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Cosmetic Changes


For many women, the introduction to the world of cosmetics came at our mothers' makeup tables.When I close my eyes, I can still picture my mom's blue and white bottle of Shalimar perfume, and feel the gooey texture of the coral-colored Mary Kay face cream that she used as a salve for everything from dry skin to sunburn. Equally familiar are my own dalliances, years later, with Tickle deodorant, Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, and an Ogilvy home perm that left me looking like Little Orphan Annie.

Nostalgia for beauty products, from the classic to the campy, is the focus of "Hello Gorgeous!" ($14.95, Collectors Press), a new Mother's Day-worthy book by Rachel Weingarten. Ms.Weingarten, a former makeup artist and the president of GTK Marketing Group, uses the book as a platform to examine the beauty products and beauty advertisements of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s.

"It really symbolizes a period in America when women's spending power was suddenly highlighted, and marketers said,'Wait a minute, these women aren't just accessories of their spouses, they're thinking consumers,'" Ms. Weingarten said. "It was a huge shift in the economy."

It was also an era when the companies of three women, Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder, and Helena Rubinstein, were powerhouses in the beauty industry, Ms. Weingarten said, adding, "It was a really exciting time."

Her observations about the beauty trends of the era are interspersed with fun facts and photos of the product advertisements - ads that relied on both promises ("That Ivory Look. Young America has it ... You can have it in 7 days!") and fear ("Even before 25 dry-skin lines begin to show").

In that regard, some things never change. Cosmetics advertising "is still [about] the 'hope in a bottle' concept," Ms. Weingarten said. "There's still the same promise that it's going to transform your life.The difference is, it's not overt in what it promises. The old ads used to promise you'd get a husband, or be a movie star. Now we're more subtle." They're also more scientific. Thanks to research and development innovations and what Ms. Weingarten calls an "obsession" with skin care, today's cosmetics ads often tout measurable results in wrinkle reduction and smoother skin, as well as a radiant glow.

In fact, the recent invention of "cosmeceuticals" - a buzzword that refers to cosmetic products that claim to have pharmaceutical-like benefits - is one of the biggest changes in the beauty industry, Ms.Weingarten said. "Nowadays there's a whole science to skin care."

That scientific approach is noticeable in makeup products as well as moisturizers and serums. Foundations and powders, which used to be chalky and available in limited shades, now boast age-defying ingredients and are sold in shades for every skin tone.

Another difference is the packaging.While many of today's products are sleek and lightweight - and designed to be tossed in a handbag - products from the '40s, '50s, and '60s were designed to be displayed. Gilded compacts and textured lipstick cases were as glamorous as the products held within. "My mother wore an Elizabeth Arden lipstick - I think it was called Stop Red - in the '50s and '60s," a managing partner of the public relations firm Xanthus Communications, Patricia Vaccarino, said."I remember the color, the thick matte texture, the sweet waxy scent, and its gorgeous petite gold casing with a black and gold label. I would give anything to have a tube!"

Even shopping for cosmetics could be elegant. New Yorker Valerie Warner recalled getting dressed up to go shopping with her mother, who would have Charles of the Ritz loose face powder custom-blended for her complexion."It was fabulous to watch," Ms.Warner said."It struck me as extremely glamorous."

Yet perhaps the biggest difference between cosmetics products of the past and present is in the sheer number of options available to women today. "As a teenager of the 1960s, I don't remember a lot of makeup or hairstyling choices," the president and CEO of the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, Pamela Bailey,said."I have so many more choices today, and I think that is what is so wonderful and so much fun."

Even so, makeup that's new and improved doesn't hold the same allure for some women, who, like Ms.Vaccarino, wistfully recall the products their mothers wore or introduced to them. New Jersey resident Irene Maslowski was in 6th grade when she got her first lipstick, Revlon's Naked Pink. The color "was an acceptable pink by my mother's standards," she said, and still stands out in her memory. She isn't alone.While Revlon has since discontinued the shade, a New York City cosmetics company called Three Custom Color Specialists, which recreates discontinued lipstick shades in addition to creating its own line of products, has Naked Pink in its archive. "It's by far the most popular shade we've done," one of the company's co-founders, Chad Hayduk, said. "One customer bought 200 tubes."

Why place such a high emotional value on vintage makeup? "People fall in love with cosmetics," Mr. Hayduk said. "For nostalgic reasons, they hold onto the colors that they wore on their wedding day, or something they found in the attic that their grandmother wore." Or, in some cases, what we found on our mother's makeup tables.