“To the Max”: College Make-Up Trends through the Years

This post is a follow-up of last week’s blog on college make-up trends on Michigan State’s campus during the 1930s, and I am going to discuss how the make-up trends implemented today by college students are similar to those practiced during the twentieth century. While the ‘times have changed’ during the last eighty or so years, the economic markets are similar—which is actually quite important in terms of cosmetics—and the types of cosmetics used are alike as well.  Since my previous post dealt with two specific make-up companies (Langlois and Max Factor), I will focus on these make-up brands again this week to help show that even though make-up trends may have slightly changed, the basic ‘factors’ remain the same.

First up is Langlois Company, which was sold using at least four affiliated names between 1930 and 1940. Since the company has since gone out of business, it is difficult to draw exact connections between their production practices in the 1930s and what would have been the norm today, but we can still draw a few conclusions from what information is known. First, Cleopatrasboudoir.com describes how the Cara Nome fragrance line for Langlois Company—as was presented in last week’s blog post—“Is the recognized equal of the finest French fragrances. A perfume with a bouquet of such exquisite delicacy no words can describe its delicacy.” Sure, this language may be a bit flowery (pun intended) compared to current descriptions of fragrances, but the allure of owning something that European people may or may not use is still prevalent today. Additionally, French names are still used to describe perfumes, as can be seen by the comparison pictures below.

Langlois: Boston, Cara Nome Powdered Perfume Sachet

Le Jardin d`Amour Max Factor for women

Le Jardin d`Amour Max Factor for women

You may also notice that the material with which the perfume was made of is different. During the twentieth century, both powdered and liquid perfumes were popular, powdered versions being similar to the “baby powder” of today and the liquid versions remaining almost the same as what college students use now. From personal experience, however, I have yet to meet an undergraduate college student with a bottle of perfumed baby powder in their make-up bag. Another interesting point is the price comparison for perfume. In 1927, a typical bottle of Cara Nome perfume costed between $1.00 and $9.00 whereas a bottle of the Le-Jardin perfume shown above costs at least $30.00 retail today.

Next is the Max Factor brand, which originated in the early 1900s and is still prevalent in parts of Europe today. Having stopped circulating in the United States in 2010, it is also difficult to draw exact conclusions from this temporal comparison. One important connection that can be made, however, is the influence of the economy on the types of materials used to package the cosmetics of the company. According to Milkglass.org, “Milk glass made during the Depression was considered less elegant and delicate and more a production of the harsh times…[it] is often considered of lesser quality.” This “lesser quality” of packaging materials for cosmetics helped keep the prices down for both the company and the customers during a time where looking like a Hollywood movie star was highly sought after. Additionally, plastic products are often currently used for packaging materials due to the material’s easy reusability and low cost. This cheapness is directly correlated to how college students view plastic tubes of facial cream today: easy to use and quickly disposed of. Thus, while the packaging of face cream in a milk glass jar in the 1930s may seem more “fancy” to college students today, it was just a cheap, disposable material to the students in the Emmons area during the twentieth century.

One last comparison between the cosmetic practices of MSU’s students in the 1930s and today is the issue of advertising. We have all seen the television ads for various cosmetic companies, promising us that if we use their foundation, we will have perfect, flawless skin that will clearly get us a date with that cute boy we’ve been eyeing. While we know that this definitely is not the case, we still, on the whole, tend to play along with the ad’s ‘game’ and buy their products anyway. This was also prevalent during the 1930s. Below is a step in a vintage advertisement for the proper application of Max Factor’s Face Powder. Here, the customer is told that they will have perfect skin color that will look flattering in any light. While the students of the 1930s probably knew better than to believe the advertisement (just as college students today do), the allure of obtaining that impossible, ‘perfect look’ is enough to make them run out and purchase the ever-popular product.

Vintage Ad: Max Factor Face Powder Application

This concludes the Campus Archaeology quest to better understand make-up use among college students in the 1930s and ‘40s. Without the recovery of the glass cosmetic bottles from the Emmons-Brody Complex survey this past August, this type of information about our past student body may not have had the chance to be understood. Hopefully as time goes on and more information is gathered, we will be better able to tell more about our twentieth century fellow ‘Spartans’ and how their lives may not have been very different from our own.


  1. Stewart, Dodai. “Max Factor Going To The Big Medicine Cabinet In The Sky.” Jezebel: Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing. Web. 19 Oct. 2011. <http://jezebel.com/5280241/max-factor-going-to-the-big-medicine-cabinet-in-the-sky>.
  2. “Vintage Sachet Powder Bottles & Pillows~1.” Vanity Treasures. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.vanitytreasures.com/sachets/01.htm>.
  3. “Le Jardin D`Amour Max Factor for Women.” Fragrantica. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Max-Factor/Le-Jardin-d-Amour-5139.html>.
  4. “History & Origins of Milkglass.” Milk Glass for Sale – MilkGlass.org. Web. 18 Oct. 2011. <http://milkglass.org/history.html>.”1930’s Vintage Makeup and Hair Styles.” Free Beauty Tips: Natural Makeup, Fashion & Hair for Women & Teens. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.freebeautytips.org/1930s-styles.html>.
  5. “Face Powder.” The Painted Woman. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://thepaintedwoman.blogspot.com/2010/01/face-powder.html>.

“Ready for my close-up!”: College Make-Up of the 1930s

The mid-August Campus Archaeology survey of the new Emmons Amphitheater revealed some artifacts of a different ‘shade’. While the majority of the items recovered looked like common 1930s-1940s glass bottles, a closer look told the archaeology team that some of them were make-up bottles.  A few of them even had company logos and other information stamped directly into the glass! This is where my part in the project comes in: telling the tale of early cosmetics use on Michigan State’s campus.

