What Kind Of Cosmetics Did Your Great-Great-Great Grandmother Wear On Memorial Day?

The Beauty Brains are taking the day off. We hope you enjoy this Memorial Day post from our archives.

Happy Memorial Day to all the Beauty Brains community in the United States! We hope you’re enjoying the long weekend and all the cookouts and parades. We also hope you haven’t forgotten the real meaning behind this national holiday.

Holiday history

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day because it was designated as a day to decorate the graves of the U.S. men and women who died in the American Civil War. It is celebrated at the end of May because that is close to the day of reunification of the North and South. After World War I the holiday was expanded to include American casualties of any war or military action. That historical tidbit started me thinking: what kind of beauty care formulas were women using back in the at the time of the Civil War?

Civil War Era Cosmetics

According to the link above, women at the time of the Civil War generally looked down on wearing “face paints” but moisturizing creams and lotions were widely used. There were probably simple beeswax/borax emulsions. Because lily white skin on faces and hands was the desired fashion, bleaching lotions were also widely used. Hand lotions where essential items for women who tended to the cleaning and washing, because the lye soap commonly used at the time was very harsh on skin.

Hair treatments were popular grooming aids and primarily consisted of various oils. (Remember this was before the modern age of silicones and quaternary ammonium conditioners.) Long before there were flat irons there were hot combs that were used with sweet oils to straighten curly hair. Some women used homemade herbal rinses to soften and brighten their hair since the soaps that were avaiable back then were so harsh. And just to show you that somethings never change, even back in the 1860′s there were bogus hair growth products on the market.

Perfumes were very popular during this period and were considered an essential part of getting dressed. Floral notes like Lavender, Rose, Orange Blossom and Gardenia were among the favorites. Some of the brands sold during the Civil War, like Florida Water and Bay Rum, can still be found today.

Without an antiperspirant stick, women resorted to applying powder under their clothes to stay dry and cool. Some even used foundation powder on their face to even out their complexion and whiten their skin.

Red powders were applied to the cheeks as blush, but only by the “bad girls” of the time. Of course the look was much different than Smashbox O-Glow Blush because the red color was applied to the cheekbone in a little circle just beneath the outside corner of the eye. Some might even be applied to just to the center of the lips because full lips were not in fashion.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

It’s fun to think about what beauty products were like in times past. Did you ever think about asking your grandma or great-grandma about beauty products she used at your age? If you have any good stories, leave a comment for the rest of the Beauty Brains community.