3 Dollar Store Products for the Penny-Pinching Costumer

No need to pop tags cuz there ain’t none!

I thought dollar stores had disappeared. After all, inflation is a real life issue. Even many of ye olde quarter machines at the local grocery stores raised cheap plastic snakes and keychains from 25 cents to 50 cents (and even 75 or a dollar!). Could you even buy something cool for a dollar anymore, much less something useful?

Enter Dollar Tree! When I walk through those automatic doors and smell the aroma of $1 potpourri, I feel alive! There are no price tags on the shelves. Every item in sight (except some smaller items) is $1! That box of brillo pads? $1. That potato masher? $1. Rolls of Christmas wrap? $1. A set of child-sized “spaceman” armor? $1! In fact they have a whole section for “Dress-Up and Pretend Play” filled with fairy wings and foam swords. None of it is super high-quailty, but for $1, it’s a kid’s dream come true!


I’ve never actually won a pageant in my life. These are all from Dollar Tree!

But that’s besides the point. Dollar Tree as cheap, awesome stuff for costuming, but it’s not all cheesy kid’s stuff. If you can pry yourself away from the wall of $1 gift bags, there are some great hidden gems.

1:  Stockings

I used to ignore this section of the store because socks are important daily-wear goods that need to be durable. There’s no way a $1 pair of socks could be any good. Boy was I wrong! I found my favorite pair of ivory knee-high stockings at a Dollar Tree a few years ago and they are still kickin’!

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They also sell sheer black trouser socks which are a classy addition to a dark colored ensemble. I found them especially handy to complete my 1880s evening gown. Black stockings have always been fancy, but in the past they were expensive. Now, they’re cheap! Woot!

2: Hair Accessories

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Being hair illiterate, I love those mesh donuts that you slip over a ponytail to make a fat bun! Walmart sells single donuts in a pack with a few bobby pins and a hair tie for about $3, but at the Dollar Tree, I found the donut by itself for $1, a pack of 20 bobby pins for $1, and an enormous pack of hair ties for $1. So for the same price, I got extra bobby pins and hair ties! Plus, Dollar Tree has cute, tiny hairbrushes that fit perfectly in a travel bag or pocket. I’m notorious for forgetting my brush when I travel or losing it along the way, but with these cheap ones, I don’t have to worry about it.

2: Make-up

Me, 20 minutes before the event begins…

I’m not a make-up maven. I love playing with the stuff and I wear it regularly to work, but I’m not buying $20 lipsticks or even $20 foundations. I usually buy my everyday powders/concealer/etc. from mainstream brands like CoverGirl. However, I found a tube of “Light #1” BB cream hanging in the Dollar Tree personal care aisle one day and I thought it might work well for pale 18th and 19th century looks. It was awesome!

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This is my face with nothing on it but the BB cream on the left.
It may look stark compared to the un-covered half of my face, but my face is very ruddy compared to my body. Putting on the pale BB cream actually makes my face match the rest of me! I apply it over my lips as well so when I apply lipstick, it blends in rather than having a very sharp, modern outline.

It gives a very pale, dewy finish that reminds me of Korean make-up more than the powdery matte look most Americans strive for. The dewy look is in line with the makeup our ancestors wore, so it’s perfect for historical applications! You can see it at work in the photo of me showing off my black stockings above. Since I am shiny enough on my own, I sometimes tone it down to more modern tastes with a little pure white eyeshadow (also a Dollar Tree find) to mattefy the look.

selfie circa 1715

For Georgian Picnic I wore the BB cream with the white eyeshadow (which is very translucent) all over.

I haven’t tried it for daily wear yet because it’s  less-concealing than a brand-name BB cream and a bit on the greasy side, but I do like how hydrating it is. It makes my skin feel soft even after I take it off. Plus, it stays put–seriously stays put–especially if set with a powder. I wore it all day and it hardly moved! Susanna has a wonderful full breakdown of the ingredients and application on YouTube. Dollar Tree often stocks ELF brand products, too, which are cheap on their own, but at the Dollar Tree, they are even cheaper! I adore their brushes and lipstains.

