cover image Hope in a Jar

Hope in a Jar

Kathy Peiss. Metropolitan Books, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5550-4

In this lively social history of America's beauty culture, freelance writer Peiss traces the background and growth of the billion-dollar U.S. cosmetics industry over the past century. Relating cultural changes at the end of the 19th century, she observes that using makeup, heretofore forbidden for ""nice"" women, became a lightning rod for larger conflicts over female autonomy and social roles. The burgeoning industry provided opportunity for entrepreneurial women who eventually played a key role in its development. Among the early titans were Elizabeth Arden, a Canadian immigrant who learned to speak with proper diction to project an upper-class image, and Polish-born Helena Rubenstein, another powerful, self-created woman. They also had their counterparts in the black community: Annie Turnbo Malone and Madame C.J. Walker, who developed hair-care products, recruited women as agents as they traveled the country; Malone rewarded them with cash, diamond rings and even low-interest mortgages, a forerunner of today's direct-sales incentive programs. According to a study in the late 1980s, quoted here, feminist politics of recent years have done little to diminish women's use of makeup. This is a delicious and serious look at a glamorous industry. Illustrations of cosmetics advertising offer a history of their own. (May)