Although a pleasing appearance was admired, women in the nineteenth century were often told that the only way to achieve ‘true’ beauty was to cultivate their moral character.
The first lesson to be learned, therefore, by the girl or woman who seeks the development of her own beauty, is that enduring beauty comes from within, that lovely thoughts create curves of loveliness in face and form, and that the more susceptible she becomes to their elevating influence, the greater is their vitality, and the more effective the work of the refining chisel.
In the twentieth century, as more women entered the workforce they soon realised – or were told by beauty writers, fashion columnists and advertisers – that although good character was still valued, appearance was important to them achieving success in the workplace, and could also affect their personal or social status.
Now the first thing of which we are aware when we meet a woman is her looks. When we say Mrs. So and So is beautiful, we are referring always to her appearance. Beauty of character, wit, intelligence, these are recognized later. But, human nature being what it is, it is our appearance by which we first are judged. Appearance may be called by other names, we may speak of charm, of personality, of individuality, but each of these terms is summed up in the one word, beauty.
Yet beauty alone not sufficient to warrant our admiration. Beauty must have its proper setting. You have met one woman whose features perhaps are not regular, whose proportions are not equal to those of the Venus de Milo, yet because she has understood the art of enhancing her appearance by the right clothes, by a hair arrangement that is smartly becoming, by a hat that is perfect for her, she will call forth your admiration where another woman of greater natural beauty but less knowledge of dressing will not.
In such a case, one speaks of the first woman as having that intangible quality we call charm or personality. What then constitutes charm or personality? To my way of thinking, charm consists in the possession of an intelligence, which, when applied to the dressing and care of one’s self results in making the most of the features Nature has given one.
Making the best of their appearance became even more important to women during the depression years of the 1930s, when competition for employment increased.
In the United States, in particular, there was also an increased emphasis on individuality; the idea that women should not only be fashionably attractive but should select clothing, hair and make-up that reflected their personality; in other words, that they should develop a personal style (Berry, 2000), a new idea at time and one that was particularly stressed by fashion experts.
One technique used by columnists when providing advice on this subject was to describe a range of ‘types’ women could select from. These types included physical features such as body shape and colouring but often included personality traits or temperaments. For example, in her 1938 book, ‘Designing Women’, Margaretta Byers describes six fashion types – Coquette, Sophisticate, Romantic, Patrician, Gamine and Exotic.
Examples: Billie Burke, Elizabeth Arden, Lily Pons.
Physical characteristics: petite figure, retroussé features, curled coiffures.
Examples: The Duchess of Windsor, Ina Claire, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.
Physical characteristics: trim, slender figure, irregular but striking features, sleek coiffure.
Examples: Princess Matchabelli, Greta Garbo, Princess Paley.
Physical characteristics: pre-Raphaelite figure, chiseled features, wistful eyes, artistic unstudied coiffure.
Examples: Mrs. Harrison Williams, The Duchess of Kent, Lynn Fontanne.
Physical characteristics: slender curves, exquisite skin and hair, soft coiffure.
Examples: Katharine Hepburn, Elsa Schiaparelli, Beatrice Lillie.
Physical characteristics: boyish almost gauche figure, impudent features, rebellious hair.
Examples: Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Helena Rubinstein.
Physical characteristics: svelte figure, pale features, large eyes, extreme coiffures.
If a woman identified with a particular type she could then follow the fashion advice given for it as the basis for a personal style. Although advice columnists often concentrated on clothing when discussing style, hair and make-up were also considered.
Beauty Culturists had long been preaching the idea that women should make the most of their beauty and that any woman could look attractive with the right treatments. Some, such as Helena Rubinstein, were keenly aware of the benefits to their business of suggesting that their beauty treatments harmonised with, and brought out, a client’s personality.
Helena Rubinstein, by devoting herself to building beauty from every standpoint, has mastered methods that bring out your characteristic qualities that make your looks show the essential, inner “you.”
So, make up you mind and be beautiful—let Helena Rubinstein plan an individually suited method of beauty culture for you—in harmony with your personality.
Beauty Culturists were also familiar with types, at least on the small scale, having long referred to skin types – viz., normal, dry or oily – to help women select a suitable skin-care product. As the use of make-up became more widespread, types were also used to describe how make-up could enhance specific facial features such as the eyes, lips or the shape of the face. For example, women could be shown a range lip shapes that could be created with lipstick and then select the type they thought best suited them.
