Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sum of Your Parts

Thousands of years ago, I stood in front of a large, full-length mirror with a friend. We were out dancing at a club and had taken a break to reapply lipstick (this was in the early nineties, thus Coffee Bean by Revlon).
"Look at you," my friend said. You look like a person, all of you goes together into one thing, but I look like a bunch of parts that don't even match."
I knew exactly what she meant and insisted that actually it was me in parts, and her who looked like a real, whole girl.
I sometimes still focus on parts, but generally feel whole (don't really mean that as deep as it sounds). In just the last few years, I finally have a grasp of what I look like. I can, for the most part, turn myself around in my mind and mentally try on outfits. When I was younger, I really had no idea how I looked or how anything would fit, and usually felt surprised when I looked in the mirror. Not because I looked better or worse than I expected, but different.
I was reminded of that time in the mirror this morning on the subway when I started reading The Women's Room, the classic 1977 feminist novel by Marilyn French. My mother gave it to me some time this year but I just got to it.
The story opens with Mira hiding in the ladies, no make that the women's, room and suffering some sort of panicky angst.

"She stepped back again and tried to see her whole self. She couldn't do it. Ever since she had changed her style of dress-- that is, ever since she had been at Harvard-- her self refused to coalesce in the mirror. She could see bits and pieces-- hair, eyes, legs, but the pieces wouldn't come together. The hair and eyes went together, but the mouth was wrong; it had changed during the past years. The legs were all right, but didn't go with the bulky shoes and the pleated skirt. They all looked too thin under the thicker body.-- yet she was the same weight now she'd been for the past ten years, She began to feel something rising in her chest, and hastily looked away from the mirror. This was no time to get upset. Then she turned back jerkily, looking at nothing, pulled out her lipstick, and applied a line of it to her lower lip, her eyes careful to look at nothing but the mouth, In spite of herself, however, her eyes caught her whole face, and in a moment her head was full of tears."

Funny her outfit should be described that way. I was probably wearing a short plaid pleated skirt and bulky doc martens in the flashback above. But there were no tears, only puzzled head tilts.
So do any of you know what I (and Mira) mean? Do you see yourself in parts or as a whole?

Monday, September 29, 2008

"You long for a great, blonde, Nordic horse who's going to put her foot in your face."

More from Quentin Crisp:

"If you have gone through life wearing pink glasses, you will naturally think the world is essentially pink, while the world thinks of you only as The Person With The Pink Glasses. You may have always thought of yourself as friendly and outgoing, while the world regards you as strangely nervous and talkative, If you are going to get a true picture of yourself, it is vitally important to take into consideration the perceptions of others.
People will always volunteer what they really think of you. The message may be explicit or implicit, delivered by word or by action, but it is always there. If you listen and watch closely enough, you will soon learn what distinguishes you in the eyes of others.
With this information, plus your own assessment of your most prominent traits, you will be in a position to bring your persona in line with your personality, to codify your behavior in such a way as to emphasize and polish that which is essential to your nature and at the same time to do away with everything that is extraneous or distracting. This means not only tailoring your actions to fit your idea of yourself, but tailoring everything else as well: your clothes, your movements, your diction, your vocabulary, your eating habits, your job. Everything in other words, that goes into that overall statement about yourself which you will offer to the world, and which the world will call by another name.
That name is Style."

The photo above is a still from this video of Crisp, sitting in front of Warhol's Marilyn, pontificating on glamour. Please watch if you'd like to know what on earth the title of this post means. You'll notice that this view of Crisp is more flattering that his author photo. Here you can really see his signature look: the hat, the scarf (ascot?), the brooch. His hair was usually an Easter-egg color like lavender or pink. I just learned that he played Queen Elizabeth I in 1992's film, Orlando, which I've never seen. And that until his death, at ninety, he lived in a one-room walk up in the East Village, with a shared bathroom down the hall. Straight out of the chapter, Being Poor With Style.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wear Your Poverty Like a Tiara

While the candidates answer tough questions about the financial crisis, let's turn to to the wisdom of Crisp and Carroll to get us through. Were you clever enough to flip your houses before it all came crashing down? Our fellows are happy advise on Being Rich With Style:
"As it is your style we are concerned with here, not your comfort or security or status, it follows that your money is best spent on things which enhance that style. For example, anything that gives you wider experience or exposure-- such as travel, which does both-- is a good investment. (This is particularly true when you are young and still in your experimental phase as a stylist.) Beyond that, anything that gives you happiness is worth spending money on. The notion that money can't buy you happiness is a fallacy. As a matter of fact, happiness is about the only important thing that money can buy. It can't buy you style, or intelligence, or beauty, or wit, or affection, or respect, but t can definitely buy you happiness."

