taking root in the early 20th century, other products would not have been born.

Chapters 4 and 5 discuss how neither the Great Depression nor two world wars could stop the growth of the beauty industry, as well as the establishment of the connection between Hollywood celebrities and beauty.  These chapters also explore the growing use of radio, movies and TV for beauty advertising.  Chapters 6 through 8 detail the rise of globalization in the industry, describing how local companies slowly but surely transformed into regional, then national, then international brands from roughly the 1970s to the present day, along with the relationship between phamaceutical companies and beauty brands. 

I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite nuggets of information:

- Coty's first fragrance, La Rose Jacquesminot, got picked up by a department store after the founder smashed a bottle of it on the counter to get customers to smell it.

- Cosmetics weren't regulated by the FDA till 1938.

- Toothpaste was available as early as the 1850s, but it was packaged in jars.  Colgate invented the first collapsible toothpaste tube in 1896.

- The first metal lipstick tube was invented in 1915, and the first twist-up tube in 1921.

- Avon's original name was the California Perfume Company.

- The notion of "green" beauty goes back much further than one would think.  Clarins, Yves Rocher and Biotherm were all established in the 1950s, with an emphasis on using natural, plant-based ingredients.

- As of 2010, consumers spent $382 billion (!) on cosmetics, fragrance and toiletries worldwide.

The only "problem" I had with the book in that it's not actually a problem at all is that there are complete endnotes for each chapter, and perusing them I came across a ton more beauty history books I want to read! 

Bottom line:  Beauty Imagined is different than other beauty books but in a good way, and an excellent read even for those of us who don't have a background in business.  Oh, and if your thirst for knowledge still isn't sated, check out the videos of Dr. Jones discussing the book here and here.