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I found this Nupcial Face Powder box (c. 1920s) in a booth at an Orange County antique mall several years ago. I paid $30 for it.  I’d never seen the brand before and expected never to see it again, but I was wrong. Earlier this week I discovered four Nupcial product labels for sale at an online auction site. I happily spent $95 for the labels in various sizes and shapes—they will look absolutely splendid framed.

What interests me about the powder box is its unusual mash-up of styles. Here, brightly colored geometric shapes, the hallmarks of Art Deco style, surround a classic 1920s bride. But while the graphics are era appropriate, they seem jarring.  Brightly colored spears are attacking the poor woman!

The peculiar design of the Nupcial box sends a mixed message. Was the product meant to appeal to a traditional bride or to someone more fashion forward?  The effect symbolizes the social chaos that characterized the Jazz Age, probably unintentionally so.

Inspired by the box to learn more about marriage during the 1920s, I did some digging.

Apparently the widespread fear of moral decay that resulted in Prohibition led California legislators to pass a “gin marriage” law in 1927. The law was well meaning—it mandated a three day waiting period to discourage couples from drinking in speakeasies then making a mad dash for a local preacher to unite them in matrimony while three sheets to the wind.

Enacting a law may seem like a drastic step, but concerns about inebriated brides and grooms weren’t entirely unfounded.  On December 19, 1930, the Los Angeles Times reported the story of a failed gin marriage.  A pretty blonde stenographer, Creola McCarter Milner, sought an annulment from her husband of a few months.  Creola told the judge that she had become intoxicated on the eve of her marriage and awakened four days later to find herself married to someone other than her intended.

Many women’s and religious groups believed that the law would lead to more and better marriages.  Instead, it drove couples out of state to places like Yuma, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada where they could marry on a whim; the marriage rate in California declined precipitously and the divorce rate increased. Legislators came their senses and repealed the gin marriage law in 1943.

Upon second reflection, I think the graphics on the Nupcial face powder box conveys a decipherable message after all. The design may be a jumble of traditional and trendy, but it works in its own quirky way. I think the same can be said of marriage. My husband and I are a mixed bag of idiosyncrasies, yet our marriage thrives.  And before you ask, we were sober when we exchanged our vows.

mannings stockings resize


Pretty in pink, and adorned with a stunning blonde in a classic pin-up pose, the Mannings stockings box piqued my interest about 10 years ago. I almost passed on it, because it was such a departure from the face-powder boxes and hair-net envelopes that I generally acquire. However, at $20 it was an inexpensive opportunity to broaden my collection in a meaningful way—meaningful, because I believe that the social evolution of modern women can be charted in part through their choices in makeup and lingerie. Think of the early days when women rearranged their internal organs with corsets so tight that they routinely fainted and you realize lingerie indisputably and dramatically altered the lives of women during the 20th century.

The 1920s saw profound social and political changes, particularly for women, and the garter belt originated during that time as an alternative to the restrictive corsetry that had been worn previously. Ironically, it was another call for movement (literally) that resulted in the garter belt being replaced by pantyhose. Allen Gant, a textile manufacturer, was inspired to create pantyhose after hearing his wife complain about the discomfort of wearing a garter belt while pregnant.

With the help of his colleagues, Gant developed the world’s first commercial pantyhose, a product called Panti-Legs, which debuted in 1959. Panti-Legs enjoyed modest success until the miniskirt became popular in the 1960s. Fashion icons Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton popularized pantyhose after being photographed wearing the new style of stockings with their miniskirts. It was the miniskirt that sounded the death knell for the routine garter belt, because the fasteners spoiled the smooth silhouette of the garment and it would have been considered tasteless for the garters to show.

 Today, garter belts and stockings are worn primarily by vintage clothing enthusiasts, sex industry workers, and burlesque queens. Stockings and a garter belt, once thought to be old-fashioned and restrictive, have become associated with erotica, and for good reason—slowly rolling a sheer black stocking up your leg and fastening it to a garter is, in my opinion, one of the most provocative and sensual acts a woman can perform.

As I hold the Mannings stockings box I reflect on feminine traditions, many of which have become lost to us over the decades. Slipping into your lingerie, whether it’s a lacy bra or a slip, is a powerful daily ritual and an affirmation of womanhood. The subtle brush of silk on your skin as you move through your day should bring a smile to your face because lingerie speaks the secret language of women—and everyone is entitled to her secrets.

I found the 1920s Gimbel Hair Net in an online auction over seven years ago and paid $8.99 for it. The delicate floral design in the upper corners is typical of the period, and the depiction of women playing sports reflects the mania for physical activity that characterized the era.

