Montgomery County exhibit shows how makeup became a symbol of female power

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Society’s answer to what makes a woman beautiful significantly changed between 1870 and 1970, and continues to today. The way women wear and have worn makeup overtime has a story to tell, not only about the individual but about the fight for gender equality.

For example, red lipstick became a trend for the women’s suffrage movement — it was a symbol of female power.

An exhibit at the Montgomery County Museum shows an amazing display of antique makeup and cosmetics along with pictures of cosmetic trends through time. It’s called “The Changing Faces of Beauty and Cosmetics 1870-1970.” It shows an evolution of not only the perception of beauty but statements about equality women were working to make.

Museum curator Sherry Wyatt said the history of makeup is telling about society’s attitudes towards women.

“It brought a whole lot of stories about women empowerment really rather than the idea that you have to wear makeup to look good. It was really not always about being beautiful, it was about being who you were,” Wyatt said.


The story of the young women at Christiansburg Institute who took cosmetology as part of their vocational training is told with the display of rarely seen artifacts on loan from Christiansburg Institute, Inc.

Further illustrating the story of beauty attitudes and techniques are advertisements, hair care equipment and accessories, period photographs, and cosmetics packages. For more information, visit the Montgomery County Museum website.

Copyright 2021 by WSLS 10 – All rights reserved.

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