Global Stories, Local Issues: Maybelline Ephemera
March 5, 2021
In this audio story, Sophia Ramirez traces the history behind a piece of buried treasure unearthed in her grandparents’ attic: a 70-year-old tube of metallic green Maybelline eye shadow that once belonged to her great-aunt Isabelle. Listen as three generations of women remember the life of a fashionable, whisky-drinking divorcée living out loud in 1950s Miami.
By Sophia Ramirez
"We are a family that saves things," Sophia Ramirez's mother explains.
In this audio story, Ramirez recreates the tapestry of her great-aunt's outsized life, seemingly encapsulated by a minty-green tube of Maybelline eye shadow worn by Isabelle in the 1950s. Ramirez and her sister found the eye makeup decades later in their grandparents' attic.
Maybelline's own advertisements from the period, Ramirez finds, targeted the "intelligent and worldly" woman, and family accounts paint Isabelle as stylish and sophisticated, if at times a little brash.
Yet Isabelle, Ramirez learns, was also educated, self-supporting, and fiercely independent at a moment in the United States when so-called respectable women chose homemaking over the fashionable party scene, and left the smoking and drinking to men. The recovered tube of eye shadow, in bold, unapologetic green, seems to tell her story perfectly.
Listen as Ramirez investigates this found piece of collectible memorabilia for its family meaning and its historical significance.
"1950s," The Eye of the Beholder: Decade-Defining Lids, Lashes, & Brows, Virtual Exhibition, 80WSE Gallery, New York University.
Andrew Cherlin, "Changing Family and Household: Contemporary Lessons From Historical Research," Annual Review of Sociology 9.1 (1983).
Frank Olito, "How the Divorce Rate Has Changed Over the Last 150 Years," Insider, 2019.
Huntley Film Archives, Advert for cosmetics, 1960's - Film 35083 (2013).
John J. Pollock, "Smart Merchandising and Fashion Tie-Ups Multiply Volupté Sales," Sales Management, 20 April 1939.
Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (Philadelphia: Penn Press, 2011).
Mademoiselle, 7 June 1938.
Vogue’s Book of Beauty (New York: Conde Nast, 1933).
Warren Galvan, Old TV - Classic Commercial - Maybelline Eye Makeup (1959) 696 (2015).