The Cosmetics Revolution: A Change in the Attitudes and Values of the American Woman

Lindsey N. Steele


American women love their cosmetics as evidenced by the seemingly exponential growth of the American cosmetics industry in the twentieth century. Although the use of cosmetics dates to Ancient Egyptian Queens, it was not until the 1920s and 1930s, that cosmetics became popular among average American women. Cosmetics transformed from being associated with prostitution and the deviant “painted woman,” into an accepted, if not necessary, element of a properly attired and well-groomed woman. By the 1920s and 1930s cosmetics had become a multi-million dollar a year industry that employed thousands of American women in the 1920s and 1930s. Cosmetics were, and still are, so essential to the American woman’s appearance that the cosmetics industry was the only industry to actually expand during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Attitudes shifted in the early twentieth century as women gained the right to vote, and increasing numbers of women attained more education and entered the work force. Women saw maintaining their youthful appearance as inexplicably tied to maintaining their new position as actual voting taxpaying employees and civil servants in American society. Although scholars have correctly noted that increased advertising of cosmetics and a change in women’s attitude towards their personal appearance lead to the popularity of cosmetics, an examination of newspapers and other primary sources from the time period suggest that the rising position of middle class American women, as voters and as workers, and the increased availability of cosmetics, along with advertising and a change in women’s attitude towards personal.


Cosmetics; Women; Social Roles

Full Text:  Subscribers Only


  • There are currently no refbacks.

The Proceedings is produced as a service of UNC Asheville.