Thursday, February 25, 2010

Face Powder

Miss LaFosse and Miss Dubarry powdered their noses.
“Come now, Guinevere,” said Miss LaFosse. “You must powder your nose again. It isn’t done not to. Last gesture before entering a room. It gives a sense of confidence.”

With trembling fingers, nervous, clumsy, contented, for the first time in her life, Miss Pettigrew powdered her own nose. “Do you know,” she said happily. “I think you’re right. It does add a certain assurance to one’s demeanor. I feel it already.”

-Winifred Watson, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (1938)
The staple of many ‘30s women’s beauty routines (even if she used no other cosmetics), face powder surpassed even lipstick as the pillar of the cosmetics industry. Advice on its application, and the all-critical selection of just the “right shade for your skin type” used up a lot of ink in ad copy and newspaper columns, and beauty booklets of the period.
Although liquid foundation (or “liquid powder” as Coty’s was known, advertised above in 1929) was available, it was not as widely used in the ‘30s as regular face powder. It would be applied then blotted with a powder puff or gauze, just as with face powder. Typically, though, when beauty books or ads refer to a “foundation” or “base,” they mean a powder base – a cream or lotion that would be applied to clean skin and provide a smooth surface for the application of the face powder and ostensibly make it “cling” longer. Some beauty houses, like Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, had tinted foundations in flesh colored-shades.
A favorite, basic powder base was Ponds’ glycerin-based Vanishing Cream (so called because it “vanished” into the skin), introduced in the early 1900s. It was often sold with their Cold Cream, for cleansing, as shown in this 1930 ad.
Yardley’s English Lavender Powder, 1938 ad. It also features their Complexion Cream: "This versatile cream is also her freshening cream at night and her powder foundation in the morning.
Once the base had dried completely, it was time to apply the loose powder. Excess powder would be removed with a piece of cotton gauze or a soft brush made especially for this purpose. Carole Lombard demonstrates the Max Factor powder brush, c. 1934. From Max Factor’s Hollywood: Glamour, Movies, Make-up by Fred E. Basten. These are easy to find today, and should cost $10 or less. The brush itself is marked "Max Factor Hollywood."

Factor’s powder brush came with a booklet “How to Create Beauty with Make-Up” that had these instructions for applying powder:

1. Start powdering at the lower cheeks…Gently pat and blend powder toward center of face…Powder the nose last so that this facial feature will receive the lightest application of powder.
2. Now with the powder puff, press powder lightly into the tiny lines around the eyes. Nose, mouth, and chin. This assures a completely powdered surface, which aids in effecting a smooth make-up.
3. With the Max Factor Powder Brush…lightly brush away any surplus powder, clearing all lines at the eyes, nose, mouth, and chin, giving your make-up a velvety, even finish.
4. Thus, with Max Factor’s Face Powder in the correct color harmony shade is created a satin-smooth makeup that clings for hours…color perfect and flattering under any light.

Bette Davis reveals: “With my coloring…blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin… I use Max Factor’s Rachelle powder.”

Coty's Face Powder was a top seller of the 1930s. It appealed to society ladies and housewives on a budget equally. A Coty promotional booklet from c. 1931 proclaimed that Coty’s face powders “come to you, untouched, from sunlit laboratories where an immaculate staff guards every step in the process of its creation.” Their “skin-matched” shades, “true, imperceptible, sun-proof,” were: Blanche, Naturelle, Severose, Rose No. 1, Rose No. 2, Nacree, Rachel No. 1, Rachel No. 2, Mauve, and Ochre. Ochre-Rose, Cotytan, and Rachel Nacree. Ad above from 1934.

Coty’s “Air-Spun” powder, introduced in 1935. Then as now, it was sold at drugstores, such Walgreens. At the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40, visitors to the Maison Coty building (topped by the familiar “powder puff” box) could watch Air-Spun Powder in the making.

Ponds also sold face powder, but was no competition for Coty in this department.

A shiny nose was a beauty "bugaboo" to be avoided at all costs! Above: Lady Esther ad, 1934. Below: Constance Bennett, who would later have her own line of cosmetics and beauty treatments. We are pretty sure men didn’t notice (or care) whether Connie’s nose was shiny or not.

Charles of the Ritz, like many other high-end beauty houses, offered custom-blended powder. This ad dates to 1940. From the fabulous Duke University ads collection.

Powder compacts from the ‘30s are fun collectables – they often feature great Deco designs, or commemorate a ‘30s event, such as the World’s Fairs. Many came in duos of rouge and powder, and even trios, of powder, rouge and lipstick.
An example by Girey, noted for their "camera" style compacts.
Small Deco compact with an attached ring on a chain, so the compact could be held in the hand while dancing, etc.

A “tam-o-shanter” type compact with mesh-bottom, for carrying loose powder. A screen (sadly, often missing today) kept the powder in place.

Above: example of a powder compact screen. Middle: the "sifter" type. Lower: Coty Airspun compact of pressed powder.

'30s ladies could easily have their compacts refilled with their favorite powder to be used again and again. You can make your own pressed powder by mixing some loose powder with rubbingrubbing alcohol in a small bowl, (the consistency should be like waffle batter; if its too liquid-y, add a little more powder). Scoop it into your empty compact and smooth. Let dry completely before closing. It isn’t as firm as pressed powder from a factory, but it works!
Click here to see a stunning collection of compacts, from The Art of Allure: Powder Compacts and Vanities of the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries from the Collection of Noelle Soren, University of Arizona Museum of Art, 2004. Also has good, reliable information about compacts and their makers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog