Before the 1920s the use of make-up – mainly face powder and lipstick – was generally considered unsuitable for ‘respectable’ women. Changes in fashion in the 1920s made make-up more acceptable, especially for younger women. New products were more readily available, such as lipstick in tubes, and new products emerged, including mascara and nail polish.
Too much make-up was still considered risqué. Fresh, clear complexions were valued as a sign of good health and good character, with soap and water considered as beneficial as the new skin-care products and moisturisers on the market.
The beauty business
New Zealanders spend up large on beauty products: $30 million in 1972, $50 million in 1975, $74 million in 2003 (including $22 million just on lipstick and lip products) and $700 million in 2009. Not surprisingly, the government’s decision in 1975 to impose an additional 20% tax on cosmetics met with consumer uproar.
Growing use of cosmetics
Hollywood style affected cosmetic fashions in the 1940s. During the Second World War, looking glamorous with carefully applied make-up was seen as patriotic service – one lipstick was marketed as Victory Red.
From the 1950s the use of make-up gradually became more widespread and acceptable, although the style and amount were often used to make fashion statements, particularly among young women. Some young women of the 1960s adopted the heavy-rimmed or ‘panda’ eye look; in the 1980s dramatic punk or gothic styles were favoured by some.
Men and cosmetics
Until the late 20th century, New Zealand men did not use cosmetics. The use of hair lotions and aftershaves (sometimes one and the same) was the closest they came to beauty products. Macassar Oil, first advertised in the 1840s, was used to dress hair and was supposed to prevent or cure baldness and darken grey or red hair. It prompted the making of ‘anti-macassers’ – decorative covers that sat along the top of sofas and armchairs – to soak up the excess that would otherwise stain upholstery.
Bay Rum, used from the 1850s, was less messy. Usually splashed on as an aftershave and hairdressing lotion, it was advertised from the late 19th century as a cure-all that would prevent dandruff, cure baldness, restore colour to grey hair and help soothe sore feet if they were soaked in it. Brylcream, an alternative hair product, was available from the 1930s and became widely used. In the mid-20th century another aftershave, Old Spice, became popular, and the range of men’s grooming products expanded.
In the late 20th century more men began to use skin-care products, and some also wore make-up. A 2001 survey suggested that 17% of men wore make-up. Beauty clinics and stores began to report the growing number of men buying products for themselves or getting treatments.