If you’ve been following CAP for a while you’ve probably seen us post about the “Moor” artifact: a small piece of mortar sporting the letters “Moor” in handwritten cursive script. Despite its unassuming appearance, what makes this artifact so fascinating is the incredible story behind…
This summer was an eventful one for the Campus Archaeology Program field crew! We monitored construction, conducted several pedestrian and shovel test surveys, excavated one test unit, conducted lab analysis, and helped with the IB STEM archaeology camp and grandparents university. Plus, we uncovered an entire cow skeleton! Below you can read in more detail about each project.Continue reading Summer 2018 Recap
Take a moment to think about what kinds of materials you’d expect to find in a garbage dump from 2018. Did plastic immediately spring to mind? About 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, only about 10% of which is recycled (1).…
While archaeologists are great at identifying artifacts that we recover, we occasionally find objects that are a mystery. Even on campus, we sometimes find intriguing objects in our excavations that take some investigative work to identify. One group of objects that has piqued our interest…
A fun fact for freshmen: if you live in Brody, you might be living in a dump. To be more specific, from the 1920s to the early 1950s, parts of the area now occupied by Brody Complex once served as the site of the City of East Lansing garbage dump. Campus Archaeology investigated a portion of this site during construction near Brody in 2009 and the Emmons Amphitheater in 2011. The large number of artifacts recovered includes everything from food containers to medicines to cleaning products, providing insight into various aspects of East Lansing life during this period.
One category of artifacts that caught my interest includes several cosmetic and hair care products. As a regular makeup user (maybe she got enough sleep, maybe it’s Maybelline) I thought it would be interesting to research these objects and learn about beauty standards and cosmetic use in this era. For this week’s blog post, I focused on three cosmetic items from the Brody/Emmons site that were most likely marketed to and used by women. To provide some historical context for these artifacts, I researched how attitudes toward cosmetics have changed over time, how these attitudes might have affected the availability and forms of cosmetic products, and thought about how this might be reflected in the archaeological record.
In the 18th century, both men and women of the upper class wore makeup (1). Heavy paints and rouges helped to smooth complexions often marred by pockmarks. By the 19th century, however, changing gender norms and beauty standards made it socially unacceptable for men and women to paint their faces (1). For men, the use of cosmetics began to be seen as effeminate (2). For women, conspicuous makeup was considered vulgar due to its association with prostitution. Few cosmetics were commercially manufactured during this time. Instead, cosmetics were mixed at home and applied discreetly to achieve a “natural” look (1). Therefore, we can expect few commercial cosmetics from this era in the archaeological record.
The 20th century brought about another about-face (no pun intended) in attitudes. The influences of Hollywood and flapper culture made it more socially acceptable for women to wear conspicuous makeup (3). By the 1940s, makeup became not just acceptable but a key aspect of feminine identity (3). As women entered the workforce during World War II, bold makeup—particularly lipstick—helped signal femininity and counterbalance the short hairstyles and masculine clothing worn by female workers (1). This era of increased social acceptance, burgeoning production, and conspicuous consumption of cosmetic products frames the context of the Brody/Emmons artifacts and helps us think about how gendered ideals of beauty may have influenced what the people of East Lansing purchased and how they presented themselves.
One of the cosmetic items recovered from the East Lansing dump is a makeup compact case that still contains a white powder puff and the remnants of a pinkish powder. This compact case provides an excellent example of the advent of conspicuous makeup consumption.
Before makeup gained widespread acceptance, cosmetic cases were hidden inside accessories such as walking sticks and jewelry for their owners to access discreetly when outside of the home (4). As it was unacceptable to wear makeup, it was also unacceptable to be seen applying it. Over time, both the use and application of makeup gained social presence and acceptability. Suffragettes of the 1910s applied lipstick in public to shock men (3). Flappers of the 1920s wore heavy makeup and made a show of applying it (3). Beautifully decorated, mirrored compacts became fashionable accessories to be pulled out in public and shown off like cigarette cases or purses (4).
The CAP compact represents such an accessory. Roughly teardrop shaped, made of a silver metal, and decorated on the outside with a geometric line pattern, the compact likely once held a mirror inside the top lid. The compact was refillable, as most compacts were until disposable plastic cases became the norm in the 1960s (5). The user would have filled a thin compartment in the makeup compact with loose powder, compressing it in place with an inner lid that snapped shut. Powder was applied with a thin cotton puff that fit between the mirror and the powder compartment (5).
Another cosmetic product in the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a jar of Pond’s cold cream. Cold cream is a product made of an emulsion of wax, oil, and water that for centuries was made in the home (6). Around the turn of the century, commercially produced cold creams became available that boasted longer shelf lives than their homemade counterparts. As makeup use increased in the 20th century, these cold creams were marketed to women as a means of removing powders, lipsticks, rouges, and the rest of the makeup they were sold (6).
CAP’s cold cream jar is made of opaque white milk glass with the brand name, “Pond’s,” embossed on the bottom. The jar looks very similar to images of the product appearing in advertisements from the 1940s and 1950s (6,7). These ad campaigns show how cosmetics were marketed to women as means of attracting men. The slogan “She’s engaged! She’s lovely! She uses Pond’s!” accompanied by pictures of beautiful women and their equally beautiful engagement rings sent the clear message that women needed to use cosmetics to achieve a certain standard of beauty necessary to win husbands.
The third item I examined from the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a clear, circular, glass perfume bottle decorated with concentric circles and embossed with “DeVilbiss” on its base. The embossing indicates the bottle predates the 1940s, as the company replaced bottle stamping with paper labels in the 1940s (8).
