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The 1920s was a revolutionary period for Western fashion. Hemlines that for centuries had reached the ankle at their shortest now hovered closer to the knee. Hairstyles that had been long and elaborate were traded in for short bobs and shingle haircuts. In fact almost every trend that became popularized in the 1920s was in some way a rebellion against the buttoned-up and demure ways of the previous decades.

This was especially true when it came to cosmetics. Up until the nineteen-teens makeup, then referred to as ‘paint’, was something that was only worn by stage performers and prostitutes, and definitely not by ‘nice’ women with class. The advent of the silver screen changed everything. These movie stars painted a lifestyle of beauty and glamour and by the early 1920’s brands like Max Factor, Maybelline, and Shiseido had ensured that cosmetics covered the dressing tables of almost every woman in the western world.

Girls of the 1920s wanted to be noticed. More than a way to distract themselves from the horrors of the first World War, wearing makeup was a way of asserting their feminine power in a way that they had only recently been able to experience. Not only that but as more and more women entered the workforce, more emphasis was placed on appearance as a way to compete for attention against the men applying for similar positions.

Unfortunately cosmetics like foundation, lipstick and blush were only available in a few very limited shades, very few of which matched anyone’s actual skin tone, and with the very limited application experience of the wearers the results were often…less than attractive. Too-pale cake foundation and dark eye makeup made the wearers look more ghoulish than glamorous.

One of the most revolutionary products of the time was the metal lipstick tube, introduced in 1915. This allowed women to carry their lipstick with them anywhere and maintain that perfect cupid’s bow pout that was so iconic in the ‘20s. The most predominant colors available were red, pink, and orange and stencils and metal lip tracers were also introduced to ensure perfect application along the lip line.

It was also around this time that spill-proof containers and compacts were introduced, replacing cream and liquid blush with pressed powder. As with lipstick red was the most common colour, varying in shade from orange-red to raspberry and rose by the end of the 1920’s. Rouge was applied in circles on the cheeks, creating bright spots of colour on otherwise pale faces. For women who were part of the Flapper subculture, rouge was also applied to the knees to make it look like they spent a lot of time there (and yes, for the exact reason that it implies). And while pale skin and rosy cheeks remained de mode, orange blush was also used to mimic the effects of a suntan. For most of the last few centuries fair skin was considered the ideal of beauty because it was implied that a woman with fair, unblemished skin was wealthy enough not to have to work out in the hot sun every day but with the advancements in transportation technology brought on by the first World War this began to change. Wealthy women were now able to spend their leisure time jetting off to exotic locales and sunning themselves on white sand beaches.and it is said that this trend began after the iconic designer Coco Chanel spent too long in the sun while vacationing on the French Riviera and returned to work with a deep golden suntan.

Another radical new product of the time was nail polish. Originally introduced by Revlon and Cutex, the paint was inspired by the shiny lacquer applied to vehicles at the time, and like blush and lipstick became available in shades of pink and red. The most iconic style at the time was referred to as the “moon manicure”. Women kept their nails long, filed into long ovals, and painted only the middle section, keeping the tips and the crescent at the base of the nail bare.

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