Vintage Powder Room: Raquel Vanity Case


Before I began collecting vintage cosmetics ephemera, I collected compacts and vanity cases, and this Raquel case is one of my favorites because I am obsessed with silhouettes. Silhouettes are provocative; they unveil the essence, rather than the details, of the subject. How great is that?

Manufactured in the 1920s, Raquel vanity cases were constructed to resemble tiny books, but they contained lipstick, rouge and powder—all the beauty products a new era of women needed.

Shown in outline only, the flapper on the Raquel vanity case is emblematic of the sort of woman who hit her stride in the post WWI era: she is long and lean, her skirt is pulled above her knees, and it is easy to imagine that she is readying herself for a night out.

The woman of the 1920s had a myriad of choices when it came to morals, manners, and dress—choices that must have seemed unimaginable to the previous generation. In the early 1900s if a woman had dull colored hair or a sallow complexion, she was stuck with that look for life.  By 1920 a woman could choose to correct her complexion and change her hair color with ease (and she was very likely not about to turn back the clock to the days of floor length skirts, mousey hair colors, and shiny noses). 

Most young flappers were experts with henna and many of them dyed their tresses blonde or red.  Flappers were also virtuosos with make-up, their eyebrows were neatly plucked, eyelids deftly shadowed, and lips smoothly crimsoned.

I’ve read about fathers and husbands trying, and failing, to rein in their daughters and wives by attempting to forbid them to wear “powder and paint.”  Outside the family home there were reformers, from politicians to pulpit-pounding preachers who proclaimed that the American male was being led astray by the unrelieved spectacle of feminine beauty which surrounded him. In their defense, some flappers stated that any man who could be morally ruined by lipstick and silk stockings had no soul worth saving, and that most of the reformers who attacked the flapper lifestyle were old ladies, in spirit if not in fact.

I’m glad that the flappers never wavered in their mission to make individual style and beauty the norm, not the exception, when they did, and I send up a silent “thank-you” to their rebellious spirits each time I flip open my compact.

Joan Renner is an L.A.-based writer, lecturer, and social historian with an expert knowledge of vintage beauty products. She blogs at The Clutch once a week and writes about cosmetics and beauty history at her Web site, Vintage Powder Room.