Monday, February 28, 2011

Turn-of-the-century Beauty


"THE CHEEKS AND LIPS PAINTED A SCARLET beyond anything nature would ever give is bad taste at any time, and is an index to a vain and foolish heart, and will not be found in beautiful girlhood."   

That's surprising advice given that this quote comes from Girlhood, a volume published in 1922. No doubt the author hoped to thwart girls' and women's increasing acceptance of cosmetics. Horrors!

But by then most women had thrown off the idea that cosmetics were sinful and had been wearing "lip rouge" for decades. Indeed, when men shipped out for World War I, many women took jobs and, with a few more coins in their purses, sometimes splurged on cosmetics — the term "makeup" wasn't invented until Max Factor coined it a decade or so later. What else could women place on their beauty shopping lists at the turn of the century?

• Safer powders and eye shadows  — previous versions often contained lead, nightshade or vermillion, a sulfide poisonous when ingested
• Various scented soaps, including Fairy soap — "in a class above all other toilet and bath soaps"
• Tinted nail powders and creams, including Graf's Hyglo nail polish paste, for buffing nails
• Dozens of perfumes, including those from longtime-maker Guerlain — Jicky, Champs Élysées (Paris was cool to use in marketing back then too) and, by 1925, Shalimar, my mom's favorite
• Antiperspirants and deodorants — previously, perfumes were used to mask body odor
• A "makeover," a wholly new concept, at an Elizabeth Arden salon
• Or a "Day of Beauty" at a Helena Rubinstein salon

What might they not have been buying by then? Madame Rowley's Toilet Mask, whose advertisement above was found in The Jenness Miller Magazine, January 1891. Impressively, its editor wrote in its pages that "nothing is permitted to appear in our advertising columns. . .for which the publisher is not willing to vouch." The toilet mask claims included making a face as soft and smooth as an infant's, without blemishes and wrinkles.  

Anyone know where I could get one?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Julia's Autograph Book

At the turn of the century, my great-grandma Julia was a tween living in a sod house in Garretson, South Dakota. 

But while her daily life differed greatly from ours today, that doesn't mean she didn't share the same thoughts and feelings of girls today. 

I know because her autograph book is a prized possession of mine, and it is filled with personal messages and poems (some in Norwegian) from friends, family members and even teachers.

In honor of Valentine's Day or perhaps for her birthday, Julia received this autograph book in February 1898.

Here are a few favorite entries:

What do you care for gold or silver,
What do you care for on sea or land,
All you seem to care for 
Is a handsome young man.
Your sister, Mary

When the golden sun is setting
And from care your thoughts are free
When of others you are thinking
May you sometimes think of me.
John Johnson

Look for goodness, look for gladness,
You will find them all the while.
If you bring a smiling visage
To the glass, you meet a smile.
Your friend, Libbie Tabor

Julia is your name:
Single is your life.
Happy is the little man
who gets you for his wife.
Your friend, Agnes

That "little man"—and he was short—turned out to be Severin, a Norwegian immigrant. They married in 1911 when Julia was just 22 and "S.L.," as he was called, was 24. Cheers to their 100th anniversary.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sweet & Nasty Valentines

"Grandma" sent this sweet Valentine postcard to "Stella" back in 1910.
Valentines haven't changed all that much in the past 100 years. Sweethearts still give one another love tokens. And kids still exchange paper valentines (although they're printed more often than homemade these days) and those ubiquitous pink boxes of candy hearts. 

Would you believe that NECCO, the New England Confectionery Company, started producing those tiny "conversation hearts" back in 1902 and that their popularity has never waned — although some original sayings, such as Oh Boy and Kiss Me, have been replaced by such au courant sayings as Jump 4 Me and U Can Do It. 

One turn-of-the-century Valentine fad that, thankfully, ended was sending "vinegar valentines." Also called "penny dreadfuls," these valentines featured an illustration of one individual each — say a piano teacher, "lovesick lass" or "silly singer" — accompanied by a nasty verse that insulted the recipient. Supposedly, the cards were often sent anonymously and post office clerks refused to accept some of them because of their vulgarity.

Here's one example of a not-terribly-insulting vinegar valentine:

To the Stylish Girl:
Paris hats become you greatly,
Richest cloaks you'll never lack;
They are sent home on approval,
Worn one night and then sent back.

Happy Valentine's Day from AttaGirl, circa 1900. May all of your valentines be sweet.