Dollar Tree also stocks lots of holiday decorations for cheaps which can work out perfectly for decorating hats and making themed costumes of all sorts, but these three things are my costuming staples for almost any outfit.

Holla for the Dolla Tree!

regency holla

Belle of the Ball: Lily Elsie Inspired Edwardian Event Make-up

Reverse Tweezing: Making Those Brows Beautifully BOLD!

I have lots of projects in various stages of “go” scattered throughout my apartment right now, but the sewing bug just refuses to bite. So, instead of sewing, I have been dallying about, doing boring modern-person stuff like working, cleaning, and other such business. One of the projects that has fallen by the wayside is an Edwardian evening gown. I have the fabric, but have yet to choose a pattern. Instead of getting my rear in gear, I decided to play with make-up instead which, while not sewing related, is one of the first costuming-related activities I’ve done in almost 2 months. So, here’s a mini-tutorial for an Edwardian evening make-up look to go along with a (in my case, not-yet-materialized) ballgown.

I’ve talked about make-up and costuming before in “Saving Face: A Brief History Cosmetics and How to Wear Them with Historical Costumes,” which focused on getting a natural look for historical costumes that would show up well in modern photographs. Victorian and Edwardian women generally did not wear much makeup, but there were exceptions. One of the Edwardian era’s most famous beauties was Lily Elsie. Even if her name sounds unfamiliar, you are probably very familiar with Lily’s many beautiful publicity photos:

Lily Elsie was one of the era’s great actresses. Since actors and actresses needed to be seen clearly at great distances (and be beautiful for publicity portraits like those above), they wore heavier makeup than the average Edwardian woman. Lily’s signature was her dark, luscious eyebrows and rosebud lips. Doesn’t she look just like the dainty bisque dolls of the era?

Kestner Doll, circa 1895-1900

Heinrich Handwerck Doll, 1890-1900

The cosmetic stylings of Lily and her fellow Edwardian starlets marked the beginning of a new, heavier, youth-driven fashion trend that eventually developed into the iconic flapper look of the 1920s. She was, however, one of the last big-browed beauties of the age before the pencil-thin eyebrows took over. Here she is 10 years later, around 1927, her iconic eyebrows still glorious, but tweezed into submission–much closer to our modern arched shape:

You’ll notice that the altered shape of her eyebrows dramatically changed her appearance and makes her look much more fashionable to our eyes. We are used to this eyebrow shape and many of us ladies carefully groom an angled arch into our brows. During the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century, however, thick, evenly-full brows were the coveted shape. During the Edwardian era, cosmetics began to loose much of their taboo and for evenings, a woman might take some notes from the famous female faces of the stage– filling in her brows and giving herself rosy lips for glamorous special events like visiting the opera or going to a ball.

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The following make-up look is inspired by Lily Elsie’s many lovely photographs.  I specifically wanted something that would look good in the conditions of a modern Victorian-style indoor ball. I haven’t gotten to attend a formal ball yet, but it’s always good to practice a look just in case I ever get a chance! I aimed to recreate Lily’s style, but tone it down for the average woman and use makeup I already had on hand. This is not a strictly historical method, nor is it meant to be worn with every day, average Edwardian clothing. The heavy style is made to be worn for glamorous, low-light, nighttime events.

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The goal:

Creamy skin, dramatic dark eyebrows, full lashes, plump cheeks, and rosebud lips

The tools:

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Wet n Wild Matte Lipstick in “Stoplight Red”
ELF Lip Stain in “Nude Nectar”
Revlon Eyeshadow in “Satin Cocoa”
L’Oreal True Match Liquid Foundation in “Alabaster (C1)”
Not pictured: Cover Girl Professional Mascara in Brown

The ideal Edwardian woman had pale, bright, clear skin. I am definitely pale by modern standards, but with a smattering of splotchy freckles, a bit of a tan from wandering outside looking for fossils, and lots of redness from acne, my skin is far from the creamy porcelain ideal. So, I chose a liquid foundation to even everything out:

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If my foundation choice looks far too light for my face, you’d be right. However, it matches the rest of my skin tone, particularly my décolletage, which evening gowns reveal quite a lot of, so it’s important to match. I placed a dot of the exact same foundation on the collar bone (in the lower right of the picture) for comparison. Also, you probably can barely tell, but I’ve already completely covered and blended the foundation into the right side of my face! I really like this foundation because it doesn’t make me break out, it covers really well even without concealer, and it stays put. It is on the heavy side (for me at least), so a little goes a long way!