If you cannot currently afford happiness, I suggest you turn instead to the chapter Being Poor With Style. Here you'll find that there is no excuse for living as a non-stylist, even in the most reduced of circumstances:

"The most glorious example of wedding one's poverty to one's style was provided by a lady in wartime London, affectionately known to her friends as the Countess. Regal of bearing and disdainful of charity, she wore her poverty as if it were a tiara. By day she would hold court in some dingy cafe, and by night she would sleep curled up in a steamer trunk on a bombsite. This latter fact, however, finally occasioned such concern among her friends. that they took up a collection for her and then went to the bombsite one night in hopes of presenting her with the means of acquiring more comfortable accommodations. When they got there, one of them gently lifted the lid of the trunk and began explaining to her the purpose of their mission. Abruptly she interrupted, 'Tell them I am not receiving at this hour,' she said and snatched the lid closed."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I've Fallen Victim to the Margarine Fallacy

Today's style tips are brought to you by this pair, my stern high-school principal, Mrs. Crabapple, and my sad-eyed guidance counselor, Mr. Hewitt.
Just kidding. My high-school principal was a good-looking blond guy who played folk songs for us on the guitar at graduation. My guidance counselor really did look a lot like the man on the right.
But the people in the photo are actually Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll, style experts. No, seriously. And they are both male.
Quentin Crisp was a gay icon in 1970s New York. He rose to fame with his memoir The Naked Civil Servant, and with a one man show, How to Become a Virgin. I know less of Donald Carroll. He was a writer, publisher, and general encourager of Quentin. In 1981 they wrote, Doing it With Style.

The book begins with the premise that:

"Ever since the day our distant ancestors looked up and noticed for the first time that some people were blessed with a certain indefinable quality that set them apart from others, that endowed every act and utterance with a special fascination, we have referred to these people as 'having style.' Whatever they do, they do it 'with style.'"

I'm not sure that is technically, historically correct; ancient tribes may have been slightly more concerned with not being eaten, than with not being eaten, with style. But the book is packed with pithy advice on how to live the life of a stylist, magnifying one's quirks and doing exactly what one pleases.

"Dressing with style is akin to issuing a manifesto; dressing fashionably is like signing a petition."

Sprinkled throughout are little quizzes to make sure you are absorbing the lessons:

"If you are a stylist, you will take off your clothes in front of strangers because:
a) You want them to look at you with desire.
b) You want them to look at you with disgust.
c) You want them to look away.
d) It's hot in here."

I turned to the answer key, and apparently points can be had for all of the choices, but the most for answering d.
Being true to oneself is the guiding principle throughout Doing It With Style, and the authors show us how this can be applied to all areas of life in chapters like Confusing Your Enemies With Style, Being Shady With Style, and Creating a Home With Style:

"It is a good idea to maintain your place at all times in the same state of tidiness or disarray, cleanliness or uncleanliness. Hastily dusting or tidying up for visitors is a form of lying. Besides, it doesn't fool anybody. Being a little bit messy is like being a little bit pregnant, so it's silly to try to hide it. In fact, it's better to go all the way and be comprehensively messy (or manically fastidious) and thereby eliminate the possibility of inconsistency."

There is a reason these two stylists are on my mind today. I've been on the lookout for a perfect vintage leather jacket, and a few weeks ago, I found just what I wanted, except it was neither vintage, nor leather. In fact, to call it pleather would be kind. But so cute. Kind of... slippery, but cute. Today is the first day cold enough to wear it, and as pleased as I am, I can't get this out of my head:

"As far as style is concerned, no one type of material is inherently superior to any other. It is only when one type pretends to be another type that it has consequences for your style. You should never wear anything that pretends to be something it isn't: polyester pretending to be cotton, plastic pretending to be leather, and so forth. To do so is to fall victim to the Margarine Fallacy, which is the curious notion that something is valuable only insofar as it resembles something else. Thus, just as margarine is promoted on the basis of its resemblance to butter, synthetic materials are often judged by how convincingly they imitate 'the real thing.' In fact, they should be judged exactly as people should be judged-- by how convincingly they imitate themselves. And, of course-- by how convincingly they represent you."

Stay tuned. Later Crisp and Carroll weigh in on how to weather the current financial crisis (mine and the country's) with s-t-y-l-e.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

13 Pounds Away From Love

Readers Chris W. and Stacy O. just sent me this brilliant vintage ad. Click to enlarge and read the saga of Kitty, an overeater, who is unable to compete with a lithe blond at the pool. Luckily, Kitty's undermining friend steps in to tell her about the "wonderful reducing plan" which is printed on every package of Ry-Krisp, and sounds a lot like The Don't-Kid-Yourself Diet:

"You're no mermaid. If I were you, I'd dive into the nearest grocery store."

