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Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s

By Rachel C. Weingarten

ISBN 1933112182
Review by: Michelle Humphrey


Fans of “vintage pop culture” will be instantly drawn to the concept of Hello Gorgeous!, an illustrated history of women’s beauty products – or more specifically, the ads that featured those products – when cosmetics came packaged in gold-toned lipstick cases, ornate compacts and elaborately shaped perfume bottles. Weingarten’s book echoes the prose of Lynn Peril’s “Museum of Femorabilia” column in Bust with visuals that would fit right into Ms. Magazine’s “No Comment” page (like those un-ironic ads of Lustre-Creme Shampoo, where every shiny-haired “Dream-Girl” falls into the arms of a man...).

While the book winds its way through the powder-puffed past, some of the turns are disappointing. The author cites Dior’s waist-cinching fashions that left the ladies literally breathless without the subversive correlative of Chanel’s liberating chemise. And none of the rare references to African-American beauty products comes with a picture, as if denying the presence of the advertisements that filled magazines such as Ebony and Essence, which emphasized products to straighten hair and lighten skin. It’s a damaging omission, especially if this trip down memory lane is meant to rile something in us besides nostalgia.

While I laud the sentiment behind Weingarten's conclusion, “If you feel gorgeous, you’re already gorgeous,” it reads like a tacked-on disclaimer as if apologizing for an ad world that tried so hard to marry off its single girls with whispers of “Men Love Women who Love Tussy.” Here would have been a place to make a cutting remark on how the old-school advertisements have insidiously crept their way into the present. A poster for jeans at dollhouse.com featuring a waifish and plastic-faced girl is one spooky example, conjuring up the vapid-eyed dolls of Yardley perfume ads who once aspired to be “fragrantly dainty.”

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