In the 1920s, la garçonne, or the young flapper woman of the Art Deco era, with her short hair and sleeveless dress, took to wearing heavy eye makeup. Mascara and eyeliner were employed to create a “smokey” eyeshadow look. This emphasis on obvious makeup also made it socially acceptable for a woman to primp in public, to take out a mirrored compact at the table and check her face or powder her nose.

Thanks to this public show, what are now regarded as vintage compacts became accessories in and of themselves, beautifully decorated and, like most jewelry and other adornments, intended to flaunt the wealth and privilege of the owner. In earlier centuries, elaborate bejeweled parure cases, holding large sets of matching jewelry, had served a similar purpose, given as a gift to a lover or fiancé.

In the 20th century, U.S. servicemen stationed overseas sent their sweethearts compact cases from other countries. Vacation spots such as Miami, Florida, even cruise ships, sold their own souvenir compacts. These containers held lipstick, powder, or perfume, and were made to be refilled. They were also expensive for their time. Richard Hudnut’s “le De’but” compact sold for $5 in 1928, which bought a week’s worth of groceries at the time.

For the middle-class women, compacts were made in base metals or sterling silver decorated with enamel. High-society ladies carried compacts commissioned by fine jewelry makers, who fashioned their creations from gold or platinum and studded them with semi-precious stones. Often these personalized compacts were engraved with the owner’s initials.

Some of these cases, called miniaudieres, were fitted with a gold chain or silk cord. These special vanity bags, like the ones made by Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany, Cartier, and, more recently, Judith Leiber, held makeup, lipstick, and money, and had a place to tuck in a handkerchief.

Refillable compact cases were used until recent decades when makeup cases were produced in cheap, disposable plastic. Until then, though, designers poured their creativity into these little containers, with images of flowers, beautiful women, and animals, that were engraved, enameled, and set with pastes on their exteriors. Some were designed with abstract Art Deco motifs or while others were shaped like hearts or birds.

Costume jewelry makers like Ciner and pocket watch case makers like the J. M. Fisher Co. introduced their own types of compacts. An endearing example is the “Rendezvous” style compact, sold under the Le Rage line by Evans in the ‘50s, which had a clock face and movable hands that pointed to activities a woman of leisure might enjoy: “Tennis,” “Hairdresser,” “Cocktail,” “Lunch,” “Cinema,” “Dressmaker,” Milliner,” “Bridge,” “Dinner,” and “Theatre.”


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Ventagli.org

Ventagli.org

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Antiquespectacles.com

Antiquespectacles.com

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]