Like makeup compacts, perfume bottles of this era were refillable, decorative, and intended for display (9). The DeVilbiss name comes not from the perfume itself, but from the manufacturer of the atomizer. Dr. Allen DeVilbiss initially invented an atomizing spray nozzle to deliver throat medicines in 1887. In 1907, the atomizer was introduced to the perfume industry with great success. DeVilbiss Manufacturing Company produced perfume atomizers at its factory in Toledo, Ohio from 1907 to 1968, selling as many as 1.5 million per year during its peak years in the 1920s and 30s (9). Like other cosmetic products, perfume was also marketed with sexual and romantic overtones. Perfumes with names like “Mantrap” and “Irresistible” were marketed as product that increased women’s sexual desirability. Perfume was also marketed as an item that men were supposed to gift women: a 1929 ad for DeVilbiss perfume atomizers reads, “Ask her, she’ll say she wants a perfume spray” (9).
The cosmetic products in the Brody/Emmons trash dump provided an interesting opportunity to explore gendered artifacts and think about how these objects reflect the social norms of the era. If you enjoyed this blog post, my next post will focus on hair care products from the same trash dump that were likely marketed to and used by men. In the meantime, be sure to check out other CAP blog posts on personal grooming items like the beard comb found at the privy site and the nail polish bottle topper from the Gunson trash pit.
- Loalbo, S. 2009. Vintage Fashion Accessories. Iola, WI: Krause Publications.
- http://cosmeticsandskin.com/aba/cold-cream.php – 1951 ad
- https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f4/b8/61/f4b861cdfe5edde595d484e1112b3394–cold-cream-mad-men.jpg – 1940s ads
- https://perfumeatomizers.blogspot.com/p/devilbiss.html (ad)
Last week I spent some time in the CAP lab with Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright resorting and accessioning artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 Saint’s Rest rescue excavation. This excavation uncovered many ceramic artifacts (among other items) including plates, bowls, and serving dishes. Among the…
During the west circle historic privy excavation, 773 fragments of hurricane oil glass lamp shades were found. Lamps that use these shades are characterized by a wick dipped into the fuel source that would have been surrounded by a glass globe. Glass lamps may initially seem…
It may seem unusual to dig up a pair of shoes, yet shoes are not totally uncommon on archaeological excavations. Just last week a report from Northumberland, England announced a find of more than 400 shoes discovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda. Typically the entire shoe is not preserved, rather the leather from the soles or uppers, as well as any metal used for the lace rivets are what preserves. CAP has uncovered parts of shoes several times, including in the West Circle Privy, the Gunson trash pit, and excavations at west Beaumont Tower. However this summer, while working at Station Terrace we encountered a nearly complete pair of shoes near the bottom of the excavation unit.
You can learn a lot about fashion, gender, and even identity from shoes. Sure, you can get technical and talk about the way the shoe was crafted, is the outsole stitched, nailed, cemented, etc. But shoes can also inform us about changing gender perspectives as seen through fashion over time.
When the field crew was working to uncover and remove the shoes, they informed me that they had found a pair of women’s shoes. At first glance, it’s easy to see how they came to this conclusion. The pointed toe, the stacked heel, the decorative brogueing, and the loop style ties are typical of women’s shoes today. But these are not women’s shoes, these are a pair of men’s dress shoes. We needed to remember the context and time period of this particular site to properly identify these shoes. Station Terrace was used on campus from the early 1890s until 1924, and men’s fashion, specifically footwear, was very different during this period. Based on the shape, style, and height/width of the heel these shoes were most likely produced in the the early 1900s (1900-1920).
The history of men’s fashion is often overlooked, or overshadowed by women’s fashion. Although the changes in mens fashion from the 1890s to the 1920s is not as drastic as changes in women’s fashion, differences do exist.
The Edwardian clothing era (named for England’s Prince Edward VII) was characterized by slight changes to the cuts of jackets, collar styles, and sport and fitness clothing. Men wore lose, plain, suits with wide lapels, called Sack suits (see the above image). During the Edwardian era the shoes did change considerably from the Victorian era. Men’s shoes fell into three distinct categories; boots, oxfords, and pumps. Boots were designed for every day wear and traveling. They were often two tone, with a dark bottom half and white upper half designed to mimic a shoe spats. The oxford, typically used for business or work, is very similar to men’s dress shoes today.
Men’s dress shoes are where perhaps the greatest variation from todays style occurs, for they were classified as pumps. Yes, pumps. In the Edwardian era, men’s formal dress shoes look like a hybrid of today’s men’s oxford and a women’s low-heeled flat. Typically they had the same stenciling (broqueing) details of an oxford, a high arch, and a 1-2 inch thick heel. It’s also important to remember that thin string shoelaces weren’t a thing yet. Shoes either buttoned, or were laced with a ½ inch wide silk ribbon and tied in a bow. You can even see these bows in the two historic pictures featured earlier in this post.
Today we may think that a 2 inch heel and bow are feminine, but it’s important to remember that cultural ideals of what is appropriate for a particular gender change through time. In fact, men’s shoes had high heels long before women’s shoes did. (See this article, or if you find yourself in Toronto stop by the Bata shoe museum’s exhibit “Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels”).
The teens marked the end of the Edwardian period (1890-1910). During the teens men’s fashion was heavily influenced by military apparel from WWI.
These shoes provide a unique glimpse into everyday life at Station Terrace. Although we will never know why these shoes were left behind in the buildings basement, I’m glad they were.
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