I have a precious gift for you readers -- I'm going to alert you to a wonderful blog you'll love. Most of you don't know about it yet so I'm excited to put it on your radar.
When I first encountered the Makeup Museum, I was instantly impressed by its erudition. Topics are researched extensively, presented with poise and discussed with aplomb. The Museum's founder, a woman named Hillary who lives in Baltimore, possesses exceptional knowledge of beauty products. Strengthened by decades of interest in her subject, Hillary brings a lot to the (makeup) table.
The Makeup Museum is Hillary's personal project and one of serious effort. Often we put more energy into our passions than our day-jobs and Hillary's devotion to her Museum is manifest. Hillary blogs on the Museum's website about once a week and her posts are full of depth. They're always accompanied by gorgeous photographs, some so beautiful they make me weep. I love when she finds old advertising that captures female culture of earlier generations.
Hillary provides historical context and cultural analysis. She examines makeup products like fine art -- and her background in art history shows when she presents objects and their significance. I often get intensely engrossed in her posts as they stimulate my eclectic tastes. She also reviews books on beauty products and offers valuable links to related articles.
The Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary last Fall, proving it to be a long-term endeavor. Only bloggers with serious commitment last this long. I respect that.
Hillary told me she started using makeup in her teens and became obsessed with it a few years later. "That was when I started noticing packaging and design for makeup. I've always been a collector, so collecting [makeup products] came naturally."
Here we go!
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Q. What is the Makeup Museum?
A. It's an online museum/blog that explores and preserves beauty culture and history.
Q. When did it start?
A. I established the Museum in August of 2008, but was collecting earlier.
Q. What kind of objects are within it?
A. Mostly makeup (all kinds - lipsticks, highlighters, palettes, blushes, eyeshadows, vintage compacts and powder boxes) and makeup ads from as many eras as I can find and purchase, but there is the occasional bath and body and skincare item. There's also ephemera from various brands - postcards, tote bags, pins, etc. that were usually offered as gifts-with-purchase.
Q. How big is its collection?
A. The Museum currently has over 1,400 items (and counting!) You can view the inventory online.
Q. Are they organized? How?
A. They are arranged and stored in my home in various rooms, with a few oversize items in a storage facility a few blocks away. I doubt the organizational approach makes sense to anyone but me, but I do have them loosely alphabetized by brand.
Q. What activities does the Museum engage in, like exhibitions, research, etc.?
A. I aim to do four seasonal exhibitions each year, with special exhibitions on a specific topic once a year, if possible. I also like to be thorough when blogging, so I try to find out as much as I can about the objects I'm writing about. I shoot for one blog post a week. Usually I write about a specific item/collection or a group of items (e.g., vintage lipstick tissues), but sometimes I cover current and past makeup trends, write beauty book reviews, feature inquiries the Museum has received, etc.
Q. What successes has the Museum had in spreading word about makeup?
A. Not many, alas. The Museum has been mentioned in a handful of online magazines and newspapers, and photos of some objects appeared in Susan Stewart's book Painted Faces. Some objects were also loaned to NYU's Costume Studies program for their Eye of the Beholder exhibition in 2018. Other than that, very few people know of or are interested in the Museum's existence.
Q. What are the Museum's future goals?
A. To continue to share as many noteworthy makeup items as possible online, and entirely for free (no ads or paywalls)! Originally I had wanted a physical space for the collection and to write a coffee table book on contemporary makeup items, but am longer pursuing those projects.
Q. I like that you don't sell stuff. On your blog, you use the professional term "deaccession" which impresses me. Not hawking products increases your credibility. Any thoughts on this subject?
A. Well, I'd never sell any of the Museum's objects unless I was on the verge of homelessness - the only way they'd be deaccessioned at this time would be if I was donating them to another museum. Since I'm not a typical beauty blogger (as in, I don't provide product reviews) and have no connections to any companies, I really have no incentive to sell anything! I'm just passionate about collecting. Having said that, there are plenty of other honest bloggers out there who review products but aren't selling anything either.
Q. Who are you trying to or want to reach through your Museum?
A. I'm trying to get people to understand that makeup items play a important role in culture, whether it's from a design, artistic or historical perspective. Many people write off beauty as being frivolous, and it can be, but there's a reason the beauty industry rakes in billions of dollars per year: these items have cultural significance. It often goes unnoticed, which is why I'm trying to preserve these items and make sure they don't get lost in time.
Q. What do you want to say to that audience?
A. I'd like for people to know that beauty products are indeed worthy of being preserved, researched and written about. In short, makeup belongs in a museum!
Q. Where and how do you research the history of makeup products?
A. I mostly research online. I have a subscription to newspapers.com, which is very helpful in finding ads for vintage products. I also make use of beauty history books and collector's guides - the latter is critical in identifying vintage items.
Q. Is makeup only for women? In the past, was it only for women?
A. Absolutely not! I think that any gender should be able to enjoy it. And men wore makeup in the past as well. Even today they do - although they'd never admit it, guys painting their faces for football games is a form of makeup, yes?
Q. Over the years cosmetic companies have tried, many times, to interest men in their products (e.g., moisturizer) but without much success. Most straight men are threatened by the gender-association cosmetics have and masculinity is fragile. Do you believe men will ever have interest in makeup?
A. I think they might eventually, but I don't see it happening any time soon. In the Western world it's still not mainstream enough for most straight men (although I have seen some younger guys making a living as beauty vloggers. And in Korea, for example, wearing makeup is being more embraced by the average man than it is in the U.S.) I'm really not sure where the resistance comes from...I guess traditional gender norms are more entrenched than I thought!
Q. Is there anything else you want to say?
A. I just want people to know that they should wear makeup only if they want to, and not be dictated by society's expectations. Makeup should be a source of fun and joy for everyone. I also don't want people to feel bad or guilty if they buy makeup solely for the packaging - it's okay to buy pretty things just to admire them! Makeup doesn't have to be used to be appreciated.
Thank you, Hillary, for this wonderful interview.
For the rest of you, I hope you'll check out the Makeup Museum. It's a great resource and fascinating read.