Kitty takes the advice and gets the guy. I've actually always enjoyed eating those rough, bark-like treats. No wonder I am so lucky in love.

Slimming Jeans

I am sort of at a loss for words today so thought I'd show you something likely to leave you in a similar state.  
Why bother with finding the proper cut of jeans to make you appear slimmer when you could be wearing jeans that actually reduce your size?
I can't find these 1971 ads at a better resolution but the "jeans" seem to be some sort of inflatable sauna pants. I take no issue with the wild claims, only with the labeling. Since when are shiny floatation devices classified as jeans?

Check out the lady wearing Trim Jeans while lounging on a dead tiger.  Her efforts to get in shape may be lost on her love interest. He pairs his Trim Jeans with what appears to be a black netting shirt.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Angela Human

After I mentioned I've been looking for the original quote about greeting one's husband dressed only in Saran Wrap, a couple readers suggested the answer might be found in 1963's Fascinating Womanhood. I already owed a copy(surprised?) but hadn't read it in years. No luck here with the shrink wrap, but juicy.
Much like The Total Woman, this book offers a way out of being a frustrated, nagging shrew and into your true role as a warm, submissive, Stepford Wife. The introduction promises you'll learn:

"How to obtain those things in life which mean so much-- things you are justified in having and for which you are dependent upon your husband, and how to add charm and love to your marriage by doing so."

And perhaps more importantly:
"How to be attractive, even adorable when you are angry."

Not sure I've ever achieved that, though I have been told that I'm beautiful when I cry. Don't ever say that to someone when you are the one who has caused the tears. Anyway.
Fascinating Womanhood relies on combining strict belief in the Bible with wisdom gleaned from characters like Thackeray's Amelia, from Vanity Fair, "a kind, fresh, smiling, artless, tender little domestic goddess, whom men are inclined to worship."

Author Helen B. Andelin recommends that women cultivate a personality of "childlikeness." The way to remain adorable when angry, it turns out, is to stamp one's little foot, and shake one's little curls like a toddler. That way, anger is vented... with cuteness. If one must cry, it is to be done not with deep emotion, but in an exaggerated sputter, again, like a toddler, so that one's husband is charmed into comforting.

Mrs. Andelin clarifies her method with this chart of the ideal woman, Angela Human, who possesses all the best qualities of people and of angels. (Click to enlarge.) If becoming more angelic seems a daunting task, start with little things like lipstick:
"Men are not opposed to artificial allurements if it makes the woman appear more alive and healthy. In fact, your attention to these details only indicates to him your efforts to please him. Eye make-up and lipstick especially help to make the face appear bright and fresh which is the reason they were created-- to charm men."

Or this sweetly deceptive little project:

"A girl who had been doing the manly chores took her first step towards proving her dependency by the following: She attached a paper cup dispenser to the wall upside down. When her husband came home he said, 'Say, this isn't on right! Why did you mount it upside down?' Then she said, 'Oh, how do you tell which is right side up?' He immediately took out the screw driver and mounted it right.'

At least one person in that scenario is a huge sucker.
Fascinating Womanhood sparked a whole "movement" that is still going strong. Helen and her disciples teach classes around the world in the ways of Angela Human, who incidentally would never compromise herself by appearing wrapped in sticky plastic. Still looking.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

If Only All Ghosts Were the Ghosts of Showgirls

I'm out of town this weekend.  Thought you might like this picture of Olive Thomas, the enchanting ghost we talked about the other day.  Here, Olive's hat seems haunted by the wire-and-netting ghost of a larger hat. 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lake Wobegon Salon Prices Are Sky High

Reader Jen wrote to me about this John Travolta fitness book. I might have to make a new list. He strikes some notable poses. Jen has a beauty blog of her own, named for this winning quote:

"Beauty isn't worth thinking about.
You don't want a fifty-dollar haircut on a fifty-cent head."
-Garrison Keillor

I love it when you guys introduce yourselves. If you're new around here and you'd like to subscribe, click here. Write to me anytime to say hello or ask me your beauty questions. I'll be answering more soon.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Saran Wrap Isn't Cheap and I'm a Size Twelve"

