Makeup in the Twenties

During the decades prior to the Roaring Twenties, makeup was associated with actresses and prostitutes – professions many people considered identical. No self-respecting woman would wear makeup. The more daring might have cautiously applied a small amount that wouldn’t be noticed. Which rather defeats the purpose, don’t you think?

Ever heard of Maximilian Faktorowicz, the makeup artist who immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1904? Yes, you have. Like so many immigrants, simplified his name on arrival. He became Max Factor. Factor had worked with European ballet troupes and stage actors, but when film studios began moving to Hollywood in the 1910s, he gambled on moving to California to work with film actors. 

This was not as easy as it sounds, because traditional stage make up (grease paint) was too heavy to be used by motion picture actors. He had to invent his own products—at first, creams and powders—that would work for the film industry. His clients included most of the leading actresses and actors of the silent film era and early talkies, including Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Mary Pickford, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, and Joan Crawford. He opened his own beauty salon in Hollywood.

Not until 1927 did Max Factor begin to market his products nationally. By then, the prejudice against makeup was softening, thanks to silent screen pioneers like Mary Pickford and Clara Bow who were seen as respectable women. People credit Factor with coining the word “makeup” (which replaced the more formal “cosmetics”), but that word had been around since 1821, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. I think it would be more accurate to say that he brought the word makeup into widespread usage.

I mention Max Factor briefly in my novel, so had to research his life and products, but found him to be a remarkable person.


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Enjoyed your essay on Max Factor & make-up. He was, indeed, a fascinating and talented man. Am giving a presentation in late April on vintage and antique face powder compacts, and would like to use a picture of Max Factor in my presentation. Would you know who I can contact to ask permission to use one of his images for this purpose?

    • Thank you, Hilaire. The pictures I used were just taken off the Internet. I googled his real name, Max Faktorowicz, on Yahoo and Google and specified Images, and got a selection. As for permission, the photos are beyond copyright, so I didn’t consider that issue. I’d love to hear your lecture in APril . . . maybe you could send me a copy of it? I could post it on the blog with your permission, if you like. As you know, some people are very interested in these topics.

      Speaking of makeup, have you seen this site?

      Mary Miley Theobald Writer and Historian

      5 Countryside Court Richmond, VA 23229 (804) 288-2770


      • Thank you for your gracious reply, Mary. I found an image through Alamy instead, from which I purchased the right to use it in my presentation. FYI, the age of an image doesn’t always determine whether it’s in the public domain. Some entities, such as Getty, are particularly nasty to tangle with over using images they own. They have aggressively pursued enforcement even when dealing with individuals’ blogs and/or websites, and demanded considerable amounts of money to settle an alleged misuse. I’m not an expert in image copyright and use, but I do have acquaintances who have gotten into difficulty over this. You may want to consult with someone who has expertise in copyright issues.

        The presentation l mentioned will not be recorded or made available to the public. I appreciate your offer, however. Perhaps we could speak later this spring or summer about our mutual interest in the 1920s and women’s make-up. Cheers!

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