Collecting Vintage Compacts

I became fascinating with collecting vintage compacts when I inherited my mother's 1960s Estee Lauder compact. The butterfly-embossed golden makeup compact was empty but still held the faint fragrance of Windsong perfume, my mother's signature scent, and a bit of beige powder in its pan. I imagined my mother powdering her nose with it or checking her lipstick. A true child of the 1950s, she never left home without her lips colored with frosted pink or dark burgundy lipstick and a dab of powder on her nose.

Thus began my lifelong love of vintage compacts...and collecting vintage compacts.

collecting vintage compacts

A Brief History of Makeup Compacts

I am by no means an expert on collecting Vintage Compacts. For that, I refer you to the blog by the same title: Collecting Vintage Compacts. Yes, there's an entire blog devoted to collecting vintage makeup items, and for good reason. They're elegant!

According to Collector's Weekly, makeup compacts became popular in the 1920s when flappers and other young ladies made wearing makeup socially acceptable. Before the 1920s, women may have dabbed a bit of rouge or lip pigment on but preferred that no one know about it. During the 1920s, a very pale makeup style with bright red lips and kohl-lined eyes became popular. To achieve the pale, flawless porcelain complexion so desired, women began using powder. A makeup compact like the own shown above (a 1970s or 80s Estee Lauder compact in my collection) became both a beautiful and practical accessory. Frequent touch-ups were necessary, and to pull out a mirrored compact with a beautiful finish denoted elegance and sophistication.

Makeup compacts are also quite practical. If the powder runs out, the entire powder pan snaps out and a new one can be inserted and snapped into place. In the 1980s, interchangeable pans like this became popular among cosmetic lines like Revlon with eye shadows where you could mix and match your own colors to create custom compacts. The idea is still the same, and comes and goes depending on makeup fads and fashions.

As with most things, the beautiful makeup compacts of the past fell by the wayside, until today few women have a makeup compact, let alone use powder. I can still find face powder among brands like Cover Girl and Maybelline, but to find an elegant powder compact, you need to visit the Estee Lauder or Elizabeth Arden counters. There you can find the beautiful, elegant works of art like vintage compacts of old.

Collecting Vintage Compacts

One of the most enjoyable aspects of collecting vintage compacts is that they are both easy to find and relatively inexpensive. I've obtained 40 to 50 year old compacts for under $10. Sure, they're not rare, but they do lend a beautiful, elegant and vintage aspect to my attire. When I worked in New York City, I once pulled an antique makeup compact from my purse to check my eye for debris while riding the subway. Women looked intrigued, men looked interested, and it surprised me to no end how a simple, inexpensive elegant accessory could cause conversation among jaded subway goers.

You can find vintage compacts at flea markets, thrift shops, and eBay stores. I have also found some nice ones on Etsy.  

Many older compact cases were made by famous Art Deco watchmakers or jewelers such as Tiffany and Company, and you can find their hallmark stamped into the reverse or back of the case. If you'd like to use your compact, there are instructions online for making a custom-fitting pan to replace a missing pan. I wouldn't use any makeup left in the pan, but would carefully remove it.

Very expensive or rare cases should be kept on display, but do use some of the less expensive pieces like my Elizabeth Arden gold basket weave case, above. These beautiful objects were meant to be cherished by ladies like us, ladies who yearn for a return to elegance.