I plucked this book off my shelf because I was sure Marabel Morgan was the one who famously recommended that wives greet husbands at the door wearing nothing but Saran Wrap. I reread it on the subway (and by doing so, won a round of the game I mentioned in this post) but the quote I wanted wasn't there. I feel like I come across it all the time, but now I can't find out who originated it. I'm sure it's in my collection somewhere. Do any of you know?
My internet search for the answer led me to Perfect Bodies Equal Perfect Sex on Christianity Today. Teri Looney (which would totally be my pen name if I wanted to write about keeping sex alive in Christian marriage) writes:
"I remember feeling queasy the first time I heard the idea: if your love life seems stale, send the kids to a neighbor's house, prepare a candlelight dinner, and greet your man at the front door swathed only in Saran Wrap. First of all, Saran Wrap isn't cheap and I'm a size 12. Second, do I really want to send my husband the subliminal message that I'm just 'leftovers'? And third, what happens if I get too close to those candles?"

Despite the lack of shrink wrap, Mirabel Morgan offers plenty of her own charming advice on marital revampment:

"The outer shell of yours is what the real estate people call 'curb appeal'-- how the house looks from the outside. Is your curb appeal this week what it was five years ago?
Many a husband rushes off to work leaving his wife slumped over a cup of coffee in her grubby undies. His once sexy bride is now wrapped in rollers and smells like bacon."

But oh, the early days were different. Mirabel reminisces:

"Remember how immaculate you were each time he came to call? Remember those long baths and then the powder, perfume, and pizazz? You felt so confident, and you were so excited you could hardly wait to see him. Dazzling, you floated out to meet him, knowing he would be pleased just seeing you and being seen with you."

So Mirabel, how do we go about getting the spark back?

"Have you ever met your husband at the front door in some outrageously sexy outfit? I can hear you howl, 'She's got to be kidding! My husband's not the type, and besides, we've been married twenty-one years!'
... Costumes provide variety without him ever leaving home. I believe every man needs excitement and high adventure at home. Never let him know what to expect when he opens the front door; make it like opening a surprise package. You may be a smoldering sexpot, or an All-American fresh beauty. Be a pixie or a pirate--a cowgirl or a show girl. Keep him off guard.
...My first costume, the pink baby-dolls and boots, was among my more conservative outfits. For a corn-fed gal from a small Ohio town, I must admit I've branched out quite a bit since then. "

It's all so adorably naughty. Her advice has been recycled into about ten magazine articles and seven books a year since 1973 when the book was written, but Marabel's readers were nice Christian ladies like her, and this stuff was racy. Marabel went on to write more books on marriage, and even made the cover of Time.
But The Total Woman at one point takes what I find to be an uncomfortable turn:

"You may not wish to parade around in nylon net at half-past five with your fifteen-year-old son all eyes. But the children will love your costumes. It makes life exciting. Can't you just imagine Junior on the sandlot, telling his friends, 'I've got to go now, guys. Got to see Mom's outfit for tonight."

Do you know that sound cartoon dogs make when they do a double take in surprise? That is the sound I made when I read that last part.

Doesn't mean I'll stop loving her. I just ordered another book by Marabel , The Electric Woman, mainly for the cover graphics.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Olive Thomas: The Most Beautiful Ghost in New York

"At the beautifully restored New Amsterdam Theater, Olive Thomas -- 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World-- still takes center stage as she did when this was the home of the glamorous Ziegfeld Follies. In her hand, she clutches the small blue bottle which was the last thing she saw in life."

I leafed through Ghosts of New York,by Susan Blackhall, earlier today and discovered Olive Thomas.
After rising to fame as a Zigfield girl, Olive starred in fifteen silent movies and married Jack, the brother of star Mary Pickford.
Olive died at the Ritz in Paris, on her second honeymoon, after ingesting bichloride of mercury which was commonly used to medicate syphilis. The book says that her husband claimed to have found her dead on the bathroom floor in the morning, but that information is incorrect.
Just a bit of digging around turned up that she died days later in a hospital. An article in the New York Times from September 10, 1920 reports that the Paris police were investigating "rumors of cocaine orgies intermingled with champagne dinners into the early hours of the morning."
Thirty years later, Olive's sister-in-law Mary wrote about her brother's account of the death, in her memoirs.

"He was awakened, by a crash and a scream. Ollie was standing in the darkened bathroom. Jack rushed to her side.
" Quick, Jack," she said, "turn the light on and see if the bottle with the bichloride of mercury tablets is in the cabinet?"
Jack looked and said, "No, Ollie; only the aspirin bottle is here."
Ollie gave another scream. "Then I've taken poison!"

