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Make Up and Beauty

Painted picture of a woman with a fresh complexion, red lips, thin black eyebrows, blue eyes and long black lashes looking into a scalloped green hand mirror. She is applying powder to her cheek with a pink fluffy powder puff.
A magazine image of a woman applying her make up with a powder puff, 1940s. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

Make up has always been used by men and women alike since ancient times. However, make up and cosmetics have always held a controversial place in many cultures and societies. It was during the late Victorian era that make up really became popular due to the new developments in production, advertising and selling via the new department stores that changed the way middle class people shopped.

The cosmetics in the collection at Preston Park Museum and Grounds start in the Victorian era and go right up to modern times. In this blog we are going to count down our top five beauty objects in the collection!


Edje Granulated Shampoo



This shampoo was made by the Paris company Edje, and has an art nouveau design. The shampoo inside comes in a granulated form and this one is still full! The granules would have been mixed in water to form a ‘hygienic’ liquid. This shampoo also contains henna which would have had a naturally dyeing effect on the hair too. In the Edwardian period, the hairstyles favoured by most women was to have long hair piled high into a top bun on top of the head with brunette hair being the most popular colour.

The art of ‘shampooing’ originated in India and was brought over to Britain in 1814 by Sake Dean Mahomed, a surgeon who included shampoo as a luxury option at his bath spa in Brighton. Most shampoos were a mixture of pealed soap shavings mixed in water but at the turn of the 1900s shampoo was developed into its own lathering and cleaning liquid mixture.


Bourjous Rouge



Dating from the 1950s onwards this little rouge pot is pressed in a cardboard box and was designed to be used on the go. The colour inside was a pinky red and was used to give the cheeks and lips some natural looking colour. Bourjous was formed in 1863 in the theatres of Paris by make up artist Joseph Albert Posin, who created coloured waxy make up sticks for actors and actresses of the time. That same year Posin created his first pot blusher by mixing powder and water, pressing it into the moulds and baking it. It became an instant success. By the 1950s the company had expanded into international markets and was producing new and inventive products like waterproof mascara.


L’Onglex Nail Polish



Nail polish became popular during the early 1900s when many new companies were experimenting with chemicals to create varnishing liquids for new industries like car manufacturing. Cosmetic companies took this idea and developed a varnish for ladies nails. By the end of the 1920s you could buy nail polish in multi colours but clear or natural colours were most popular.

As the 1930s developed many companies hit on the idea of creating nail polishes to match outfits, jewellery and accessories. Some companies even created individual unique colours with gold, silver and pearl powder which was exclusive and expensive. For those on a lesser budget, fish-scale essence could be added to give the effect of mother of pearl.

L’onglex was an English company that specialised in nail care. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, they created these little nail polish and polish remover set. These little bottles would have once been a part of a small nail travel set with a case that included a mirror, space for the nail polishes, cuticle creams and a finger rest for doing your nails on the go.


The Safety Razor



Before safety razors were introduced in 1895, most people used a cut-through-razor, which was an open blade used on the skin to remove hair. This was incredibly dangerous as illustrated in the Victorian classic, Sweeny Todd, which was written to highlight the use of these straight razors as deadly weapons. It was Gillette who first marketed the safety razor, called such because the blades were encased with blunt edges which could be effective against cutting yourself whilst handling it but still sharp against the skin. Safety razors came with replaceable razor blades, but the whole device was too expensive for most people and they didn’t really become popular until the late 1920s and 1930s.


Max Factor – Pink Brandy Lipstick


Max Factor was a Polish businessman who took his cosmetic expertise to the early film sets of America at the beginning of the movie making boom. In 1904 he exhibited his cosmetics at a world fair event and launched the company officially in 1909. Max Factor revolutionized make up for the screen, including the creation of greasepaint, a cosmetic used to help the early cameras pick up the make up on screen. This lipstick dates from the 1950s and is the classic metal tube design which was first produced in the early 1900s. Max Factor is still a household name in cosmetics today.



All the images in this blog are courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.