According to fashion legend Diana Vreeland, “the only real elegance is in the mind; if you’ve got that, the rest really comes from it,” and we tend to agree. Of course, aesthetic cultural standards have fluctuated from generation to generation (and icon to icon) for the better, and for the worse.
Sometimes beauty, fashion, and health industries become uplifting and revolutionary tools. Other times, not so much. Remember Marilyn Monroe’s extensive beauty and health regimens? We can get behind her commitment to weight lifting, for instance, but less so that “calorie restricted diet” of mostly raw eggs, “four or five” baby carrots, red meat, and a fatty ice-cream sunday (ok, we’ll take the sunday).
In an exploration of beauty, and the exhaustive lengths often gone to achieve it – whatever ‘it’ is – we’ve compiled a list of our top 12 most, ehrm, original beauty hacks in modern history…
1. Marlene Dietrich’s Gold-dusted Hair
According to Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, Max Factor took to “sprinkling gold dust on Marlene Dietrich’s hair to make it sparkle on-screen. The 20K gold dust cost sixty dollars an ounce and Dietrich used about half an ounce each day on set.” Now that’s some next-level diva behaviour.
2. Freezing off Freckles with Carbon Dioxide
Freezing freckles off with carbon dioxide was a popular practice in the 1930s. When the CO2 was applied, patients’ eyes were covered with airtight plugs, their nostrils filled, and had to breathe through a tube. What a spa day.
3. Humphrey Bogart’s ‘Spice Girl’ Shoes
Ok, so Baby Spice wasn’t around yet to lend good old Bogie (who measured 5’8″) her flatform sneakers. But the pair worn by Bogart during the filming of Casablanca in order to stand taller than Ingrid Bergman would definitely have been at home in her wardrobe. Here’s looking (up) at you, kid.
4. The Vaseline-Teeth Hack
Ah, Vaseline. Is there anything you can’t do with it? The petroleum jelly has long been a hack of showbiz and beauty pageant veterans for holding their smiles in place, and it’s still a popular practice today — just ask Miss Minnesota 2017: “When practicing for the pageant, because muscle memory is so important once you’re out there, I put Vaseline on my teeth to make sure that I’m smiling on stage…It sort of tastes like ChapStick so it’s not gross, but it’s definitely uncomfortable to have your mouth closed with that in there, so you just keep smiling.” Yum.
5. Dr. Alfred Curie’s Radioactive Lipstick
This is one beauty trend we’re happy say is dead and gone — because it was fatally toxic.
The popularity of the chemical radium as a “miracle ingredient” at the dawn of the 20th century has been well-documented, and most notably in the tragic case of the Radium Girls. As factory workers in New Jersey, the women were exposed to so much of the radioactive substance that “if you stood over their graves today with a Geiger counter, the radiation levels would still cause the needles to jump more than 80 years later.”
The chemical was furiously marketed in everything and anything at the time, including Dr. Alfred Curie’s lipsticks. Yikes.
6. Iman’s Laxative Drink Facemasks
I have it on good record from an upscale beauty and skin-care center in Santa Barbara, California that the late David Bowie’s wife, Iman, has a rather peculiar facemask hack: laxative beverages. Now before you run the other way, consider that saline laxatives are not that much different than clay masks when applied to the face in a beauty regimen; they rid the skin of excess oil, but have an extra gentle touch. Smooth move, Iman.
7. The Ice Cube Mask
This Max Factor
serial killer face-mask was studded with plastic “ice cubes” intended to be filled with water, popped in the freezer, and used as a rejuvenating facial treatment. This “Hangover Heaven” was rather popular with party-going Hollywood stars of the 1940s. Frankly, we’re kinda into it.
8. Sophia Loren’s Love of Olive Oil Baths & Spaghetti
According to a 2006 BBC article, the secret to the now 83-year-old icon’s “maintaining (of) her youthful looks is one known to the ancient Romans…the odd bath in virgin olive oil.” That, and her insistence on enjoying a love of life and spaghetti.” Agreed.
9. Max Factor’s ‘Clown’ Contouring
Back in the (pre-Kardashian) era of looking good on the silver screen, Max Factor was the champion of contouring. These ladies may look like they’re ready to do the Monster Mash, but back then, the black and white technology used until 1946 “lacked a significant amount of contrast and wasn’t capable of showing certain colours.” Hey, whatever you gotta do, right?
10. Dalida’s Plant-based Hair Potions
Ok, so this is one we can get behind. Dalida was the Egyptian-born pop icon (beloved mostly in Europe and North Africa) in the latter 20th century. She was famous for her dramatic ballads and a commitment to an impeccable, over-the-top aesthetic that included her always on-point hair. In order to keep her locks in top shape, she would ask her hairdresser soak her hair “in a bath of plants.”
11. The Terrifying Breast Enhancers of Yesteryear
We’ll just let these French “breast enhancer” ads speak for themselves…
12. The Helena Rubinstein Beauty School
Last but not least, we now give you the
laboratory of Frankenstein’s Monster Helena Rubinstein Beauty School, circa 1940-something. From what we’ve gathered, the above contraption looks like a face slimming/tightening mask. Down to give it a whirl? We took the the liberty of finding you one eBay.