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Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture Hardcover – May, 1998
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Beauty products have withstood the slings and arrows of more than 100 years of public debate, charged with being guilty of everything from immorality to self-indulgence to anti-feminism. A welcome new angle on the subject of our culture's obsession with personal appearance, Hope in a Jar reveals that the American beauty industry was founded on more than just clever advertising or patriarchal oppression. "Not only tools of deception and illusion," says historian Kathy Peiss of our culture's powders and pastes, "these little jars tell a rich history of women's ambition, pleasure, and community."
The early entrepreneurs in the beauty business were often women, most of them as skilled at reinventing themselves as at making over their customers. Elizabeth Arden came from a poor Canadian family but remade her image into one of "upper-crust Protestant femininity" in order to sell her products. Madame Walker, one of the many African American women who were able to find careers in the beauty industry, rose from laundry lady to head of a small cosmetic empire. Indeed, Peiss finds, the beauty industry was one of the first to bring a substantial number of women a decent income.
For American consumers, the marketing of makeup has long stirred issues of race, class, and morality. Peiss addresses in particular how makeup has long been marketed in ways that assert the superiority of "white" features and skin over that of other races, and how African-Americans and other minorities in the cosmetic industry have dealt with this issue.
This is a well-researched, fascinating book that is more than a picture of the business of American beauty; it is a window into over a hundred years of American women's history. --Maria Dolan
From Publishers Weekly
In this lively social history of America's beauty culture, freelance writer Peiss traces the background and growth of the billion-dollar U.S. cosmetics industry over the past century. Relating cultural changes at the end of the 19th century, she observes that using makeup, heretofore forbidden for "nice" women, became a lightning rod for larger conflicts over female autonomy and social roles. The burgeoning industry provided opportunity for entrepreneurial women who eventually played a key role in its development. Among the early titans were Elizabeth Arden, a Canadian immigrant who learned to speak with proper diction to project an upper-class image, and Polish-born Helena Rubenstein, another powerful, self-created woman. They also had their counterparts in the black community: Annie Turnbo Malone and Madame C.J. Walker, who developed hair-care products, recruited women as agents as they traveled the country; Malone rewarded them with cash, diamond rings and even low-interest mortgages, a forerunner of today's direct-sales incentive programs. According to a study in the late 1980s, quoted here, feminist politics of recent years have done little to diminish women's use of makeup. This is a delicious and serious look at a glamorous industry. Illustrations of cosmetics advertising offer a history of their own.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
I do believe that we claim cosmetics, artifice as an outlet for expression, a demonstration of strength. I do think that self expression through cosmetics and attire is a wonderful thing (one I believe men are beginning more and more to participate in, following very much the pattern laid out in this book, beginning with creams, and eventually leading to being able to sell them blue eyeshadow, lord knows my husband is a loyal Max Factor customer... which is frankly one of the reasons I married him).
It's engagingly written and generally quite a delight to read, not mention impeccably researched, and written without the writer doing very much in the way of stating her own opinions as facts. I can say the research is excellent with some authority as I very much enjoy reading primary sources on vintage and historical beauty recipes and rituals, from translated Latin cosmetics recipes to 1970s hairdressing manuals, and this book nails it all, a fun, and informative read.
Peiss' history on the other hand focuses on this industry, makeup, which has been decried by many as a tool of patriarchy, and shows that in fact women made the world of makeup, even if they may have done so for the sake of looking better for men (and that's not the whole story either.) EVEN IF the community of fashion doesn't have the historical pedigree of the WWW or UAW, ILGWU, etcetera, it may well be because Labor was a self-consciously political movement, with a bent for public promotion. Makeup, by these standards, is just makeup.
Give the historians a break. They (we) can't exist in some ideologicial vacuum. Peiss' work does a service for the discipline of history in that her ideological stance is healthily skeptical of many (though by no means all) orthodoxies, and her careful writing and exhaustive research are great examples of how to write good history about heretofore ignored subjects.
Bottom line, folks. Peiss is never a surprising read, because her research and writing make each point seem glaringly obvious. But the strength of her observations and the clarity of her argument make this a solid piece of work indeed.
What's really cool to me is that the author doesn't think there's necessarily anything evil or anti-feminist about enjoying cosmetics. She doesn't try to say that women who buy makeup have given into their oppression. I've always loved makeup, yet considered myself an independent, modern person, and I don't think these ideas conflict.
This is not a political book. It's more sociological. The author shows her fascination with this subject without passing judgement on anyone involved (although some of the industry people were ruthless and shady, and she lets you see that without hitting you over the head with it).