Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book time: "Compacts and Cosmetics" - Inter-war: the rising of Hollywood

This is part of a series of posts on beauty through history, following the book of historian Madeleine Marsh: Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day.

  • Introduction and "the long 19th century"
  • Inter-war: the rising of Hollywood
  • War and Post-war: a society in recovery
  • Baby boomers: when teenagers are consumers
  • Capitalism wins: supermodels, super products
Expect to see a new text every tuesday until the end of August.


The 1920's

The Great War represented a big shift in society. Never before had a war caused so many deaths, needed so many men and been so cruel. With fire arms one didn't need to face the enemy anymore, which represented an enormous change on how war was fought.

With men away in the front, women were to take over new tasks and work. The body had to be more free to perform certain movements, and so in the 1920's we see much loser garments that certainly look very different and feel much more comfortable compared to that "S" Edwardian silhouette.

It's interesting to see though how this flat body shape took over and became the idea of beauty (that certainly happens all the time), to the point of actually there being binders to help women compress theirs bodies and achieve the desired boyish look.

In make-up, everything seemed more exaggerated: rouge, dark and bright shades of lipstick and an incredibly thin eyebrow, usually shaved and drawn over with a pencil. By the way, body hair was suddenly of great concern, since dresses were more revealing and more skin was exposed. And so a number of products espefically designed for depilation were suddenly available.

The author draws attention to how products were advertised at this time. Relying on women's insecurity, advertisers asked if you were hairy, smelly or wrinkly to sell razors, deodorants (a brand new product, can you believe it?), Q-tips, mouth washers, powders among other products. 

What I certainly think abhorrent is how these ads paved the way to reinforce women's dissatisfaction with their (actually "our") bodies up to the present time. But even though I find the need we feel even today to be always depilated and smelling like strawberries, I certainly buy the idea that a lot of it is personal hygiene. I know, I'm contradictory.

The 1930's

Now, this is a decade I still don't quite get and plan on researching, but I'll tell the little I understand of it.

As I see it, this is when Hollywood really took off, with sound films increasingly popular and movie stars on the spot. Max Factor, who was already a film industry authority, invented and commercialized the pancake in the late 30s. With colored movies, foundation had to have different colors while still providing a flawless skin to be showcased in close-ups. People were eager to know what stars used and imitate them, so it seems like this decade was when make-up previously designed for performing arts became more readily available to a broad audience.

I can't avoid thinking glamour when talking about the 30s. Wavy hair, bright red lipstick and shiny fabrics. Apparently the new created star system (at first, actors weren't supposed to be famous in order to avoid high salaries) made it for great publicity not only for movies, but brands and style in general. You could copy a look with the right technique and products and actresses even used make-up as a way of distinguishing themselves: Bette Davies applied her lipstick ignoring the cupid's bow, while Joan Crawford went for enlarging it. Eye make-up was also becoming more elaborate with the use of eyeshadows and a lot of mascara.

In conclusion, it seems that the inter-war period was when make-up really secured its place as a contant in women's lives. The beautiful compacts from those decades are also a sign of this change, when painting one's face wasn't a private act and something to hide, but rather to show-off: and Hollywood played a great part in it.


Next up: we'll talk about the war and post-war era: the severity of the early 40s and the soviety in recovery in the 50s.

All images were taken from the book "Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day". Except for the picture of the abdominal binder (taken from the private collection of the author, Madeleine Marsh), all other images are in public domain.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (or: The average American and some thoughts on translation)

If there's one thing that can lighten up your heart and restore your faith in humanity that's a Frank Capra movie. I had previously watched You Can't Take it With You and It's a Wonderful Life (a great movie in its simplicity and one of the sweetest ones ever), so it was with great delight that I made myself comfortable one evening and sat through another James Stewart performance.

