Makeup and Beauty Lessons of the 1930s and 1940s

This rare beauty book, called Make-Up & Live!, is your guide to makeup and other beauty lesson of the 1930s and 1940s. With its stunning images of dazzling era models and quirky instructions, it is a sweet addition to any collection of books.

This lovely book covers what is considered the makeup and cosmetic use standards of the 1940s, even though it was published in 1938. As I explain in my blog post about why you should sometimes ignore the ZEROS to determine what decade a style represents, the 1938 date means this is also technically 1930s makeup, but not the only representation.

What you’ll find:

Why is this Book Rare?

This book is rare for reasons you may not have thought of and it isn’t just because it is old.

Makeup lessons in mass publications for women, like magazines and books, were very scarce well into the 1930s. I touch on this a little in my book, Retro Makeup, but here is a quick TLDR to save you some time.

  1. When small amounts of makeup became more socially acceptable in the late 1910s, mass media still ignored giving much in the way of makeup application advice. The reality was that many/most publishers/editors were actually old skool anti-makeup and so gave very little page space to makeup application guides. We could get into all the why’s, but I don’t have the space for it here.
  2. The quality of the production of this book, like the photography, is also very rare. The photography is the best money could buy at the time. Most beauty books at this time relied on very basic illustrations. Photography was so expensive, so it was rarely used in these types of publications.
  3. The mass printing of this photography was also expensive.

We really need to remember how lucky we are to have access to high quality how-to makeup and beauty advice today; both contemporary tutorials and great reproductions of books like this.

Stunning Photos of Glamorous Vintage Beauties

The photo quality of the vintage models in Make-up and Live! is the best part. The cover even boasts, “Illustrated by the world’s most beautiful models.”

There really are so many stunning photographs of the models posing to illustrate the beauty lessons inside. It must have been so expensive to produce and print this gorgeous guide. They spared no expense on this.

I have come across many beauty guides of the time and they are usually very heavy with copy and have a just a few small illustrations. And sure they are entertaining to read, but good images really help with visualizing the standards of beauty back then. This book is such a collection of these images.

What the lady of 1938 learned from Make-up and Live?

The title’s main keyword is “make-up”, but there is so much more to this 1938 book than just make-up advice. It covers the many aspects of grooming habits that were considered to be important to feminine beauty.

Beyond makeup, lessons include posture, cleanliness, hair care and much more.

I have a disclaimer at the beginning of the book that I added too. When you read these types of beauty guides, always remember that this is for historical research. The beauty standards and advice are almost 90 years old.

We know a lot more now about the science of health and wellness today. Some of the book is still spot-on, but some you can take with a grain of salt.

Beauty Advice of Note

Reading through, here are some pieces of info that stood out to me:

  1. “Natural brows are in vogue again. They have replaced the heavy-pencilled caricatures of the outmoded ‘glamour’ gals.” The very thin eyebrow was going out at this time and fuller brows were coming en vogue. Interestingly though, the models in the book have a variety of brow styles, old and new… proof that there is overlap in beauty standards.
  2. Also note that the eye makeup lesson does not say anything about eyeliner. Your lash makeup was your eyeliner at this time.
  3. This book hit my sore spot 🙂 on page 18. The section titled “Lady, Keep Your Chin Up!” describes exercises for a well defined chin and youthful neck. It’s a lot like the face massage steps taught today by face yoga apps.
  4. “On the average, you should wash your hair every 2-3 weeks.” – Yes, that’s right. The common beauty advice was to wash your hair, well, not nearly as often as we do now.

Comical Old-fashioned Beauty Expectations

Media “spoke” to women about things that related to their lives, like their beauty routines, with a certain amount of good old-fashioned patronization. And this little book is no different.

Make-up and Live has lots of this lovely, patronizing language like:

“Always be sure that your appearance is feminine-and that, candidly, means scoring high under the frank appraisal of men.”

“Lastly, remember that well made-up lips look their charmingest when used for conveying a pleasant look. In other words: SMILE!” Yes, women have been getting RBF shamed for decades.

“You are now ready to win friends by influencing people with the dainty charm of your well-groomed hands.” Cuz our beauty is what we have to offer society.

I have always found this writing style more amusing than anything else. But I have been lucky enough to come after the generation of baby-boomer women, like my mom, who had to endure this language regularly. They did all of the social rebellion, so that my skincare ads don’t tell me my main motivation should be looking pretty for opposite sex approval. My own approval and personal standards of beauty are all the motivation I need.

“Ladies love their magazines.”

I added a special touch to this book from my collection of other 1938 beauty magazines that I thought was definitely missing. I think you’ll appreciate it too.

The saying “Ladies love their magazines” circulates through my mind when I read Make-up and Live! So my other 1938 beauty magazines were the perfect resource to pull from for beauty product advertisements you may have never seen. I sprinkled these ads throughout the book for more vintage fun.

These aren’t the usual Maybelline or Cutex ads we see posted online. The advertisements I chose give the reader a different glimpse into what a lady of the time had in her beauty tool kit. But you’ll need to buy the book to see it all!

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Welcome to the Bobby Pin Blog! I am Lauren Rennells and as a hairstylist, makeup artist, writer, and generally artistic over-achiever, the Bobby Pin Blog is my outlet for thoughts and research about vintage hair and makeup trends and how to recreate them today. Thank you for stopping by!

As an Etsy and Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. As an independent blogger, I link these items because of my own opinions and not because of the commission I may receive.

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