These objects are both cosmetics: mascara for eye lashes and blusher for the cheeks. The Collins English Dictionary defines a cosmetic as ‘any preparation applied to the body or especially the face with the intention of beautifying it’. It defines mascara as ‘a cosmetic substance for darkening, lengthening, curling, colouring, and thickening the eyelashes applied with a brush or rod.’

In ancient times a substance known as kohl was applied to the eyes to ward off evil spirits, but by the Victorian period the emphasis was clearly on beauty. The visual appeal of babies, both human and animal, is partly based on the size of their eyes in relation to their faces/heads. It is therefore no surprise that, substances are applied to the eye lashes, eyelids and brows to make the eyes look bigger.

Mascara, as we know it today, was first produced by Eugène Rimmel, who founded The House of Rimmel as a perfumery in 1834, in Regent Street, London. Rimmel remains one of the best known producers of mascara.  Modern mascara is in liquid form contained in a solid plastic tube. However, the mascara illustrated is a ‘cake’ mascara, which was norm until the 1960s. The solid mascara was contained in a cardboard and or metal box, together with a brush and a mirror. The brush had to be dampened, then drawn across the mascara and carefully applied to the eye lashes. Instructions can be seen on the photograph of the bottom of the box. Mascara was also applied to the eyebrows until the introduction of eyebrow pencils after the Second World War. Mascara was traditionally black or brown, but is now available in a wide range of colours. The mascara featured was brown, but blue was available. Ingredients vary, but basically consist  of pigments, waxes, and oils.

Returning to definitions in the Collins Dictionary, blusher is defined as a cosmetic applied to the face to give a rosy appearance. The blusher featured here was produced by the Parisian firm Bourjois, which was founded in 1863 and remains a major manufacturer of cosmetics. Like Rimmel the company is now owned by the American firm Coty Inc. They still make a blusher sold in a round pot. The vintage product featured is a round gold and black cardboard box containing a pressed powder of the classic Bourjois shade of Rosette Brune. It was made in London.

Except during the Second World War, a powder puff was included. Instructions inside read ‘Shading down the sides, shorten a long nose or chin by shading the (illeg), make your eyes brighter by placing the rouge between your eyebrows and above the cheek bones towards the eyes. It’s that easy!’

More information:

Date 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s
Material(s) CardboardFabric
Item number MBPO181

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • Have you used mascara, if so in which colour?
  • How easy is it to apply and remove mascara?
  • Why might mascara be bad for you?
  • Have you coloured your cheeks with blusher? How did you remove it?
  • What other cosmetics have you used?

User Stories

The term make-up is often used as a synonym for cosmetics, but for acting performances make-up is the word used. Cosmetics are used to beautify or enhance appearance, whereas stage make up is often used to change appearance. I have used a variety of products to make myself look older or more threatening.

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