In the 1920s and 1930s, cosmetic companies also used types to sell make-up. Although most cosmetic companies of the time had limited shade ranges, the possible colour combinations of powder, rouge, lipstick and eye make-up were still daunting for the inexperienced. In addition, despite the fact many companies used the same shade names – e.g., Natural, Rachel or White – this was no guarantee that the colours would be the same in different brands. This meant that each brand had to educate their clients/customers on how to select and coordinate appropriate shades of make-up to best effect. This was where types proved useful.
Types used to select make-up shades could be based just on hair, eye and skin colour as, for example, this set described by Helena Rubinstein:
Because each separate type of beauty demands a different coloured rouge and lipstick, a different shade of powder and eye pencil, I am giving below a beauty chart. Pick out which type you are and I can then advise you the proper shades you should use to enhance your natural loveliness:
Nordic Blonde: Fair hair, blue eyes, fair skin.
Anglo-Blonde: Ash-brown hair, brown eyes, creamy skin.
Celtic Blonde: Medium-brown hair, hazel or gray eyes, ivory skin.
Titian Blonde: Auburn hair, brown eyes, white skin.
Anglo-Brunette: Brown hair, brown eyes, fair skin.
Mayflower-Brunette: Brown hair, hazel, blue or gray eyes, ivory skin.
Latin-Brunette: Black hair, dark eyes, olive skin.
One issue with this approach was that many women did not recognise themselves amongst the types listed. Some cosmetic companies tried to solve this problem by using a larger range of types. In 1927, for example, the Pompeian Manufacturing Company created a set of twenty-four beauty types – including Dresden-China Blonde, Watteau Blonde, Wild-Rose Girl, Frankly Red-Haired, Spanish Brunette, Cleopatra Brunette, Auburn Beauty, Creole Beauty and Coquette – to explain how its Pompeian Beauty Powder and Pompeian Bloom (rouge) were to be selected and combined.
Her hair is reddish brown. She has a fine warmth of tone to her skin. Her eyes exactly match her hair. They look almost like sherry they are so limpid, and so nearly its color. (For her—2 parts Nude to 1 part Flesh-Pink with Orange or Oriental tone of Bloom.)
Her beauty is a direct inheritance from her French and Spanish forebears. There is in her face all the vivacity of the French, all the romance of the Spanish. Her skin is like creamy velvet. Her hair is dark, sometimes with just a hint of copper. Her eyes are like twin dark pools, with a star reflected in their depths. (For her—the nude shade of Pompeian Beauty Powder, and Medium tone of Bloom.)
See also: Pompeian Manufacturing Company
Although concentrating primarily on colour, cosmetic companies sometimes included personality traits or temperaments when constructing their beauty types as this made using their make-up seem more exciting and attractive. Some of the categories described by Pompeian show evidence of this:
Quaint and flirty, young and alluring. Her skin is white with the faintest pink shining through. Her eyes are blue and wide and round. (For her—White Pompeian Beauty Powder with Light tone of Bloom.)
In 1929, the Armand Company went further and tried to ‘scientise’ the link between personality and make-up by engaging a psychologist to work with a beauty expert to give the impression that Armand make-up was customised to match a woman’s personality. Armand made this scheme available in a booklet aptly titled, ‘Find Yourself’.
This booklet is based on the principle that you must study your own type in order to learn the proper use of cosmetics. This is accomplished by the simple process of asking yourself a few questions. Truthful answers will enable you to work out your own Number, under which you will find revealed, as though the booklet had actually seen and heard you, interesting facts about your appearance and psychology, as well as a specific discussion of your individual problems. The knowledge gained from this discussion will start you on the road to Beauty. And that way lies Happiness.
Using a short questionnaire, women could determine their key number which would lead them to an insight into their personality along with the shades of Armand lipstick, powder and rouge that best suited them.
Key No. 2
Your answers indicate that you are alert and up-to-date, that you are already giving your skin the attention it deserves and realize that keeping a youthful appearance is part of the capable handling of life. Your skin would be best suited by the Starlight or Creme tint of powder, or possible the Natural. Do not attempt the sunburn style. Either Zanzibar or Afterglow rouge and lipstick should suit you. If it amuses you to change your appearance from day to day, keep both on hand. Silver and gold are becoming to one of your colouring and when you look your best you suggest the ethereal freshness of a clear and dewy dawn. Yours is the type that catches and holds the masculine eye.
