One of the earliest stories my mother shared was from when she got into her mother’s makeup as a child. The story goes that my mother snuck into my Nana’s makeup bag in the bathroom and pulled out all her red lipsticks. Nana only wore red lipstick. Apparently while my mom examined all the pretty
colors, the white bath mat with roses caught her eye. And as a kid is likely to do, she colored the bathmat with the lipsticks, because roses are red, not white. Nana had a fit and a legend was born.
Nana was born on December 12, 1918, in a town now lost to time called Pearlington, Mississippi. She lived in Mississippi until moving to Mobile, Alabama, with her husband Charles Clausen and baby boy Charles Glenn. She would later give birth to two mischievous girls, Sarah Kay and Karen Lynn.
In her late teenage years to her early 20s during the Great Depression, Dona Clausen, my Nana, found ways to wear makeup. At the time, only lipstick and powders were appropriate for a non-actor to wear in public. According to Glamour Daze Magazine, “the cupids bow was replaced by thinner horizontal lines with upper lips enlarged and fuller.” Popular colors were “raspberry red” and “maroon”, a far cry from the modern-day lipstick name (The History of 1930s…). Nana’s personal favorite was Revlon.
Revlon began its journey as a nail polish manufacturer a few years into the Great Depression. It would eventually expand to include lipsticks “based on their use of pigments rather than dyes” and offer affordable products to the working woman during the depression (Beach). Nana particularly liked picking it up from the dime store around the corner from her home on Cottage Hill Rd. Not only was lipstick cheap to make and cheap to buy, but a common phrase was “A touch of lipstick can make you feel like a million dollars” (Lipstick: A Complete…).
Another common notion regarding lipstick came from actress Eve Arden, who claimed that women who wore lipstick were more likely to get hired. Once Nana found a job at the railroad company towards the end of the 1930s, she liked to spend a little more on her appearance. With the makeup boom came door-to-door sales. One of Nana’s good friends sold Avon, and Nana’s collection expanded. As war-time efforts built up and restrictions placed on the market, the government actually lifted bans on makeup manufacturers. Since women were contributing heavily to the workforce, hair styles became more “manly” and makeup became a way to reassert “femininity” to the nation (Cosmetics and Personal Care…).
During the 1930s and 40s, lipstick was “seen as a symbol of adult sexuality”. Grown women used lipstick as a form of rebellion against the Depression and worsening conditions in the world. Meanwhile, teenage girls saw lipstick as an entrance to “womanhood”. A rite of passage. A 1937 study concluded that more than 50% of teenage girls fought with their parents over the ability to wear lipstick. While it seems silly, there were strict social rules that accompanied one’s wearing of lipstick. For young women, lipstick was seen as a racy cosmetic only promiscuous girls wore. Older women could apply lipstick in public only during lunch. Dinner was still off limits (Lipstick).
As the years continued and makeup companies became makeup giants, my Nana stayed true to the makeup decorum of the 1930s. She only wore shades of red bought from department stores and light powder. As the nation pulled out of the depression, so would her tastes in brand. Estee Lauder would eventually take Revlon and Avon’s coveted first place in her makeup bag. However, as my mother learned, Nana kept her old favorites from the dime store. From a young age to an elderly woman, she is only photographed wearing her classic red lips – a tradition and rite of passage she passed down to my mother and from my mother to me. The tradition of painting bath mats with lipstick against our mother’s wishes, however, was sadly not applicable to me – a true disappointment to my childhood.
Dona Clausen (Photo provided by daughter Karen Clausen Wilson)
Beach, Emily. “The History of Revlon Cosmetics.” Bizfluent, 11 Feb. 2019, bizfluent.com/about-5035336-history-revlon-cosmetics.html.
“Cosmetics and Personal Care Products in the Medicine and Science Collections — Make-Up.” National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/health-hygiene-and-beauty/make-up.
“Lipstick.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick. LLC., New Avon.
“Lipstick : a Complete History.” V Is for Vintage – a Blog for Time-Travelling Vintage Detectives, visforvintage.net/2013/03/05/history-of-lipstick/.
“#TBT: A Look Back At 130 Years of Avon’s Iconic Advertisements.” AVON, 21 Nov. 2017, www.avon.com/blog/avon-insider/130-years-iconic-avon-advertisements.
“The History of 1930s Makeup.” Glamourdaze, glamourdaze.com/history-of-makeup/1930s.