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How Helena Rubinstein Liberated Women with Makeup

At the turn of the 20th century, Helena Rubinstein was a poor but ambitious Polish woman peddling skin cream in Australia. While her skin care business grew, she encouraged women to experiment with makeup. It wasn’t easy, because women who wore makeup were pegged as either actresses or prostitutes, or French- because stylish French women loved makeup and used too much! While Rubenstein developed cosmetics to bring subtlety to France, she marveled at the different ways women in other countries used -or didn’t use- makeup. She moved to America in 1914 to escape World War I.   

Rubinstein was dismayed by the appearance of American women, who were at least a decade behind their European counterparts, fashion-wise. They still emulated Charles Dana Gibson’s fictional Gibson Girl, who narrowed her waist in a tight corset. They would only wear light powder and blush to lunch, but not dinner, believing they could attain beauty by a healthy lifestyle and positive thinking. However, the women’s suffrage movement had been going strong in America for years, and early feminists like Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Inez Milholland were holding meetings and discussing sexuality, contraception, and abortion. The May 6, 1912, Suffrage Parade in New York drew 20,000 women and 500 men, dressed in white. Many of the women shocked onlookers wearing lipstick, “a mark of sex and sin,” according to Edward Bok of the “Ladies Home Journal.”

Those first-wave feminists were rebelling against the constraints of conformity, and testing the freedom to look the way they wanted to. Rubinstein would never call herself a feminist, but she insisted on controlling her own life and business. She believed every woman had the right to look her best, and made millions by helping them to do it, with much more than makeup. Rubinstein invented the “Day of Beauty” spa package, encouraged woman to eat well and exercise to improve their appearance, and trained beauty consultants to not only sell products, but teach women how to use them. Read about Helena Rubinstein’s amazing rise to the top of cosmetics industry, her life of collecting art and fashion, and her rivalry with Eve Arden, at Collectors Weekly.

(Image source: Girlboss)

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