WPI’s Curation, Preservation, and Archives staff are blogging a few of their favorite things to celebrate American Archives Month! What’s your favorite archival object? Let us know in the comments below!
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Tanya Rose Lane
As a cosmetics collector, it was easy to choose my favorite item for American Archives Month. One of my favorite pieces of memorabilia within the collection is a silver compact from the mid-1930s. Although vintage compacts are sought after by cosmetics collectors, they also their way to archives and museums, like this one did.
The first special feature of the WPI compact is the date of its production. In the 1920s, trends in cosmetics changed drastically; until that moment in history, women expressed themselves through their choices in fashion and hairstyles but were discouraged from using any cosmetic products whatsoever. But as the 20th century woman gained independence and social mobility, she pioneered the world of beauty. The earlier compacts of the 1920s were designed to hold lipstick, combs, and cigarettes, while the first powder compacts were manufactured in the 1930s. This compact also predates the familiar patriotic compacts of the 1940s that were distributed to men and women in the armed services. During the war, manufacturers shifted from blotting powder and lipstick to foot powder and camouflage. The tradition of gifting military-issued compacts as tokens of affection became commonplace during World War II.
In the following decades, the image of the woman with a compact exploded in popular American culture. So, it is only fitting to celebrate American Archives Month with the powder compact, an iconic symbol of beauty, industry, and female independence.