It's always been clear to me how Mr. Capra worked on that idea of the simple American, the common man with no high ambitions apart from living a quiet and tranquil life with family and friends: the average American. And although this wasn't new to me, watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington bothered me and made me think a little bit more about the subject.

 Now, if you haven't seen the film, basically it's about a group of politicians who have to name a candidate for senator right away, someone they can easily manipulate and popular enough to gather voters. For that, our naïve Mr. Smith (James Stewart) is named: a man loved by children for his work as the head of a group of scouts. That is: an honourable man.

Of course, something goes wrong along the way, Jefferson Smith understands he's in a nest of vipers and is basically the only person who's not comitted to defending private interests. He fights that the way he can, of course using not violence, but speech and a dosis of humor.

He's the man who goes back to the Constitution, to the founding fathers and the so called pillars of the United States. By calling him the average American, the idea emerging from all this is that the common man opposes himself deeply to politicians and to the games of interests. It absolves the people and blames a group for everything that is wrong in a country, creating an idea of the idealistic and yet simple American man.

Of course, we do know that politics are dirty and most have no idea what goes on behind the curtains. For that, the movie has its merits when it apparently seems to want to call everybody and say: "Hey, pay attention! There's some monkey business being made here!". Nevertheless, it separates politics from everyday life and portrays it as something that belongs solely to Washington and some strict social circles outside of it. It is as if participating in neighborhood activities weren't politics at all.

One thing I did like about the movie though was the female character, Clarissa Saunders, played by Jean Arthur. I didn't expect a whole lot of feminism, sure, but it was nice to see a woman taking charge, helping and almost leading the poor new senator. She was the strong character in the movie, the counterpoint to the naïvité of Jeff Smith, the one who held the knowledge and knew how to use it.

On a curiosity note, the title of this movie went through a complete change when being realeased in Brazil. It wasn't a translation at all of the original title, but a rather different one: A Mulher Faz o Homem, which translates to something like "the woman makes the man".

The film was commercialized in Brazil from a totally different perspective. While the original title focused on Mr. Smith and his doings in Washington, in Brazilian portuguese all eyes turned to Miss Saunders and her ability to turn the table and help transform an underdog into a brave and historical figure. And that sure made the experience of seeing this movie different for a number of people, which goes to show how the selection of words we use when talking about anything is not at all random and carries an idea with it: be it the average American or the attention to the woman.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

That's Entertainment

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I'm not a huge fan of soccer, at least not for brazilian standards: I do have a team I root for, watch important games and know what's going on in general, but that's nothing close to a majority that cries, pays a lot of money to get into a stadium and watches at least one of the countless sports news programs that air everyday. (When I say sports I mean soccer, since every sports news is actually about 95% on soccer.)

Rivalry is really bad here, and my rival team played yesterday the final of the most important tournament in Latin America (and sadly won). To escape all this (or at least try, because escaping wasn't really an option and no one in this city slept last night) I decided to watch something fun, and nothing is more fun than musicals.

I decided on That's Etertainment, a 1974 documentary about MGM's musicals, hosted by a number of stars such as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney, Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor among others. The piece is actually a compilation of musical numbers and it provided me a delightful evening with nice songs, some awesome tap dancing (I'm not a fan of the ballet numbers, they're boring) and classic actors still really young. Watching Judy Garland at the age of 12 was particularly amusing and made me think even more of Hollywood beauty standards and everything those actresses endured.

It's weird to think that such light hearted movies could actually be so ugly. Sure, That's Entertainment isn't by any means an exact and honest account of MGM studios and production as it highlights the importance of musicals as bringing joy to audiences, but it sure makes up for a nice overview of this particular Hollywood era.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Classically changing: how period movies depict the present

Good morning!

Today it is finally cooler here, which is appropriate since we're supposedly in winter time. Now, when I say "cooler" I mean a can wear a very very thin cardigan (but still wearing a short dress and flats), because apparently that's all we're having this winter. If summer is like last year's, by October I'll have forgotten how it is like not to feelhot all the time.


