M is for Mascara (and Maybelline)
If there’s one cosmetic I hate to leave the house without, it’s mascara. Unadorned, my pale lashes cause people to ask if I’m feeling a bit peaked, to use an antique euphemism for you look like death warmed over.
Today on M-day I’m lumping “mascara” and “Maybelline” together because, for many years, the two words were synonymous. According to The Maybelline Story, a book written by Sharrie Williams (grandniece of Maybelline’s founder), in 1915 Tom Lyle Williams developed a compound to help his sister, Mabel, who had singed her eyebrows and eyelashes in a kitchen accident. Tom observed how she mixed coal dust with Vaseline petroleum jelly to darken the remaining hairs. Armed with a rudimentary chemistry set, Tom worked https://www.amazon.com/Maybelline-Spirited-Family-Dynasty-Behind-ebook/dp/B008RDGIVCout a more suitable substitute. Ultimately the final product–not yet called mascara but simply “Maybelline,” as in “Wait here while I put on my Maybelline”–was manufactured by the Parke-Davis Laboratories in Michigan. Tom Lyle (always the two names together) named his company after Mabel, the product’s inspiration, who was employed at the company, along with several other family members.
While some sources credit Frenchman Edouard Rimmel, a perfumer, with the inventing the product. Rimmel’s mascara also was a mixture of coal dust and Vaseline, Maybelline surely did invent the cake mascara, which consisted of a solid cake of mascara in a tin, accompanied by a tiny applicator brush. (Today Besame Cosmetics makes an up-to-date version of cake mascara, which is surprisingly versatile as an eye liner and brow darkener as well. I’ve been using it with excellent results.) Revlon, a company founded by Charles Revson, later invented the wand-type mascara in a tube we’re familiar with today.
One of the obstacles the Williams family had to overcome in the World War I years was the negative reaction to eye makeup, which at the time was associated with theater people and prostitutes, not “nice” ladies. The company helped change attitudes by hiring wholesome-looking models and film stars in their advertising. In the 1920s, the public warmed to eye makeup as the flapper darkened her brows and lashes. And mascara has been with us ever since. Great Lash, Maybelline’s want mascara in the iconic pink-and-green tube, has been a bestseller since it’s introduction in the Sixties.
I was surprised to learn that Maybelline was headquartered in Chicago for decades. Chances are my fictional characters Marjorie and Dot would have “put on their Maybelline” in the 1920s! In 1967 Maybelline was sold to L’Oreal and today is known as “Maybelline New York.”