Making Up Is Hard to Do

When it comes to lipstick and the like, Texas women have gone from avoidance to “anything goes.” Which is good news for the cosmetically challenged among us.

THIS MONTH’S TOPIC IS A BEAUT: the history of makeup in Texas. Over time, Texas women have moved through five stages of cosmetological development: No Makeup, the nineteenth century’s mandate for decent women; Whoa, Makeup!, the introduction of mass-marketed lipstick and powder; Mo’ Makeup (a.k.a. Big Makeup), the essential, over-the-top complement to Big Hair; Pro Makeup, the skilled techniques mastered by models and such; and Low Makeup, the relatively natural look of the typical Texan (or the typically indifferent one, like me; I swear, I could paint my face all day long with no discernible improvement to show for the effort). Examining these five evolutionary steps should enhance our understanding of female beauty, a commodity for which the state has long been famous.

In Texas in the 1800’s, paint and powder were signs of immorality; only the likes of theater people and streetwalkers dared to wear them in public. During the first century or so of the state’s history, many males rarely saw unattached females except those of the dance-hall persuasion, and inevitably these menfolk—cowboys, farmers, roughnecks—came to like the made-up look because they associated it with sex. As Texas songwriter Chris Wall puts it in “Trashy Women,” “Too much lipstick and too much rouge/Gets me excited, leaves me feelin’ confused.” (No wonder some religious sects still ban makeup.)

By the beginning of World War I, innovative cosmetic products had begun to create a nationwide craze among women who were eager to emulate the glamorous stars of the emerging film industry. Theda Bara almost single-handedly popularized eye makeup; her scandalous vamp persona had a smoky-eyed scowl dependent on thick kohl and heavy mascara. A much more common attribute of early actresses was a pair of sexy red lips (which, to me, suggest sock monkeys). Consider San Antonio native Joan Crawford, who was such a lipstick junkie that one of her purses had a tube hidden in the handle to expedite touch-ups. Almost instantly, women of all ages, races, shapes, and professions came to regard lipstick as an essential part of their wardrobe. In I’ll Gather My Geese, rancher Hallie Stillwell, of Marathon, recalled that in 1918, when she was a young bride learning to work cattle, she habitually made up her face before venturing out. One morning her husband asked her dryly, “Do you think those cows will notice whether you have lipstick on or not?”

From then until the mid-sixties, a lipsticked mouth and a powdered nose were de rigueur at all times. During the

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