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Book Review: Compacts and Cosmetics by Madeleine Marsh

Hi Beauties!


Image by Sepherene

I posted up a picture of the book by Madeleine Marsh on my Instagram account a while ago and was surprised at all the interest it received. The natural thought that came to mind was that maybe, just maybe, I should share a few more thoughts on the book with you beauties here on the blog. I’m also considering writing up book reviews from all different genres – not just beauty related texts. Is that something you would be interested in? I think that will also motivate me to read more generally and I really want to read more even when I am flat out manic and busy. As a kid and even in high school, I read a lot of books. I still love reading, but I found that while studying at uni, I was turned off reading novels and longer books just because I was tired (tired of life it seems lol). Now I work at uni (oh how ironic life can be 😛 ) and still have to read a lot of academic literature, but don’t have that general aversion to reading anymore and almost feel like I have to ‘catch up’. So, with saying that – let’s start off ‘our’ first book review shall we? 🙂


Funnily enough this book isn’t a novel or biography, but rather a historical book (how serious of me!). Ms Madeleine Marsh is a write and a specialist in antiques – hence the history. I do actually really like history and would say that if you have an interest in the beauty industry in general – you should find this book a good read (and there’s lots of good images and pictures to boot)! Madeleine Marsh covers the development of the beauty industry from early modern Europe (beginning in the Victorian era) to the present day in detail. She does discuss some of the known beauty habits and rituals from both ancient Egypt, Greek and the Roman time period, but this is more of a ‘token’ mention. The ‘birth’ of the beauty industry as we know it, began in the early Victorian age when women would either buy skincare and cosmetics from ‘rouge traders’ (sometime ending with disastrous results) or make beauty products at home (beauty products and especially makeup, were to be hidden and undetectable). Luckily as more women moved to the cities, skin care began being produced by pharmacists and some perfumers. By the late 19th century, cold cream was a hit and was being produced by almost everyone (and I should mention that cold cream was developed by a Greek physician waaaay back, so people caught on late).



The book goes on to detail not only what products developed (when and where), but also how the industry developed to include concept brands and marketing on a larger scale (Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden). I also think that the way pop culture and ‘movie stars’ lessened the stigma of makeup thanks to exposure to the masses (movies etc.) is so fascinating as it’s something we still see everyday now (celebrity endorsement etc). Social and political events are also discussed as the major world wars changed peoples spending habits and what products could be produced. Novelty packaging, seasonal ‘collections’ and selling techniques also changed an already dynamic industry.


The books language isn’t ‘academic’ by any means and it is very easy to read. It isn’t like a gripping novel, but reading about the changing eras and new innovations is really interesting, if you are a beauty nerd (some would call that an oxymoron, but we know that is not true).


Did you know Avon was founded in 1886, when David McConnell as travelling Bible salesman decided to offer a small bottle of perfume with every purchases of a book? And from there, slowly the idea of selling cosmetics door to door arose! 


Wouldn’t some of the vintage ads make great prints?! Perhaps not the cringe-worth ones though (like the one below on the right cough cough*)


This book would be a wonderful gift for any beauty enthusiast, especially when most of us have to much makeup. I don’t regret having it in my collection for a second, because it’s a great book to even flick through and gather some inspiration. I originally wanted to buy the book off Amazon, but it must not be in print anymore in the states because all I could see was second hand copies or new copies selling for like $100 US dollars of more. Luckily, I found an Australian retailer the Nile which orders in the book from the UK for only $29.43 – and you get free shipping with every order within Aus – winning! Get it while you can Beauties 🙂

Are you a history nerd at heart? Does this book interest you at all? Let me know if your all for more book reviews!

Catch ya next time,

Beauty Bee~

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