This matches the information reported by the LA Examiner on September 13th. Though in that article Jack claimed the mercury was used as toilet cleaner, presumably to spare himself and his dead wife the humiliation of admitting syphilis. Despite talk of suicide or possible murder, the death was ruled an accident. I believed that, but wondered just how many aspirin she'd meant to take; perhaps any more than one mercury pill was a toxic dose? Later reports of the medical examiner's findings indicate she'd taken the entire bottle.
Olive has appeared in ghostly form in both a white dress, and in the green beaded dress and headpiece she wore to perform. She accessorizes both outfits with that deadly little blue bottle. You can read some good accounts of Olive sightings on Playbill. At left is a portrait of Olive by Vargas, done shortly before her death. She is said to most often appear after productions have ended, often to maintenance and security staff. So when you go there to see Mary Poppins, linger awhile.

Updated to add:

Only a few of you know this about me, but I love ghosts as much as I love outdated beauty advice. I am afraid of ghosts almost every day in a very tiny way. I will spend the night in a country house alone, or go down to a basement to change a fuse, but I do it knowing ghosts are watching. My apartment is big and old, with a long, dim, creaky hall, crowded with possible, wispy, lingering people. I've only recently come out about this, and it is important to note that I have never seen or been contacted by a ghost. But every time my cat stops mid-bath, foot frozen in a ludicrous position, and stares intently at something across the room, I know with certainty that it is a ghost, beautiful or otherwise. Well, you win Internet, now I'm blogging about my cat.

"Personal Style Advances With Age"

Important new blog alert!  Advanced Style does what the Sartorialist does, but does it with older subjects.  More about charm than chicness.  The adorable lady at left wears a hat from Tiffany's.  More importantly she wears it utterly without irony and that is perhaps what I love best about looking at these pictures.  Suspenders, loud prints, daffy accessories, head-to-toe monochrome (look for the lady in matching red clothes, glasses, and cane): it's all there, as it was during Fashion Week, but it is done in earnest and with only the clearest of references.  Thanks, Sadie.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Strangers of Note: Beauty Marred by Mom Jeans

I'm writing in a cafe again and just vaguely noticed a young woman sitting across from me with a classically pretty face, simply pulled-back hair and an elegant white sweater.  When she stood, I did a double take.  From the waist down, she was built of lumpy faded denim, tapered, pleated, and cut to empathize all possible problem areas.  I mentally re-dressed her in more fashionable pants and am sure she could look attractively curvy, instead of dumpy and let-go.  The poor thing was only around thirty-- a teenager in this town-- way too young for those jeans.  She must be visiting.  Oh well.  The information is out there if she wants it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How to Be a Virgin With Style and Grace

"Perhaps it simply never occurs to you that the twenty-seven minutes you spend in front of your multibulb makeup mirror applying all those perfumed balms and paints is not vanity but a reflection of good manners."

So true. It's polite to be pretty; only the rude insist on being unsightly.

A anonymous reader and teacher's pet sent me a present! She thought I might give this 1971 pamphlet a good home. I will indeed cherish it forever, and I couldn't wait to share it with all of you.
The pamphlet was written by Gael Greene, who is now an author, famous food critic, and wearer of glamorous hats. In 1971, she channeled the Cosmo Girl Spirit in a voice almost as eccentric as the Queen of Cosmo herself, Helen Gurley Brown. Let's dive in.

On Fashion:
Go with fashion, but don't sell yourself into fashion slavery. Twelve girls at the same cinema-festival opening in velvet knickers, identical bullet belts, and fringed boots are pathetic. You, in the same panne velvet knickers but with a suede belt locked by an old art-nouveau buckle, are infinitely more interesting.

On Afternoon Delights:
Your noontime love is quite likely to be... a married man. In that case, you are a considerate adulteress. There is your apartment, of course... always neat, the bed immaculate, curtains drawn to filter light slightly, martinis chilling in the refrigerator, and the makings of a light, fast lunch all ready.

One of my favorite features of this pamphlet, is the Things That Are Tacky section that follows each tip topic. For example, from Inspired Gifting, tacky things include:
The put-down gift-- a baggy granny gown to an old maid friend... chocolates to your chum, the unsuccessful dieter.

The chapter How to Be A Virgin With Style and Grace goes beyond mere dos and don'ts and offers advice in the form of a little skit. Ms. Greene encourages virgins to entertain and charm, instead of bringing the mood down with serious talk. In this scene, The Heavy models bad behavior, The Heroine demonstrates the way to be:

He: (Unbuttoning your buttons): Why not?
The Heavy: Do you love me?
The Heroine: Abstinence is part of my meditation
course... no, really. I'm climbing toward nirvana. Hey, I want you to taste some homemade peach ice cream. (As long as you can keep it light and distract him, amuse him, delight him... you postpone the pressure a little longer. Your nonvirginal competition doesn't necessarily hop into bed at the libido's first faint call.)

