Did you ever interrupt an invective against the rouge pot and the marcel iron to ask by what means the venerable speaker attracted beaux back in the Nineties? She might not confess to a dampened red ribbon scrubbed on her cheeks “innocent of paint” or to nights of agony spent tossing about on little lumps of curlpapers with sugared water dripping down her forehead. Today there isn’t time for gathering rose leaves to make cold cream and no necessity for dying of lead poisoning like Lady Hamilton. The cleverest chemists are employed in purifying and harmonizing powders and rouges, soaps and creams, for the express purpose of making safe the correction of nature’s shortcomings.
The moralists who still shout, though somewhat feebly, that facial embellishment is the mark of a questionable woman, that it is a shameful waste of money that might be used to convert the Chinese to Christianity, radio, and world wars, that it is unnatural and sinful, have perhaps forgotten that, with prosperity and power, comes art, the desire for beauty, the taste for the decorative. More pretty girls and prettier, until all America becomes like Hollywood where Venus shows you your seat in the theater and Salome checks your hat and coat.
All women can’t be classic beauties, but almost any young woman can be pleasant to the eye. The competition is heavy and in the open. Man is vain of his accomplishments, he has never apologized for the fact that he is strong or clever, that he has made a fortune or invented a good mousetrap. If a girl is a better facial draftsman than her neighbor, why shouldn’t the world make a beaten path to her door?
Rouge means that women want to choose their man—not take what lives in the next house. Paint and powder do not prove the sensuality of an era—rather on the contrary, they are a refinement, a choice element of the stark sex factor. If we like veils, better a rosy one than a black! Why not bright cheeks and varicolored clothes as a sign that the women are as vital and vivid as the billboards, the beach parasols, the one hundred-story buildings, the gasoline stations, and the prosperous skies. Paleness today is just as iconoclastic as rouge was twenty years ago—let us be grateful for the mascara and red paste which keeps young girls and old ladies in tune with their atmosphere.
First appeared in The Smart Set, May 1929. Published as by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but credited to Zelda in his Ledger. The article was written by her for Photoplay in 1927, but not published there.
Almost all the superfluous wealth of America goes into display. If this is decadence, make the most of it—but I should think the sign of decadence would be surfeit, and not a lust for more and more—more of those delicate luxuries that account for twenty billion dollars a year of the wealth of the United States, more doodads, jimcracks, fads, fashions, fooleries, and fripperies, the making of which keeps thousands of workers in Fords and radios—more of those things that must make up to Americans by tinsel brightness for the Louvre, the family homestead and the outdoor restaurant—for the poppies of France, for the poplars of Lombardy, and the pink lights of Paris.
If our young women were to give up decorating themselves, we would have real cause to worry over the future of this country! We might then have some reason to speculate on decadence, for when women cease wanting to please there usually comes a withering of the spirit. Look back over the pages of history and see how the loveliness of women has always spurred men—and nations—on to great achievement! Perhaps at times the achievement has been misguided, perhaps eyes have been blinded by too much beauty. But the desire to do tremendous things, whether that desire be misguided or not, stands, after all, for progress.
Helen of Troy started a war because of her feminine charm and, though nations were torn, she made history. . . . Marie Antoinette went to extremes in the matter of extravagance and self-decoration, and lost her head because of it. But across the years she stands for an example of daintiness and luxury and pretty things, whereas many a plain woman, who died in her bed at the age of eighty, is quite forgotten.
Try to think of some woman who was without charm—some woman who made a place for herself in world history! There have been women who were not pretty, who have swayed hearts and empires, but these women undoubtedly tried to embellish their plainness with whatever means came to hand. They did not disdain that thing for which paint and powder stands. They wanted to choose their destinies—to be successful competitors in the great game of life.
This country needs its quota of beauty, and if we cannot get it from our young women, where will we find it?
And so if our women gave up decorating themselves we would have time to turn sad eyes on the bleak telegraph wires, the office buildings, like homes of trained fleas, the barren desolateness of city streets at dusk, and realize too late that almost the only beauty in this busy, careless land, whose every acre is littered with the waste of day before yesterday, is the gorgeous, radiant beauty of its girls.
1 Emma, Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress.
Alternative title: Editorial On Youth
Published in The Smart Set magazine (May 1929).