Emmons Hall, a part of the Brody Complex here at MSU, was originally constructed in 1952 and is now undergoing a series of renovations. Prior to the construction of the dormitory, this site served as a dump for East Lansing and MSU. This summer, Campus Archaeology did a quick survey of one area of the dump, and recovered at least seven different make-up bottles circa 1930-1940. Two of the bottles, show below, had company logos imprinted in their bottoms. These bottles, engraved with “Max Factor: Hollywood” and “Langlois: New York”, respectively, are the ones that I focused on to help shed a better light on how cosmetics were used by the college students during this time period.

Sample of beauty products excavated on campus

Sample of beauty products excavated on campus

First up is the “Max Factor: Hollywood” bottle, characterized by unblemished milk glass and a missing top. During the 1930s, Max Factor & Company (originally established in 1909) took on the task of developing cosmetics for Hollywood and, during the process, Max Factor himself coined the term “make-up”. The FDA states that a cosmetic is “a product, except soap, intended to be applied to the human body for…beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance” (www.fda.gov). Max Factor took this phrasing to a new level by applying it to the verb “makeup”, as in “to make up (one’s face)”—which is generally the intention of cosmetics (www.sensagent.com). Hence, make-up was ‘created’. After further exploration of the Max Factor make-up of the 1930s, I discovered that I could not identify the exact contents of the Max Factor jar from the Emmons-Brody Complex. Without further identifying characteristics (such as a lid, other embellishments, a statement of contents) to allow a positive match, I was disheartened. However, I took to investigating other make-up brands in the hopes of discovering what could have been inside that jar.

After hours of searching, I finally managed to find two good representations of the type of makeup that was used in milk glass jars of comparable size. As you can see below, there are similar morphologies (shape, size, color, etc.) between the image of the jar from the Langlois Company and the two largest jars from Brody-Emmons

Makeup Jars from Brody Emmons

I soon  learned that the most common substance to be found in milk glass bottles and jars during the twentieth century was facial creams of multiple varieties, and the most common compound was cold creams.  According to Freebeautytips.org, the use of milk glass during this time was due to its inexpensive nature, allowing women intrigued by the increasing popularity of Hollywood to use make-up during this time of penny-pinching. Additionally, facial creams were popular due to the trend towards softer, more feminine-like appearances.

Next is the “Langlois: New York” bottle recovered during the survey process. As you can see from the photograph of the bottom of this bottle, it is difficult to make out the definite name of the company. Even with the artifact in your hands, it is hard to tell whether the bottle read “Langlois” or “Langlor’s”. It took a great deal of ‘digging’ to determine that the bottle indeed belonged to Langlois Inc., who took over the United Drug Company during the early 1900s. Unfortunately, it was unclear whether the top of the bottle once had a metal cover that has since corroded, or whether it was submerged in a substance that had elements that corroded and adhered to the bottle. Nonetheless, further investigation revealed that the bottle was likely that of a perfume. Langolis’ main label during the 1930s-1940s happened to be affiliated with “Cara Nome”, and the majority of the products produced under this name were perfumes and sachets (www.cleopatrasboudoir.com). Below is a photograph of a close representation of what the “Langlois: New York” bottle may have been: a three-inch Langlois Inc.: Boston Cara Nome Powdered Perfume Sachet bottle. The variations in morphology are probably contributed to the differing locations in which the bottles were produced: New York (the Emmons survey bottle) versus Boston (the Internet photograph). The previously mentioned trend of a feminine air and the historical desire to smell pleasant probably explains the presence of such perfume at MSU.

Langlois: Boston, Cara Nome Powdered Perfume Sachet

Stay tuned for next week’s follow-up blog post comparing make-up use between Michigan State University students in the 1930s and today!


  1. “Antique / Vintage Milk Glass Cold Cream / Makeup Jar with Metal Lid | EBay.” EBay | Electronics, Cars, Clothing, Collectibles and More Online Shopping. Web. 19 Oct. 2011. <http://www.ebay.com/itm/Antique-Vintage-Milk-Glass-Cold-Cream-Makeup-Jar-metal-lid-/150678264445?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0>.
  2. “Max Factor.” sensagent. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct 2011. <http://dictionary.sensagent.com/max factor/en-en/>.
  3. “Langlois Perfumes – CLEOPATRA’S BOUDOIR.” Cleopatrasboudoir. Web. 19 Oct. 2011. <http://www.cleopatrasboudoir.com/apps/blog/show/3665067-langlois-perfumes>.
  4. “1930’s Vintage Makeup and Hair Styles.” Free Beauty Tips: Natural Makeup, Fashion & Hair for Women & Teens. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.freebeautytips.org/1930s-styles.html>.
  5. “Vintage Sachet Powder Bottles & Pillows~1.” Vanity Treasures. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.vanitytreasures.com/sachets/01.htm>.
  6. “Antique / Vintage Milk Glass Cold Cream / Makeup Jar with Metal Lid | EBay.” EBay | Electronics, Cars, Clothing, Collectibles and More Online Shopping. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.ebay.com/itm/Antique-Vintage-Milk-Glass-Cold-Cream-Makeup-Jar-metal-lid-/150678264445?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0>.
  7. “1930’s Vintage Makeup and Hair Styles.” Free Beauty Tips: Natural Makeup, Fashion & Hair for Women & Teens. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.freebeautytips.org/1930s-styles.html>