But the very best thing about this pamphlet, is not actually any of Gael Greene's advice, but the notes scrawled in a margin by someone I can only assume was the original teen-aged owner. Someone with a more sophisticated, experienced friend.

Call girls fake it and so does Carmen. And when she tires of that act, she gets creative. This was written in the margin of Twenty-Five Thoughtful Things To Do For a Man In The Bedroom

Wherever Greg is now, I bet he's looking back with fondness on the year 1971, and a very thoughtful enchantress named Carmen.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beauty for Carnivores: Meat Facials

It was a simpler time. Long before hip beauty products boasted "vegan" labels (I expect things like Vaseline and olive oil to star bearing the vegan label any minute, just as during the low-fat dieting craze when even my apple juice was "100% Fat Free."). It was a time when animal testing of cosmetics was not an issue because no testing of any kind was being done at all.
Many ladies prepared their beauty products at home from charming and humble natural ingredients. More often then you might suppose, the first stop was not the garden, but the butcher.
I mentioned lard and veal in my post 10 Beauty Tips from 100 Years Ago. Oh, but there's more. In the eighteenth century, noble ladies occasionally bathed in "flesh water,"-- water in which veal had been boiled. And we talked about Helena Rubinstein last week. Although she advocated a raw diet for health, she was no vegan:

"There are all kinds of masks, ranging from the simplest of clay packs to the meat mask. Fresh beef is cut into very thin slices, according to a pattern you should make at home. Cut pieces of paper-- a strip to cover the forehead, another for cheeks, chin, and a thin narrow strip for the nose. Give your pattern to the butcher who will cut the meat accordingly. Leave openings around the eyes and lips. Pack the meat over your skin and secure it with a strip of muslin which has also been cut according to pattern. Leave it on one to two hours or overnight if possible."
--From The Art of Feminine Beauty (1930)

I assume Ms. Rubinstein was single in the days when she slept in such a state.
You may know by now that I adore reading about beauty practices that risk life or limb. In this next one, two of my favorite historical beauty aids collide: poison... and lard.

"The eyelashes may be improved by delicately cutting off their forked and gossamer points, and anointing with a salve of two drachms of ointment of nitric oxide of mercury and one drachm of lard. Mix the lard and ointment well, and anoint the edges of the eyelids night and morning, washing after each time with warm milk and water. This, it is said, will restore the lashes when lost by disease."
--Mrs. Susan C. D. Powers, The Ugly Girl Papers (1874)

Of course the disease which caused the lash loss to begin with probably resulted from another beauty treatment.

Ms. Mixter goes further than mere lard and recommends melting down the fat from every variety of flora and fauna and applying it directly to achieve a fashionably plump cheek:

"A flesh-making cream, which may be used when the face is thin, is made from two and a half ounces of lanoline, a quarter of an ounce of spermaceti, two and a half ounces of freshly dried mutton tallow, two ounces each of cocoanut oil and oil of sweet almonds, half a dram of tincture of benzoin, and ten drops of neroli."
--Margaret Mixter, Health and Beauty Hints (1910)

Spermaceti is a wax, now outlawed, found deep within the heads of whales.
But what if you find yourself living in a time when cheekbones are more stylish than cheek flesh? Oddly, this noblewoman suggests something very similar to the above method to achieve opposite results:

"The only safe and stringent 'oily' unguent for the skin is mutton suet refined and slightly perfumed, it should be applied from neck to heels with the hand and gently rubbed in so as not to shine or become sticky. It then leaves a soft, satiny surface. This treatment prevents layers of fat from forming under the skin, and stout people will be surprised to see how rapidly it will reduce their bulk if continued nightly."
--The Marquise de Fontenoy Eve's Glossary (1897)

I'll finish up with a note on the most important beauty aid of all: lip balm. A few years ago, a guy I was dating saw me looking for mine, and held it over my head to tease me, saying, "Want it? Do you? Do you?" Time stopped for a moment as I realized every single person I had ever dated had taunted me like this at some point, amused by my crippling addiction. I have a feeling that if I used the following recipe, the boyfriends would have been dead serious as they snatched my beloved, tiny pots of grease away:

"Chapped Lips-- A simple, easily made remedy is a combination of mutton or lamb tallow and camphor. Melt a piece of gum camphor about the size of a walnut with two ounces of the tallow. Keep in a porcelain or glass jar."
--William A Woodbury Beauty Culture (1910)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crafty Tip for Good Posture, Brought to You by Kotex

I was just browsing vintage ads, and came across a trick for correcting posture that I have actually never seen before. A teenage girl in the ad at left gets her younger sister to help:

"Before those shoulders droop again, here's a posture plan you can really stick to! Put a strip of adhesive tape across your shoulders: good reminder to keep 'em on the square."

