Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture

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9780805055504: Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture

The first social history of American beauty culture: a richly textured account of how women created the cosmetics industry and how cosmetics created the modern woman.

How did powder and paint, once scorned as immoral, become indispensable to millions of respectable women? How did a Victorian "kitchen physic," as homemade cosmetics were called, become a multi-billion-dollar industry? And how did men finally take over that rarest of institutions, a woman's business?

Drawing on a wealth of archival sources, historian Kathy Peiss uncovers a vivid history in which women, far from being pawns and victims, used makeup to declare their freedom, identity, and sexual allure as they flocked to enter public life. She highlights the leading role of white and black women--Helena Rubenstein and Annie Turnbo Malone, Elizabeth Arden and Madame C. J. Walker--in shaping a unique industry that relied less on advertising than on women's customs of visiting ("Avon calling") and conversation. From New York's genteel enameling studios to Memphis's straightening parlors, Peiss depicts the beauty trades that thrived until the 1920s, when corporations run by men entered the lucrative field, creating a mass consumer culture that codified modern feminity.

Rich with the voices and experiences of ordinary women, Hope in a Jar is a major work of American history and an important and engaging contribution to the study of women's lives.

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Review:

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

About the Author:

Kathy Peiss, author of the highly praised Cheap Amusements, teaches history at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and has written widely on women's history and culture. She lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

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Peiss, Kathy
Editore: Metropolitan Books (1998)
ISBN 10: 0805055509 ISBN 13: 9780805055504
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Kathy Peiss
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