As a series of posts, Penny Dreadful Vintage is writing this week about Egypt in Vintage Film, and looking at today's pictures portraying Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra I found myself thinking about the use of film as a means of thinking about its time of production.

I see many people going after period movies in an attempt to learn something about history. Now, I'm not saying that's not possible, but of course we have to question ourselves as to why that film was produced in the first place, the interests of those behind it and the moment. In the academic world of Humanities much is said about how a film can say more about its production time that about the era it tries to represent.

That becomes clear when we see the life of the same historical figure, for example Cleopatra, portrayed through different moments of the 20th century. The most iconic and famous is no doubt that of Elizabeth Taylor, released in 1963 (filming began in 1960). If in 1934 Claudette Colbert was pictured with the typical thin penciled eyebrows, dark eyeshadow and that almost heart-shaped mouth, still resembling the classic 1920's fashion (I'm talking about the 20's because, truth be told, the 30's are still quite unknown territory for me), Miss Taylor is the exact image of what we all have in mind when it comes to 60's make-up, with that thick eyeliner, blue eyeshadow and lips in lighter shades.

It is also very interesting to take a look at the silhouette. While in the 1930's a more natural body shape was apparently in, in the 50's (let's remember Elizabeth Taylor was a star in the 50's and things take time to change) curves were all in, emphasizing the female body (or the idea of what it should be).

I'd also mention the colors, but it wouldn't be fair, since the 1934 movie was in black and white. Still, that emerald dress and the lighter shade of lipstick almost erasing the mouth are awesome demonstrations of fashion at the time.

Now, a final confession: I've never seen any of these films! And truth be told, I'm also not exactly looking forward to it because long epic vintage movies are sometimes very boring and lately I've been more into noir and all those 1940's divas, but maybe I'll give it try. And you? Who's your favorite Cleopatra?

Claudette Colbert pictures from the blog www.pennydreadfulvintage.com and Elizabeth Taylor's found through Google Image.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book time: "Compacts and Cosmetics" - Introduction and "the long 19th century"

As I have previously posted, the book of the hour is Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day, which I've been wanting to read ever since I saw the author, Madeleine Marsh, in two Lisa Eldridge videos about the history of make-up.

Since it is a rather long period to write about and there are a number of things which I'd like to draw attention to, I thought it would be better to split my comments into a series of posts. Following political history, I decided to divide my posts into:
  • Introduction and "the long 19th century"
  • Inter-war: the rising of Hollywood
  • War and Post-war: a society in recovery
  • Baby boomers: when teenagers are consumers
  • Capitalism wins: supermodels, super products
Expect to see a new text every tuesday until the end of August.


The book covers, as the title says, the Victorian times onwards, with a little introduction on beauty in the Ancient world, going briefly into the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations. This is mainly to stress how the concern about body image isn't something new, but could actually be traced far back in human history.

As the author is also a historian the focus when writing about an accessory or a particular cosmetic is more towards the use of it and the particular historical moment rather than a pure fetish on the object and its physical description. Although it may not suit avid collectors, this point of view provides an insight on the lives and cosmovision shared by subjects of the time.

Although I'll be writing mainly about the aspects of change in fashion and thinking, Madeleine Marsh also tells how big stores and brands were started and certain products were invented, which are absolutely among the nicest parts of her book, providing a fun, entertaining and yet informative read.

The Victorian Era

Marsh starts at the 1800s when no make-up was allowed and the vanities were expressed through skincare and an obsession with hair. As we know, the 19th century was a very conservative time: etiquette was everything and the idea of tradition reigned, creating rituals from the pompous crowning of Queen Victoria (which came to set the tone for every subsequent crowning and royal wedding ceremony) to the very dressing of common women. Tight corsets and gloves, wigs and some creams were used daily.