At first glance it looks a lot like the little girl is applying a Kotex right to her sister's back. Then I thought they were suggesting using the leftover strips this way, but the ad is a few decades behind the invention of self-adhesive pads. I guess it is just a random tip to round out their concept of ad as teen-magazine article.

This tip seems like it could work if you pushed shoulder blades back before taping. You'd feel a tug every time you slumped. Laura*, are you free for a few minutes?

*Laura is my little sister, and like the girl in the ad, is usually quite enthusiastic about helping with my personal grooming tasks. Years ago she pitched in to highlight my hair with one of those rubber cap-and-hook sets. While she worked I screamed at her, "It feels like needles in my scalp!" She persevered, and the results were horrifying, but no more so than the time I did hers with a roll of aluminum foil, a jar of Jolen Creme Bleach and a paintbrush.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stacy Cohen Part 2: Sexy Spirituality

Last week, I introduced you to the deeply peculiar Stacy Cohen and her "opulent" lifestyle book, The Kosher Billionaire's Secret Recipe.
What with all the photos of Stacy, photos of Stacy in front of her jet, and photos of Stacy writhing around in opulent clothing on her jet, the mechanics of exactly how going Kosher will glamour up my own life remain elusive. I went back to the book for a second, closer read.

The chapter Sexy Spirituality did little to clear my confusion:

... now you hold the key to the good life! It is a way of living, a sensibility that has the capacity to alter who you are at the deepest, cellular level...
By journeying alongside me, you and I have taken the world by storm! You've slipped on a pair of gorgeous Lacroix pumps and donned that signature red Valentino gown; you've discovered the healthy kosher regimen that allows you to enjoy the finest foods the world has to offer, all while maintaining great health and vigorous beauty.
...Your life will be brighter, more delicious, more exciting, perhaps filled with more joy and love than you ever thought possible!

Astute readers may begin to suspect that each time Stacy says "you," she really means herself. I need more than a glimpse into the carpeted stairwell on which she stores her collection of (spiritual) stilettos. I need useful tips for every day. Finally Stacy comes through.

In India:
Wear gold jewelry: Traditionally, Indian women wear gold jewelry against their skin at all times. From earrings, bracelets, and bangles, to rings for fingers and toes, and even ankle bracelets-- gold jewelry is the must-have accessory in the Indian wardrobe, Formerly a symbol of a family's wealth and the dowry it paid at the time of a daughter's wedding, golf jewelry is beloved from north to south. You'll never see an Indian lady without it... and you shouldn't be seen without it either!

And in Greece:
It's a snap to stay healthy and tan and sexy here, all while dreaming of that slow and gentle cruise on a private yacht once owned by Ari Onassis.

In case you've gotten the wrong idea about exactly what Stacy is trying to communicate with all the shoes, jewels and dropped names, here she clarifies her personal style:

I use fashion as a way to communicate elegance, sophistication, and my love of art. I am drawn to colors that are vibrant and fun, and prefer styles that are simple in their use of lines and forms, such as Matisse's Icare (Icarus/JAZZ), which is my favorite artwork.

Please don't resent Stacy for her opulence. Her life is not as easy as it looks. There's a dark side to all the smug glamour. Everywhere she goes, there is someone... watching... waiting...

She wears a brave face beneath that tiara but she knows she cannot elude them for long, for they are everywhere, and they are gaining in numbers.

If you do not click to enlarge these photos, you are really doing yourself a disservice. Especially this next shot.

Stacy chose a quote from Plato to caption her stunning moment in the vineyard, but I think her own words will do:

Toss your dreams into the air and make a wish you might be surprised at what comes back to you... a new love, a new home, a new you!

As I mentioned in my last post on Stacy, she and her husband are serious philanthropists. I found it sweet that in a section vaguely about fitness, Stacy suggests replacing some of the time you've set aside for yoga or aerobics with volunteer work, and points out that many of the same health benefits will be derived, along with the knowledge that you've made a difference to someone. I think that is good advice, but this book is bananas. And I think you know by now that it has a permanent place in my collection, and in my heart.

Now I'll let Stacy say goodbye by blowing you a kiss. Or just pouting her lips over a tropical flower. That she picked when she flew to the tropics on her private jet.