Next I filled in my brows with the powder eyeshadow. I’ve pretty much let my eyebrows grow naturally over the years because they are so light, but they have been tweezed into more of an arch than an arc at the ends. To get the full, even look, I concentrated powder application from the center back and filled in a little under the arch. This is key to getting an old-fashioned look. Its amazing how just a few millimeters of extra thickness can completely change the timeline of your brows! I chose a dark fill color to match the roots of my hair, but a lighter color closer to my natural brow color would also work. I just really envy those big, bold brows, though!

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Sorry I don’t have an “in progress” comparison shot for this. I didn’t think to do one. :(
A light touch of mascara helped fill in my lashline to match my naturally blonde eyelashes to my new, darker brows.

I used the lip stain to give my lips some natural tint, but I think I could have gone a little heavier. However, if you go too heavy, it starts to look too much like lipstick and looks more 1950s than Edwardian.

Though I just finished hiding my redness under the foundation, rosy cheeks really help bring the look together. Unlike modern  blush which is applied diagonally up and across the top of the cheek, Edwardian blush focused on the rounded apple directly in front. To find your apples just smile!

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I have a very fleshy face with lots of plumpness in the lower front, so I basically end up rouging the whole front of my face! Your apples may vary in size and shape. Here, I used my hand to find where the majority of the fullness was so I didn’t end up applying too much.

Since Edwardians would have used rouge instead of the wide variety of blushes we have now, I approximated the effect with my favorite faux-rouge: cheap matte red lipstick! I dabbed a bit on my finger then tamped it lightly onto my cheeks before blending it with a clean finger.

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I keep a stick of matte red lipstick just for “historical” use. It can also be used in the same manor as lip rouge in lieu of the lip stain. A little goes a long way!

Here’s the completed look:

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Taa-dah!

This makeup look is, like my previous one, designed to photograph well under different lighting situations using a digital camera. The look does dramatically change depending on the light!

Here are some examples of the same make-up with different camera settings and lighting conditions:

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“Soft White” Florescent

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“Normal” Florescent lighting (that typical office-esque blue/green)

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Combination of “Soft White” Florescent and Incandescent

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Low light without Flash

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Low light with Flash

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B&W Filter

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So do I look like Lily? Well…no. I don’t have her naturally dainty facial structure. But did I nail the porcelain doll look?

Bahr & Proschild Doll, circa 1870-1890

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Maybe a bit too well!
;)

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The Myth of a Myth: Brushing Your Hair 100 Times

A Tiny Bit of Historical Hair Care for the Modern Woman

Young Teenage Girl with Sausage Curls, circa 1860

I have very greasy hair and always have. It’s also fine, but dry at the ends, so I have to cleanse it every day yet hydrate it with heavy creams. Recently, I’ve delved into the world of alternative haircare. In my case, I’ve taken up co-washing, which uses conditioner as a “shampoo” that doesn’t strip hair as badly as regular shampoo. It’s basically alternative hair care for casuals, but so far, it’s been working pretty well! A lot of alternative haircare methods remind me a lot of pre-20th century haircare methods. Before the great hygiene shift created by 20th century marketing, women didn’t just style their hair differently than we do; they cared for their hair differently, too.

Lotta Crabtree, an American Actress
One of her defining physical features was her thick, somewhat unruly hair.

They used pomatums, powders, and oils frequently, but loathed to use soap on their hair because it is very drying and disrupts the natural system of oils in your hair, kind of a “hard-reset” for your scalp. In fact, soap was considered a last resort for only the most dirty of hair situations. If they were putting all that stuff on their locks and never using soap, they must have been pretty disgusting, right? Not necessarily.

