“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!

Author: Valerie


  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/>.
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  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>

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