TALK: Taking to the Streets: Women, Makeup, and the Public Sphere

Susan Keller (IHC Senior Fellow)
Wednesday, February 3 / 12:00 PM
McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB

The figure of a woman applying makeup in public was one of the quintessential images of modernity in the early twentieth century, and also highly scandalous. This talk explores the ways the “flapper” of the nineteen-teens embraced the mobility and freedoms of the modern metropolis, celebrating a new, openly artificial standard of femininity by touching up her makeup while on the street. The woman powdering in public came to stand in for a variety of aspects of modernity, from chic consumerism to the anonymity of urban crowds to the self-sufficiency of the suffragist demanding a political identity. Focusing on John Dos Passos’s novel Manhattan Transfer (1925), this talk argues that for women, makeup could either serve as a psychic shield to protect one from the shocks of the city or signal one’s self-conscious modernity and openness to the urban experience.

Sponsored by the IHC’s Senior Fellows program.

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