Group of Young Ladies, circa 1870

I love this photo because it shows a variety of hair types, textures, and colors.

Remember that old tidbit about brushing your hair 100 strokes or so before bed each night? Everyone these days brushes it off (ha ha!) as a myth and screams that the 100 stroke method is horrid for you hair, causing split ends, flyaways, and even baldness! And they are right…but oh so very wrong.

You see, such claims are for women who wash their hair frequently with modern shampoos and use plastic brushes to detangle their hair. If you brush your modern-treated hair vigorously with one of those brushes, it will create static and lead to snarls and frazzed locks. But those that claim the 100 strokes is an outdated practice are ignoring the fact that many modern women have begun to go shampoo-free, just like our ancestors! How do they do it without their hair being weighted down with all that oil and gunk?

Natural Bristle Hair Brush from a Vanity Set, circa 1695

Natural Bristle Brush with Silver Handle, circa 1900

Modern Soft Boar Bristle Brush by Kent

Before plastic brushes became the norm, all brushes were natural-bristle brushes. A woman’s vanity set would include one or two combs to take the tangles out of her hair, then a natural bristle brush to style and tame it. A bristle brush is not a detangler. It distributes the oils throughout your hair that would otherwise accumulate at the roots, smooths flyways, and cleans the dirt out of your hair.

“Aurelia (Fazio’s Mistress)” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, circa 1863-73

Unlike some of the modern “myth-busting” pages that recommend a sparse bristle brush, you actually want the opposite. A brush with a wide, dense pad of soft-to-medium bristles is much better for your hair than the tight, stiff clumps on many modern brushes, but it doesn’t have to be as expensive as the uber-deluxe Kent brush above. I have a wood-handle, oval paddle brush from Conair that I got for $6 at Walgreens that works really well. Baby hair brushes are also a good choice if you have thin or brittle hair since the fibers are often softer than regular boar bristle (just make sure they are natural fiber and not plastic). You start at the roots and in long strokes, pull the brush down the hair shaft. It really does make your hair silky smooth, but it takes time, especially if you have long hair! 100 brush strokes is actually too few in some cases!

I’ve started using my boar bristle brush on the days that I don’t wash my hair. I wake up an oily mess, but with 3 minutes of brushing in the morning and at night, it does it get very soft and the hair becomes slick, but not greasy.

“Princess Alexandra of Denmark” (later Queen Alexandra of England), circa 1861

A lot of historical hairstyles that would otherwise require lots of holding sprays or tight curls, like 18th century pompadours, 1830s sculpted buns, and 1870s updos, are easier to achieve with natural-state hair. Brushing your hair with a boar bristle brush also changes how your hair behaves. In many of the photographs of Victorian women with long hair, you’ll notice that it’s lightly wavy and feathers as it near the ends. In the modern world, we call this the dreaded tent hair! But healthy, long hair naturally takes this shape if properly cared for. It looks dry to us, but that’s because we are used to applying heavy (often silicone based) conditioners on the ends while having stripped hair at the scalp. Our ancestors had the opposite situation: natural oils near the base that lessened down the shaft towards the ends.

Portrait of a Woman with her Hair Down, circa 1880

In fact, daily shampooings are relatively new. Up until the 1960s, women would wash their hair only once week or so. Here’s a fabulous hair care video from the 50s demonstrating proper hair care for the era, including “frequent washing,” which in this case means every two weeks!

I’m still technically in the transition phase during the process, so my hair gets oily, but I can tell my hair’s developing texture is much different from my previous one. It looks much less like a Pantene ad and more like Victorian hair– smooth and close-laying on top and feathered at the ends. Thanks to over a century of being conditioned (ha!) to think that natural body oils are bad for us and that our hair should fluff four inches high on our scalp, it’s hard to trade that squeaky, perky clean for your hair’s natural character. Of course, results are not instant. First, your scalp has to adjust to not being super-stripped, so it will be enormously greasy for the first few weeks.

