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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Plique A Jour Enamel Austrian Silver Beautiful Antique Compact Case Match BoxRare Italian 4 Women 800 Silver Scene Compact Box No Reserve #3 C.1917 Gold GiltAntique Vintage Vogue Sterling Silver Powder Compact Hallmarked Birmingham 1932Rca Deco Wood Console C-1933 Ornate Original Compact Gorgeous Working Rare Set!!Italian 800 Silver & Enamel Lover Music Scene Compact Box No Reserve #2Vintage Kigu Powder Compact Globe Map Of The World C 1950'sItalian Enamel 800 Silver Rare Nude 3 Level Compact C.1910 No Reserve CollectionPerfect Vintage Stratton Mother Of Pearl Compact, Comb & AtomizerVintage Stratton Powder Compact Gold Brass Bird Acorn On Metalic Enamel EnglandRare Burgundy Marlowe Parisienne Bakelite Compact Cosmetic BraceletKigu Vintage Basket Powder Compact With Reverse Carved Lucite Lid.S.o. Tech Mission Go Bag Coyote Brown Mgb Range Bag W/shoulder Strap Compact CbAntique Solid Silver Powder Compact On Tripod Stand With Mirror Very Rare !Gorgeous Estee Lauder 'pleasures' Star Shaped Solid Perfume Compact - 010 T11Vintage Thomae Co. Floral Green Enamelled Sterling Silver Compact,so PrettyEarly Gold Ormolu & Filigree Jeweled Compact With Carrying Cord & TasselSuperb Vintage Musical Camera Look Compact Manicure Set. Brass & Mahogany EnamelVintage Stratton Powder Compact Gold Brass Daffodil Lily Flower Enamel EnglandVintage Stratton Compact Gold Brass William Morris Strawberry Thief Bird FlowersAntique Austria Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Compact Woman Man Dog At TreeFrench Paris Silver Mirror Powder Compact Hand Painted Signed Edwardian AntiqueVintage Art Deco Rouge & Face Powder Compact Silvertone Parrots Black EnamelVintage Salvado Dali Designed Rotary Telephone Dial Figural CompactSilver Gilt Pl Art Deco Vintage Mirror Powder Compact ChÂtelaine Purse AmericanVtg Ladies' Makeup Compact Powder Case, Lipstick, Comb Mother Of Pearl- LotVintage Double Compact, Rouge & Powder, 1920s, Metal W/enamel InsetVintage Scottie Dog Brass Compact Scottish Terrier - Free U.k. PostageVintage Rare Hingeco Vanities Compact Suit Case Collectable PieceVintage Ladies Compact And Cigarette Case-lot Of 2Vtg. Sterling Silver Compact, Art Deco Era, Very Fine Quality!Elgin Vintage Art Deco Sky Blue Celluloid& Chrome Lipstick& Powder Compact Vintage Enameled Compact W/flapper Girl Artwork--2 SectionsVintage English Silver Enamel Compact/cigarette Case 1939 New York Worlds Fair- Change CompactGerber 400 Compact Sport Multi-plier Stainless Needlenose Multi Tool PliersArt Deco American Elgin Mfg Co. Compact Make Up Case Chain 14 K EngravedRare - Vintage - Zodiac Stratton Compact - Signed - Made In EnglandWwii Military Miniature Peaked Dress Cap Womens Powder Compact 1940sCharming Vintage Celluloid French Ivory Powder Compact 2 Birds Must See Puff Vintage Darnee Inc Perfumer, New York Rouge/blush 1 1/2" Small CompactEstee Lauder Beautiful Solid Perfume 2002 "elegant Picnic" Picnic Basket CompactVintage Art Deco Compact W/ Finger Ring Chain ~ Mirror Powder Blush Puff AntiqueHilda Terry Powder Compact Rex Teen Jitterbug Rockabilly 1940s 10x30,sluice Box,river Sluice,prospecting,compact,fast And Easy,mining,stf3075blVintage Mirrored Powder CompactSmall Vintage Lucretia Vanderbilt Navy Enamel Silver Butterfly CompactStunning Boxed & Unused Enamel And Crystal Stratton American Flag CompactStratton Uk Compact 1950s Queen Elizabeth Ii Trooping The Color Unused Label Vtg1940's Evans Gold Tone Rhinestone Compact Clutch Wwii Era New VintageVintage Compact Cosmetic Military Us Army Eagle Emblem - Mother-of-pearl Look Another Stunning Boxed & Unused Stratton Compact Floral Enamel LidJunk Drawer Vintage Lot~linen Avon Brass Vanity Mirrors Compact Thimbles Disney Pin Japan Jds Halloween 2005 3d Compact Trap Le800 Lilo StitchVintage C1950's 'yardley' Enamelled Goldtone Powder Compact With 'bee' MotifQuality Antique Silver Compact Engraved Bird Flowers Israel Lustig Gering C 1940Antique Blue Rose Blue Top Guilloche Enamel Compact Loose Powder & Rouge MirrorVintage Salt Lake City/ Pictorial Black & Silver Tone/ Powder Compact. Wms Gaming 128mb Blank Compact Flash Plus Dongle???Vtg Elgin American Powder Compact Lipstick Well Gold Tone Vanity Case BoxDisney Pin Japan Jds Halloween 2005 3d Compact Trap Le800 Chip N Dale