If you like me watch a number of BBC series based on period novels, you know that blushing was not a desirable quality, as a woman could never show her feelings, especially if they were directed to men. Therefore, rouge was confined to the stage and to prostitutes (as actresses were also viewed).

To me it was particularly amusing to see those old advertisements. As we often see those wonderful films portraying beautiful and clear skin women from the 19th century, is hard to imagine how it actually was, when hygiene wasn't what it is today and even soaps were just beggining to be widely commercialized. I get the chills thinking about them curling their hair - and eventually burning them - and then having to reach for those wigs and toupès!

The Edwardian Era

The approach on cosmetics change: if before the association they had with the stage was a negative one, with enterpreneurs now looking for famous actresses (whose beauty was admired by everybody, particularly by men) to endorse their products rouge and powder become acceptable, even though mainly for the upper classes. Make-up in general was still regarded as something theatrical, but the availability and diversity of products began to increase due to the changes in illumination, which required more attention to skin.

The creation of department stores also represented a big change on how people, especially women, consumed. (Please watch the Mr. Selfridge BBC series, it portrays exactly this moment.) Selfridges was the first store ever to put cosmetics right at the front, transforming it into a delight and something to show off, rather than to conceal.

Women were beggining to work, to ask for certain rights (like voting) and to question standards. It seems to me like this was a time when even if just to a certain limited extent, women were doing it all for themselves - even if also to prove themselves.

It is very interesting to see how the sillhouette changes dramatically from the victorian woman, all suffocated in fabrics. True, the edwardian fashion was not so forgiving (it was still required to wear corsets to achieve the Gibson Girl look, but at least this provided more freedom to move and bycicles were adapted for women to ride them.

The raising participation of women in the working force was to be even more accentuated during the Great War, which finally ended the long and conservative 19th century.


Next up: we'll talk about the inter-war period: the crazy 1920s and the golden era of Hollywood.

All images were taken from the book "Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day". Except for the picture with the cold creams (taken from the private collection of the author, Madeleine Marsh), all other images are in public domain.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Price tip: "Compacts and Cosmetics", by Madeleine Marsh (ebook)

One book I have been wanting to read for a long time is Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty From Victorian Times to the Present Day, which I first heard of through Lisa Eldrigde. I haven’t finished it yet, but since I’m really enjoying the reading I thought I’d share the opportunity with you.

Amazon is selling the e-book version (for Kindle, but you can download the app for your smartphone or Mac/Windows computer) for the incredible price of US$0.88. That’s it.
You can click the title of the book (linked to Amazon website) and enjoy yourself. The book has many pictures of vintage packagings and ads as well. Anyway, I’ll leave the comments to when I decide to properly write about it.
By the way, I’m feeling more and more excited about discovering the world of vintage fashion and cosmetics, especially the establishing of stores and brands. Do you have any recommendations on books or movies about the subject? I’ve devoured Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise (BBC series) and have the Émile Zola book waiting to be read, but don’t know what else is out there.

Bang Bang

When I was a pre-teen one of the most important things ever to happen to me was choosing my own haircut. Not that I couldn’t have done it before, but the fact is being a kid meant that fashion and hairstyles weren’t among my subjects of interest. I was much more concerned about dancing (maybe this ability was all spent back then, leaving me with no skills whatsoever in the mistery of gracefully moving at the beat of music), reading fairy tales and playing with friends.
What put a definite end to my childhood, as I now view it, was the fact that I didn’t have bangs anymore. That and the longer hair. Following the trend, I went to the salon hoping to get this:
Looking at it now it's hard to believe such a thing was ever on trend and the desire of many of the pre-teens back then. Nonetheless, it represented a more adult face and style to me.
(Now, I feel compelled to clarify though that this wasn't what I got. The kind of locks I wanted had its tips much more curved towards the inside and my knowledge in styling was even poorer than it is now. That is to say, it failed to occur to me that no hairstyle on TV, movies or any publicity photo in the whole world is completely natural and that there's a parafernalia ranging from heating tools to special oils, waxes and sprays, not to mention celebrity hairstylists, always working to ensure those effects we all wish for.)
Having gone through adolescence, I soon came back to bangs. I decided it suited me better, event though I have changed my hairstyle quite a few times since then.
Recently, I've been seeing some really short bangs with a particular interest. It never occurred to me to have those, but suddenly I was in absolute love with all that and couldn't wait any longer.
I now walk around exhibiting my all time shortest bangs.