Also see the company booklet: Find Yourself
Once they knew what make-up shades they should use these were applied according to one of eight beauty types created by Armand – Cleopatra, Lorelei, Sonya, Cherie, Sheba, Godiva, Mona Lisa or Coleen – as illustrated in the centre of the booklet. Although a good deal of effort went into this booklet it did not appear to get many women to switch to Armand make-up and the idea was not subsequently followed-up.
See also: Armand Company
The development of the motion picture industry and the rise of Hollywood through the 1920s and 1930s had a growing influence on fashion, hair and make-up. Actresses made ideal subjects for make-up types for a number of reasons. First, most of the leading actresses (and actors) contracted by the various Hollywood studios suffered from a degree of type-casting which meant that their physical appearance was associated with a particular personality or temperament type. Secondly, actresses were also increasingly subjected to the dictates of make-up artists who accentuated their best and minimised their worst facial features according to a Hollywood style. This meant they maintained a fairly consistent make-up style through all of their movies, unless they were playing a character role.
No one combined types and Hollywood movie stars to sell make-up more effectively than Max Factor. He recommended selecting and coordinating shades of make-up by beauty types based on hair colour: Blonde, Brunette, Redhead and Brownette, the last being a personal invention. Each of the four beauty types could select from a number of different shades of lipstick, face powder, eyeshadow and other forms of make-up but rather than complicating matters by introducing a wider range of types, Max Factor used individual actresses to demonstrate possible variations.
By doing this Max Factor kept his range of beauty types relatively simple and introduced a personality factor into them, while all the time associating them with the glamour of Hollywood. Women who identified with a particular movie star – by look, temperament or some other reason – could follow the guides Max Factor set out for that film star. As he had a huge stock of actresses under contract, these examples could be updated as the popularity of particular actresses waxed and waned.
There is, of course, an inherent contradiction in expressing your individuality by conforming to a particular type. The Lady Esther Company, one of the leading sellers of face powder in the 1930s, recognised this and campaigned against it.
The reason you haven’t found this right shade long ago is probably because you’ve been choosing according to your “type”—a blonde should wear this, a brunette that. This is all wrong! You aren’t a type. You’re yourself. And how lovely that self can be—how vivid, alive and bright—you’ll never know till you try on all five of my basic shades in Lady Esther Face Powder.
Going further, Lady Esther suggested that a new powder shade should not be used to reflect a type but rather to create “a New Personality—a New Glamour—a New Charm!” (Lady Esther advertisement, 1937).
Lady Esther was not alone in suggesting that women could transform themselves, could change their personality, by altering their clothes, hair and make-up. The motion picture industry also played a role in this through the widely publicised makeovers that actresses were subjected to when they started their screen careers. Like the movie stars, women were increasingly encouraged to change their clothing, hair and make-up, to make themselves over, and so become the type of person they wished to be.
Cast yourself in a certain role and dress the part. This is the subtlest aspect of taste, the greatest aid in achieving distinction and incidentally the most fun.
The types used by cosmetic companies to sell make-up between the two World Wars were generally based on traditional European skin, eye and hair tones. After 1950, as Western cosmetic companies embraced customers that were ethnically and culturally diverse, classifying women by type became less useful. This is not to say that types disappeared from cosmetic advertising altogether; skin types, for example, are still widely used to sell face creams and the like.
Updated: 24th September 2015
Armand Company. (1929). Find yourself [Booklet]. Author.
Berry, S. (2000). Screen style: Fashion and femininity in 1930s Hollywood. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Byers, M. (1938). Designing women. The art, technique and cost of being beautiful. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Fletcher, E. A. (1899). The woman beautiful. A practical treatment on the development and preservation of woman’s health and beauty, and the principles of taste in dress. New York: W. M. Young & Co.
Frederick, C. (1929). Selling Mrs. consumer. New York: The Business Bourse.
Marshall, M. (1937). Beauty gets the job. Modern Screen, October, 44-45, 91-93.
Max Factor. (1928). The new art of society make-up. U.S.A.: Author.
Peiss, K. (1998). Hope in a jar: The making of America’s beauty culture. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Reilly, R. (1929). Bring beauty to every girl. Screenland, XVII(6), 70-71, 102-103.
Stote, D. (1926). Making the most of your looks. New York: Brentano’s Inc.