The Antique Corset Gallery

The Antique Corset Gallery

Take a deep breath, and check out this sparse, simple, and beautifully designed site showcasing 250 years of corset… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Victorian Palais Royale Carved Mother Of Pearl Patch Box / Compact C1870Superb Estate Lot Guilloche Enamelled Sterling Silver Scenic Compact Box BuckleGorgous Antique Continental Solid Silver Enamelled Figural Scenic Makeup Compact*beautiful Vintage F&b Sterling Guilloche Floral Enamel Compact*Superbc1920 Art Deco German Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Makeup Compact CaseAntique Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Compact Flower Basket Turquoise AustriaBeautiful Antique 800 Italian Silver & Enamel Compact With Hand Painted Scene Gorgeous Sterling Antique Enamel Guilloche Compact Bag, Painted Pastel Florals Rare Enamel Solid Silver Compact Box Sun Burst Design 1913 BirminghamMustang Md3196 So Compact Tactical Life Preserver Military Coyote MaritimeVintage Volupte Gold-toned Art Deco Powder Compact Excellent CondtiionSterling Silver Enameled Womens Compact Beautiful Rare Item Have 2 Of Them NiceVintage Rare Enamel Solid Silver Compact Box Rose Design 1955 Birmingham*stunning Vintage F&b Sterling Guilloche Floral Enamel Compact*Hand Painted Vintage Sterling Silver Mirrored Compact With French Enamel*beautiful Vintage 2pc.sterling Floral Enamel Compact - Hallmarks*Estee Lauder Solid Compact Youth Dew Perfume FullArt Deco 1930's Walter Lampl Chinese Jade Enamel Powder Compact Cigarette CaseVintage Art Deco Sterling Silver Elgin American Beauty Vanity Powder CompactVintage Famous Kigu Flying Saucer Powder Compact Mint With Pouchette And PuffVintage 1920s Art Deco Vanity Case Compact, Ballerina, With Chain & Finger RingVintage 1939 New York Worlds Fair Art Deco Souvenir Compact - Zell CompactPretty Vintage Stratton Gold Rose Powder Mirror Compact Lipstick Lipview Box SetVictorinox Compact, Red Handles, 24k Gold Finished, *defect*Excellent Georgian Period Bright Steel Two Piece Compact Corkscrew.Mixed Lot Gold Filled Plated Jewelry Elgin Compact Amethyst Necklace RingsVintage Compact In The Shape Of A Military HatEstee Lauder / 1998 Sugar Plum Powder Compact - VintageVtg Volupte' Compact Golden Gesture 1940s Powder Brass Mirror Usa Made HandSeeburg 1000 Background Compact1940s Vintage Art Deco Compact, Elgin American, Green Enamel1952 Hallmarked English Silver & Enamel CompactMusic Boxed Vintage Collection Of "evening In Paris" Perfume,compact PowderBergans Of Norway, Compact Light 2 Backpacking Tent - 2 Person, 3 Season, New!Estee Lauder Solid Perfume Compact Harrods London Telephone Box Label 2003 Antique 1929 Sheaffer White Dot Fountain Pen Marbled Lifetime Gold Nib CompactAmazing Vintage Blue Floral Guilloche Silvertone Dainty Chatelaine Compact Nice!Never Used- 1940s Majestic Powder Compact W/attached Lipstick & Perfume BottleVintage Boxed Kigu Of London Powder Compact Ruby Red & Gold Nice ConditionDisney Pin Japan M&p 3d Compact Aladdin Genie Le 900Estee Lauder / Kathrine Baumann Leopard Powder Compact - VintageEstee Lauder Solid Perfume- 2002 Matador Solid Perfume CompactDisney Pin Japan M&p Halloween 2005 3d Compact Maleficent Dragon Le 800Pretty Vintage Stratton Silver Plated Etched Rose Powder Mirror Compact BoxedEstee Lauder Cameo Solid Perfume Compact W/perfume&label! 2006 Nice Collectible! Antique Evening In Paris Bourjois Vanity Set Gold Tone Metal Lipstick & CompactNever Used- Enameled Figural Henriette Powder Compact In Shape Of Japanese FanVintage Make-up Compact Pendant Necklace Zodiac Design Antique Gold Mirror Marshall Fields Field's Compact Mirror Silver Logo W/ Green Bag Mint ConditionAntique Belais R & G Co. 14k White Gold Powder CompactGreat Vintage Italian Micro Mosaic Powder Box Compact W/ Puff & Screen UnusedLarge Vintage "paris" By Coty Presentation Box, Talc, Perfume, Compact, LipstickEstee Lauder Compact - 1999 Personal Charm - New In Box (gold & White Sleeve)Extremely Rare! Walter Lampl Triple "enchantaire" Compact W/ Rhinestones 1937Vintage Demolay Masonic - Goldtone & Pearl & Enamel Makeup Compact 2.5" DiameterDisney Pin Japan M&p Halloween 2005 3d Compact Evil Queen Hag Snow White Le 800Vintage Elgin American Goldtone Engraved Make-up Compact Original Powder & BoxEstee Lauder 'sleeping Cat' Compact-without Solid PerfumeEstee Lauder Pleasures Solid Perfume Jay Strongwater Acorn Compact + Eva FrameEstee Lauder - For Audemars Piguet Powder Compact - Silver