Ever since I saw Kelly Osbourne and that hair of hers my heart skipped a beat and my brains started a weird quest into rethinking hair colors.

First, though, a moment of recomposure was needed. After all, I’m not big in following celebrities, so the last memory I had of Kelly was of her in that reality show, when she was something like this:

Apart from the shock of having to reorganize my thought into accepting - and loving - gray and lilac as hair colors for the young and beautiful (isn't it awesome to write that as if I were a E! host?), there was also that moment of realizing time has past and the rebellious teenagers are now adults.


Since I was a teenager (and I mean right after I stopped listening to Backstreet Boys and the likes) I have an unfulfilled dream of dying my hair a different color.

In the late 90′s and early 00′s though that was very much a clubber thing. Yes, remember that? And in my little giant conservative corner of the world being a clubber was also being on drugs. Not to mention that back then I wasn’t really speaking English and the internet wasn’t a place where you could find virtually everything as it is now. Back then we didn’t even have Google and videos were too much for that dialed connection. So information about where to get products and how to actually dye the hair were pretty hard to come by.

I did as I could: some kind of blue mascara used for coloring a section of my hair, which during the day turned dry and emanated that characteristic aspect of dirtiness, much to the horror of my parents (who never mentioned a word againts me doing this).

But time goes by and we change. I tried being a red haired once, only to end up with almost no color showing and after a month or so a hair resembling to something that had been burned. I let it go.
And then I start seeing this:

That old feeling was suddenly back. It was buried in a shallow grave, that's for sure, but still. I've been obsessed with pastel blue and lilac over the past few weeks and can't stop browsing the web on how to achieve such a wonderful hair color.
For our heart's delight, now we have YouTube and an incredible amount of blogs with DIY guides with a number of products and techniques. Here are some links:
- Annika from The Pineneedle Collective showed how she achieved a pastel pink back in 2012 (which makes me feel I'm behind on this trend - it would be something new if I weren't).
- Before dying a pastel color you have to have a very very light blond, preferrably white hair. I don't remember who posted this, but anyway, here you can find a guide on how to have this much sought after shade.
- Finally, here's an awesome piece about the journey for a blue hair. I find this one to be particularly interesting as it is from someone with a very dark hair (just as mine) and a very old wish (again, like myself) to dye the locks an unusual color.
I'll probably be going to a salon tomorrow for a simple dip-dye (little bit scared of dying the whole thing at once) in blue, let's see how it turns out.
Have you ever dyed your hair a fantasy color? Do you want to do so? What color do you like the most? Tell me your story!

Classic welcome post

Hello, internet!
Although I’m not new to you, I feel like it’s time for our relationship to evolve to something more. No more watching you from a distance, following you, reading you. Time has arrived for me to show myself as that secret admirer.
So, as that Spirit horse once expressed in the voice of Bryan Adams - here I am.

From the many things I am, I chose to write here about things that are classic, be that movies, books, styles – all kinds of media. Annoying is something that permeates all aspects of my life, so I can’t really choose not to be like this – it’s simpler and only fair to just embrace it.
I’m hoping though that this will prove itself like a nice way to connect to all (or many. Or some. “All” is very megalomaniac.) awesome people out there. I know they (possibly you now reading this) exist and I actually follow some of them around the web.
Please comment if you like anything, if you think something is interesting, if you have a suggestion, if you are dying to recommend something to someone or if you simply want to talk.
Here we go!