Believe in yourself and you too can become a glamorous jet-setter!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"There Are No Ugly Women, Only Lazy Ones"

That's a quote from Helena Rubinstein. And on her first visit to this country, she famously said, “All the American women had purple noses and gray lips and their faces were chalk white from terrible powder. I recognized that the United States could be my life's work.”
Which sounds a bit like Shahnaz Hussein from yesterday's post, doesn't it? These exotic beauty dynamos from foreign lands take pity on us and just swoop in to make a fortune. Helena sure did. At left is an ad for lipstick sets based on hair color.

And look! I found one of the original lipstick sets for sale. I crave almost everything on that page but the powderpuff dolls. I do not want those. I really do want the Shiaparelli bath sponges.
Helena wrote several books on beauty and fitness. The Art of Feminine Beauty (1930), contains one of my all time favorite beauty quotes. In fact I almost can't believe I haven't already shared it with you:

Old fashioned people may protest and bewail the modern preoccupation in the cultivation of beauty as a manifestation of the laxness of the times. But I shall continue to regard it as a duty, and a virtue, as well as a distinct pleasure.

Helena also had plenty to say about the use of meat in facials, a topic so deeply amusing to me that it gets it's own post tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Helena Rubinstein of India plus... Helena Rubinstein

I say with without hesitation that this piece on Shahnaz Hussein, by Ellen Byron, is the best story the Wall Street Journal has ever published.
“In America, beauty is only about color and cover,” Husain says. “Americans desperately need me. They’ve gone on too long without me.” She has firm ideas about what women in the U.S. are lacking. “The American woman is the woman in a hurry,” Husain says. They “need more facials, more skin care, more manicures, more pedicures. Their femininity is very neglected.”

You've got to read this article for the description of Shahnaz's personal beauty routine, performed with the help of her live-in beauticians, and for the luscious photos of men gathering silver bucketfuls of pink rose petals to be used in skin cream. I also loved what Hilary Johnson wrote about the piece. Shahnaz Hussein's products contain ingredients like sandalwood, gold, and diamonds, and are available online. I was charmed by these instructions for the Shaface Herbal Face Conditioner/Mask:
(mix with) one tsp. honey, 1 egg (use egg white for oily skins and egg yolk for dry skins), 1 tsp. yoghurt. Apply the paste all over face and neck, avoiding eyes. When it dries, wash it off with milk, then water.
I think the actual Helena Rubinstein would have approved. Helena too created a beauty and cosmetic empire from scratch that included a raw-food restaurant in Manhattan. Her diet theory differed a bit from the current raw fad; she was a big believer in dairy. Her 1938 book Food for Beauty recommended a surprising amount of cream cheese.
I am utterly convinced that this sunlight nutrition diet will help every human ill, excepting only the results of an accident or some organic malformation. That statement will startle you. I want it to startle you. Then you will pay heed and set your feet now on the path to beautiful young health...
You must be vibrant. You must be alive, active, creative in your own life, able to meet every emergency with resilience. You must be all these things to be called youthfully beautiful in these modern times. Rythmic speed and elastic poses are the symbols of the modern woman. The satin boudoir and the lady-like "vapors" of Victorian days are no longer fashionable.

At left is an ad for Helena's "Snow White" makeup. Her line exists to this day. While she was still alive, she became a patron of the arts, and a great philanthropist. Work funded by her estate continues to thrive.
But back to the fun beauty stuff. Here is Helena's recipe for salad dressing:
Reducing Dressing (1 pint)
1 1/2 cup chemically pure mineral oil
1/2 half strained lemon juice
1 teaspoon vegetable salt
2 saccharine tablets

What? It's raw. Mineral oil was commonly used as a laxative at the time. Next time you're out of EVOO for the vinaigrette, reach for the Johnson's. I'm not sure the "baby" fragrance will taste any worse that vegetable salt and saccharine.
Tomorrow I'll show you some more of Helena's vintage products, and share some selections from her earlier book, The Art of Feminine Beauty.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Save Money With the Power of Your Mind

I am merrily ignoring the hot weather, taking my fall wardrobe out of storage, and polishing my boots. New clothes are sooo tempting, but my finances need tending, badly. We've begun to talk about shopping wisely (and minimally), but there's an even less expensive way to look good, and it all starts in the imagination:

"Place in your sleeping chamber a likeness picture of how you would like to look (naturally using common sense), and morning and night, and at any convenient time during the day when you come before that picture say soulfully and earnestly, The perfect mind within me is refreshing and reconstructing my features in accordance with that image."

--Adena C.E. Minott, How to be Beautiful and Keep Youthful (1923)

And for more magical thinking: The Strange Case of Edith Carter