“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.

Author: Valerie


  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>.

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

  • I’d suggest checking out Diana Wall’s work on women in 19th century New York. She does a good job of using advertisements and books that highlight how women should act, and then comparing them to what is found in the material record to see if they hold up. It might give you a good idea as to how historical archaeologists have dealt with difficult concepts like gender.

  • Thank you, Terry! This is a topic that I am definitely interested in exploring further, and I think that Diana Wall’s book would be a great resource to my understanding the time period and how it translates to the materials found in the Brody-Emmons Complex. This was a very difficult topic to find consistent information about, and a book like Dr. Wall’s would be greatly beneficial. I will follow up with Dr. Goldstein about that book as well. Thanks for your response and advice!

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