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
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
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
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
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
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.