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.