By Mary N. DiZazzo

Powder and Puff . . . a Collectible Tradition.

Ciao bella,

Vanity cases or powder compacts are the modern descendants of the patch boxes used by Georgian ladies to hold their artificial beauty spots. Even with such an honorable history --actually dating back to ancient Egypt-- the use of cosmetics was not socially permitted in twentieth century Europe and America until the 1920s. But just as Edwardian and Victorian rules were swept away, many young women began working outside of the home and naturally were given salaries and they discovered a fondness of face color.

Early "vanity cases" started showing up in Paris, which is the fashion capitol of the world, and in Britain. Advertisers of the well-designed compacts stated whether they would hold just lipstick and powder or lipstick, powder, rouge, and even other items.

Powder compacts can give us an idea of what mode fashions were of a particular era. Most designs were quite small until the mid 1930s, as purses were small and typically clutched under the arm.

Compacts also reveal the fashionable colors of certain decades. In the 1930s, for example, neutral shades with vivid orange added was in vogue. Compacts also chart the development of new materials. By the mid 1930s celluloid was used instead of glass as the outside shell of a case. Albert Shipton of Birmingham in 1923 patented the painting of an outline of a picture in black on the underside of clear glass making for the front of a case.

Decorations ranged from flower design, souvenir locale, art deco birds to Vogue ladies of the era. The compacts also were quite colorful with many shapes and sizes depending on what each carried.

I happen to own a small collection myself. My favorite belonged to my nana and dates to about 1945. It was called a "trio-ette" and manufactured by Platé. It's shaped like a lollipop with a raised rose design on each side. The pink case held powder on one side, rouge on the other, and a lipstick was in the stem of this darling compact. Benefit cosmetics put out a repro a couple of years ago.

The decorative compact is since a forgotten tradition but the memory lives on from its truly remarkable past.

Buona giornata and God bless the United States of America!


Have you missed any of Mary's columns in the Post-Gazette? Read prior weeks' "All That Zazz" columns on her website She is a third-generation cosmetologist and owner of Mary for Nails, etc. natural nailcare salon in Andover, and a Massachusetts distributor of Kosmea brand rose hip oil products. She may be contacted at (978) 470-8183. She also sees select clients by appointment in Boston at (617) 742-6881.