May 20, 2011

Book Review: The History of Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty From Victorian Times to the Present Day

I've looked at makeup in many ways: creative outlet, self-expression tool, social object... but I had never looked at it as a reflect of History.
That's until I saw this fantastic video filmed by Lisa Eldridge with historian Madeleine Marsh.

(This video is part of a series so make sure you watch them all at Lisa Eldridge's if you haven't yet)

After I saw this, I had to have this book.

The book actually starts in Ancient Times, when men wore makeup as well as women (I had forgotten about that: ancient Egypt, anyone?)
But of course there's more information available since the Victorian Era, so there's more to read starting from there.

Madeleine Marsh not only takes us through the History of Makeup, telling us what was available or invented when, but she mostly takes us throught the History of Women, and with that, through the History as such.
I never thought of makeup products as a reflection of their contemporary issues and mindsets on top of a  reflection of fashion trends and available technology, and not doing that I was missing a lot of things.

I didn't realize that the flappers makeup and short hair of the 20's and 30's was a strong reaction to the no-makeup-big-hair law that had ruled during the Victorian Era. I didn't know that cosmetic companies had stopped producing women's makeup during WW2 to transform the rare raw material still available in camouflage paint for the soldiers instead. And at the same time, that putting on a face of makeup was a citizen duty for all women in order to support the Nation through hard times.

I didn't know how much the cosmetics industry built itself on women's insecurities - and at times, with very negative and judgemental messages.

This book is fascinating, not only because you will learn so much and probably see makeup in a different way after you have ready it, but also because there are tons of pictures of vintage products and ads, that are really a delight for the eyes - they will make you cringe at times, though, because our mentalities have changed a lot through the past decades and some of these messages would be judged unacceptable today.

Anybody thinking that makeup is a shallow thing needs to reed this book.
Anybody who loves makeup will want to read it anyway :)


  1. That book looks amazing, it's on my wishlist! X

  2. I absolutely loved that series that Lisa did, can't wait to get my hands on the book!


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