Over the past few decades, female athletes have embraced fashion as more than just an opportunity to endorse sportswear for a paycheck. In 1976 Olympic skater Dorothy Hamill won a gold medal for her performance on the ice, but it was her cute bobbed hairstyle dubbed the “wedge” that stole the show and started a fad.

gimbel_serena williams

In recent years tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams have pushed the fashion envelope on the court many times. Serena’s black lycra catsuit caused a sensation at the 2002 US Open; and Venus ignited a media firestorm when she appeared at the French Open in 2010 in a red-and-black outfit that appeared to be part corset and part French maid’s costume. The Williams sisters have received both kudos and condemnations for their choices in tennis wear—but they weren’t the first to shake up the world of women’s sports fashion; that distinction belongs to Suzanne Lenglen.

Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen was born on May 24, 1899, about 43 miles north of Paris. She was a sickly child, so her father suggested that she try tennis as a way to build her strength. Almost immediately she demonstrated a talent for the sport and her father began to train her in earnest.

Suzanne Lenglen. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1914, Lenglen won the World Hard Court Championship at Saint-Cloud; however, WWI put an end to most national and international tennis competitions for the duration, and Lenglen had to wait several years to compete on the world stage. Her turn finally came in 1920 when she faced Dorothea Douglass Chambers at Wimbledon. A seven-time Wimbledon winner, Chambers was a formidable opponent, to say the least.

Chambers took the court in the standard women’s tennis costume of the day: a voluminous skirt, long-sleeved blouse, starched collar, and a tie. Dressed like that it was a miracle she didn’t fall and break her neck.

Dorothea Chambers. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Lenglen arrived courtside in full makeup, wearing a dress that fell only to mid-calf (revealing the tops of her stockings when she moved just so) and carrying a flask filled with brandy that she sipped intermittently throughout the game. Unencumbered by multiple yards of fabric—and fueled by brandy—Lenglen won the match. Her daring costume (designed by legendary courtier Jean Patou) revolutionized the way women dressed for tennis, and she was just as stylish off the court with her bobbed hair and designer wardrobe. The Gimbel hair net package serves as a reminder to me that never does a woman look more stylish than when she’s pursuing her dreams.


The Avon lipstick sample card was a lucky find at a flea market, and it was a bargain at $15, because it’s in wonderful condition with the miniature lipstick still attached. Judging from the woman’s hairstyle and makeup, I’d say it was manufactured during the ’30s. By then, Avon had been in business for nearly half a century, and had a fascinating history.

It began as the California Perfume Company founded by native New Yorker David Hall McConnell in the early 1890s. McConnell started his career selling books door-to-door, but he found it tough to make a decent living. He decided to offer his female customers free homemade perfume as an incentive. Over time, McConnell realized the women were more interested in the perfume than in the books, and thus his life-changing epiphany: If door-to-door sales worked for books, why not for perfume?

It was an inspired concept, and it changed the lives of scores of women who, instead of toiling 12 hours a day in a gritty factory or working as a domestic, could now become sales representatives for the California Perfume Company and make a living wage. Shopping from home was also a boon to women who were raising families and otherwise housebound.

The company changed its name to Avon in 1939, and its success continued, even during World War II. The post-war era found Americans trading their lives in cramped, big-city apartments for the green lawns, multi-car garages, and BBQs of the new bedroom communities that were springing up around every metropolis—and Avon followed them.

Vintage Avon ad. Source unknown.

Clever marketing increased demand for their products and spawned one of the most memorable and longest running ad campaigns in history. In the mid-1950s, Avon introduced a television commercial that would appear in various forms for close to two decades. The scenario was simple: A well-dressed woman was shown pressing the doorbell of a typical suburban home. The bells chimed—ding-dong—and the door opened. A jingle played in the background, “Avon calling at your door / bringing cosmetics and much more.”

Whenever I hold the Avon sample card I can’t help singing the jingle and reflecting on the ways in which life has changed since the era of “the Avon Lady.” Internet shopping has replaced door-to-door salespeople, and we have traded the opportunity to bond with a friend over a cup of coffee and the perfect red lipstick for a convenient point-and-click purchase from a laptop. Change is inevitable, and I have bought plenty of cosmetics online myself, but I would love to travel back in time and spend just one afternoon trying on lipstick in the company of a friendly Avon saleswoman.


radio_girlI found the Radio Girl face powder box at a compact collectors convention in Las Vegas, it was one of was one of the first items I acquired when I began to collect vintage cosmetics ephemera nearly twenty years ago. I was particularly fortunate that year because most of the other attendees were focused on the compacts and vanity cases so I picked up this box, and several others, for under $25 apiece.

