Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A 1930s guide to beauty

You can tell it's 1930s from the cover.
This wonderful book was a gift from my former team-mates. Yesterday was my last day on Simply Knitting and The Knitter; I've got a new job (a promotion!) on N-Photo. The knitting team gave me a really lovely collection of gifts, and possibly the star item was this book, Modern Beauty Culture by Maria Verni. It's still got its original dust jacket and even the box it was shipped in! The preface is dated 1933. The book was published by a company called New Era, and the teams also gave me a book on how to perm hair in the 'modern' style; should I ever feel the need for a 1930s-style perm I now have exactly the rod-rolling diagrams to show my hairdresser.

I think New Era must have published books for professional people as the hairstyling book is clearly aimed at hairdressers, and this one is definitely for people interested in becoming beauty therapists. As well as chapters of facial exercises, face masks and the like, there are sections on things like 'The use of electrolysis in the beauty parlour' and 'The characteristics of various types of clients'. There are even recipes so the aspiring practitioner can sell her clients her own range of lotions and creams.

Eyelash curlers haven't changed
much in 80 years.
I haven't read the book in any depth yet, but what I like about it so far isn't its practicality, as a lot of it is aimed at people who treat others, not self-maintenance, so it isn't ideal for helping you to achieve a 1930s look (although if you wanted the perfect 30s brows this is certainly the book to give them to you). No, what pleases me most is how very 1930s it is in its assumptions and priorities. There is the emphasis on electricity as a wonderful cure-all, especially for removing hair, moles, freckles - if you've got it, an electrified needle wielded by a professional will get rid of it. Verni is very keen on physical health as well as surface beauty, placing great emphasis on the need to be healthy in order to have tip-top skin and hair. This was the era of the Women's League of Health and Beauty, after all. There are lots of exercises to work various muscle groups, improve posture, improve walking and so on. There's also an awful lot about hands. Next to a bit of facial fuzz, a less than perfect pair of paws seems to have been the thing that filled 1930s woman with horror. "However beautiful and well groomed a woman may be, the illusion is shattered if she extends a wrinkled and apologetic hand to perform any slight task, such as passing a cup of tea..." Ladies, you have been warned!

Oddly, there's very little in the book about colours, although the most frequently-mentioned eyeshadow colours are green and mauve. Verni doesn't think blue suits many people at all. Red, coral and natural are the colours cited for nail vanish, used only on the pink part of the nail, not on the half-moon or the white tip.

This book was a really lovely gift from my workmates. I might try out some of the exercises, but I don't think I'll bother with the skin bleach or drinking the juice of four lemons for breakfast...

3 comments :

  1. I have a book of Victorian beauty tips that tell you to get 4+ hours of exercise a day - healthy but impractical! I love the look of this book, it looks fab. I might try green or mauve eyeshadow

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  2. OMG! LOOOOOVE the cover.
    Looking forward to see some scans from this book soon. :)
    (???)

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  3. Hello! I came across this lovely old post of yours whilst searching for 1930s perm information (yes, I'm seriously considering it!). Do you still have the 'how to perm hair in the 'modern' style' book you were given? I'm really struggling to find any in depth info about perming in the 30s, it's always just an overview and a photo of those scary contraptions! xx

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