Advertising art reflects its time, and the colorful zig-zags of the Art Deco graphic combined with the silhouette of a woman with her arms raised above her head like a radio antenna, suggest to me that the Radio Girl box is a product of the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Radio was the biggest thing to happen to technology in the early decades of the 20th Century, and everyone was talking about it. During its infancy broadcast radio didn’t offer much in the way of programming—it consisted mainly of classical music and local preachers seeking acolytes; but the promise of radio was that it had the potential to bridge the gap between the West and East coasts. It should come as no surprise that one of the first national broadcasts was a sporting event—the 1927 Rose Bowl game was heard by fans from coast-to-coast. (For those of you dying to know who won, the game between Alabama and Stanford ended in a 7-7 tie!)

Today we pride ourselves on our mobility and the convenience of our smart phones, tablets, computers and the myriad of devices we carry with us each day. Portability was a concern for early radio listeners too. Sure, it was nice to gather the family around the Zenith console in the evening and listen to a college glee club or a repeat of the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera “Mikado”; but what if you were out during the day?

Women in Los Angeles obviously grasped the concept of portable entertainment devices very early on—as you can see in the photograph a group of young mothers discovered a way to take their youngsters out for a stroll while tuning in their radios. If you’re wondering where the electrical outlets were they weren’t needed, battery powered radio sets were available as early as 1922.


I am very lucky because whenever I crave an olde tyme radio experience all I need to do is to ask my husband, Scott, to turn on one of the tube radios in his vast collection. He has many of them set up to receive programming we select and transmit to them. There’s nothing quite like the warm glow of a tube-lit radio dial. I love to turn off all of the media in the house that postdates 1950, and then I mix a gin gimlet, put my feet up, and listen to an episode of “The Shadow” from the 1930s—it is my idea of a perfect evening.


One of the biggest advantages to blogging about my interest in vintage beauty products over the past several years has been having sellers contact me about rare items for sale. For example, on my birthday four years ago I received an email from a man in upstate New York; he had found me via my Vintage Powder Room page and thought I might be interested in a manufacturer’s catalog of face powder, rouge, and lipstick boxes. He described the 96-page catalog as c. 1922 with a brown paper cover and soft spine. He told me that the book was in excellent condition and that it contained approximately 300 images, with every other page printed in color and many with gold or metallic ink. He had just acquired the catalog that day and while researching it he came across my blog. He sent me a picture of the cover of the book and while it didn’t look like much, the pictures he attached of some of the inside illustrations let me breathless. I immediately offered to buy the catalog; it was my birthday present to myself.


E.N. Rowell Co., Inc. manufactured and designed some of the most exquisite cosmetics packaging of the 1920s. This slim volume was meant for cosmetics company representatives who were shopping around for the perfect containers for their products. Rowell’s pitch highlighted the quality of the company’s boxes and the excellence of their designs.

Since I purchased it, the catalog has become an invaluable reference tool. While I was excited to discover that I own many of the boxes depicted in its pages (including the Nylotis face powder box), it also reminds me that there are hundreds more face powder boxes I have yet to find. My quest continues.


I collect exquisite examples of cosmetics packaging and advertising from the 1880s through the 1950s, but even though most of my collection consists of powder boxes, hairpin cards, and hairnet envelopes, I never restrict myself to those items. I appreciate the pieces in my collection that have context, so I can immerse myself in the history and popular culture of the era during which they were manufactured.

For example, I discovered this funny Valentine’s Day card at a paper show a few years ago. It is inscribed on the back with a man’s name (John) and the year (1932). If I hadn’t done my homework, I would not have known that 1932 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. In L.A., thousands of people were unemployed and they found themselves competing for work with Dust Bowl refugees who were flooding into the city from Oklahoma and other areas that had been ravaged by deadly dust storms. Women, many of them wives and mothers, were tasked with keeping their families clothed and fed on meager resources, living day to day on the brink of ruin.

But strangely, while most industries suffered enormously during this time period, cosmetics sales actually rose. This phenomenon has since been dubbed the “lipstick effect,” the thinking being that when resources are scarce, women try harder to attract quality mates. Maybe back then, but I prefer to think that now, when times are tough, small luxuries are crucial morale boosters.

Anyway, I am touched by John’s thoughtfulness. He obviously cared enough for the unnamed young woman to select a card intended to lighten her mood, and it also conveys a heartfelt message—that he would adore her whether or not she could afford powder to touch up her occasionally shiny nose. These days, Valentine’s Day often means a box of gourmet chocolates or a pricey piece of jewelry, but I think that John got it right in 1932 when he handed his sweetheart a card that affirmed his unconditional love for her. This holiday is a good excuse to tell certain people in our lives how much their relationship, romantic or otherwise, means to us, and how abiding our affection is.


Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away, and there’s no beauty product in my collection more fitting for a holiday that exalts romantic love than the Soul Kiss box of powder samples. When I spotted this in an online auction six years ago, it was as if I had been struck in the heart by one of Cupid’s arrows. The name alone implies intimacy, and I was instantly smitten by the packaging: the image of a woman raising herself up to submit to the caress of the little cherub, suggesting as it does that anyone applying the contents could ignite passion and become an irresistible object of desire. This unique design has made Soul Kiss products highly prized among collectors.

Illustration by Charles Dana Gibson

The Soul Kiss line was popular in the early 1900s, when the Gibson Girl, created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, reigned as the paragon of American femininity. Although she was undeniably gorgeous, the allure of the Gibson Girl went much deeper than her physical attributes—it was her confidence and independent spirit that captured the imaginations of the women who sought to emulate her. But come the Roaring Twenties, women’s fashion had changed dramatically. The Gibson Girls’ towering piles of curls and cinched waists gave way to the bobbed hair and boyish silhouettes of the flappers.

The Gibson ideal may seem antiquated now, a vestige of traditional femininity, but she has something in common with the modern Los Angeles woman: Both are reflections of their era. Standards of beauty may have changed during the decades since the genteel Soul Kiss model was considered supremely aspirational, but a woman of intelligence, compassion, and wit never goes out of style.

irresistible_adI have always been drawn to the Irresistible cosmetics ads because, well, they truly are irresistible. The colors are lush and the ads depict women who are individual beauties, not cookie cutter glamour girls.

It is rare to discover the identity of an artist working in cosmetics advertising—their art is generally unsigned and they are often employed by the container company or the cosmetics manufacturer who wants the focus placed on the product, not the artist.


The unique renderings of the women in the Irresistible ads are so compelling, though, that I had to seek out the artist. Fortunately the Internet has made such spur-of-the-moment quests possible and within a few keystrokes I had a name: Zoe Mozert.

zoe-mozert-the-outlawZoe Mozert worked as a commercial artist during the 1930s, creating the dreamy, romanticized images for Irresistible, and she was also one of the few women working as a pin-up artist.

Mozert was attractive enough to be a pin-up girl herself and frequently posed in front of her camera for early selfies, which enabled her to be the model for her own drawings.

Zoe eventually moved from the East Coast to Hollywood, where her portraits of stars such as Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow graced the covers of movie magazines. Mozert was also in demand as a movie poster artist. Her design for the 1937 comedy True Confessions might be her best, but my favorite is the one she created for the 1943 Howard Hughes horse opera The Outlaw, the film that introduced newcomer Jane Russell to audiences as the seductive Rio McDonald. Russell’s talent made her an actress, but I believe that it was Zoe’s depiction of her in the notorious poster that made her a star.



Produced during the 1930s, the bold colors and high concept design make this Hi-Hat face powder box a minor Art Deco masterpiece. In addition to being absolutely stunning, the box introduced me to products made specifically for women of color. Face powders for dark skinned women were produced in shades with exotic names like Parisian Lavender Nite, Harlem Tan, and Spanish Rose.

For me, the Hi-Hat box evokes the Harlem Renaissance, when legendary African American entertainers drew crowds of “swells,”—men in top hats and women in evening gowns—into Harlem’s nightspots.

The silhouetted chorus girls that encircle the Hi-Hat box are representative of the beautiful women who worked in Harlem nightclubs during the ‘20s and ‘30s. The hostesses at the Savoy were legendary; they could take a “dead hoofer” (bad dancer) and have them jitterbugging in no time. Not only were they talented, but they were reputed to be the most gorgeous ladies in Harlem.

hi_hat_side_2From 1920 to 1955, Central Avenue was the L.A. equivalent of Harlem, where boogie woogie, jazz, and R&B were blasted from juke box speakers through the wee hours of the morning. The avenue was known as “the heart of Saturday night Los Angeles.” One of the classiest places to go for an evening’s revelry was the Dunbar Hotel, L.A.’s answer to the Savoy and Cotton Club in New York.  In its heyday the Dunbar was the hub of African American culture in L.A., and it offered entertainment from such artists as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway.

Imagine the dressing table of a habitue of Central Avenue —among her lipsticks, rouge pots, eye pencils and perfume atomizers, surely there would have been a box of Hi-Hat face powder.

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