After your hair and scalp adjust to the new regimen, you may find out that your hair is entirely different than you’re familiar with! Sadly, it will probably not give you magical curls or volume if you naturally don’t posses those features, but people who fully embrace the historical or no-product haircare lifestyle report that their hair grows faster and doesn’t suffer as much breakage as before. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully let go of my shampoo and conditioning ways, but for now, it’s fun experiment!

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Portrait of a Woman, circa 1870

Victorian ladies did not have access to hairspray, but they did use styling oils, waxes, and creams to help hold their hair in place if the natural sebum in their hair was not enough. They also had access to chemical treatments, but many ladies dared to risk them, especially since cosmetics were not as heavily regulated as they are today and could be quite harsh. Curling irons, however, were nearly universal and were heated near the stove or a lamp. You have to be really careful not to burn your hair with one!

Anyway, my point is that the 100 brush-stroke myth is not a myth. It just requires a specific tool as a caveat. A boar bristle brush is good to have for any occasion, not just for ladies who dream of floor-length locks! It’s one of the simplest additions to a any hair care kit and comes in handy for regular small jobs like smoothing back hair for a sleek ponytail or getting a little natural loft in your roots. Everyone’s hair is different, so what hair care methods work for one person may not work well for others. Fortunately, there are lots of different ways to care for you hair, and there is no right or wrong–only what works for you. Even if you still use regular shampoo and conditioner, using a boar bristle brush on your “off” hair-washing days works wonders!

 If you are interested in no shampoo/product haircare, there are lots of blogs, videos, and tutorials to help you, for example Tara Creel (who has hair similar to mine) has a full series on YouTube about her 1 year without shampoo journey. There are also plenty of blogs about historical haircare and cosmetics, like On Living History’s series about 18th century hair products and styling.

Nothing Beats Beets!

18th Century Makeup for $1.50

I had beets for dinner last night. They really are an underrated treat. Our ancestors knew the awesome power of beets: sweet, healthy, easy to grow, easy to store, and that bright color! The beets I have are the canned kind from the grocer’s, but that didn’t dampen their brilliant red color.

Added Bonus: 100% Natural ingredients:
Beets, Water, and Salt

Looking at the bright red juice left over in the pan, I was reminded of a tip my Nana had told me her mother used during the Great Depression in the 1930s: instead of lipstick, dab a slice of red beet onto your lips. The tip echoed especially clear because only a few hours earlier, I had checked up on Madame Isis’ Toilette, a fabulous 18th century cosmetics blog that explores and recreates historical recipes for rouge and other applications. I admit to cheating when it comes to rouge. Usually, I just dab on red lipstick and blot the majority of it off for a pinkish tinge on my lips and cheeks (yes, you can use lipstick as cream blush!). The method works well and looks period correct even though the method is not.

Madame Adélaïde, circa 1765
Mid-18th century make-up is heavier than later make-up, especially on the cheeks.

So, here I am with a pan of beet juice and a sudden urge to try out an 18th century-inspired look. It really doesn’t take much beet juice to get strong color, so two tablespoon of the leftover broth is plenty. In addition, I grabbed some fine cornstarch to be my face powder.

I used a q-tip to apply the juice (For you cheeks, use your fingers to dab, but be warned! It will stain your fingers, so watch what you touch) and a foam paintbrush to apply the cornstarch over the beet rogue. Here’s the result:

Any blotchiness is a fault of my bad skin, not the fault of the beets! If it were really the 18th century, my poor face would be practically covered in little black “beauty mark” patches!

Not bad, for under $2! Cornstarch is a great hair powder, but it isn’t the best facepowder. It doesn’t adhere well to skin and is too matte for my tastes, so if you can, try out a real 18th century white face makeup. The beet juice, however, works brilliantly. You can build up layers of color to make it as heavy as you desire. The natural red of beets is a beautiful cool, blue-based red that flatters most skin tones. The beet juice also works well for Elizabethan make-up (for gentlemen, too)!

“Lettice Knollys” attributed to George Gower, 1585
For Elizabethan make-up, use less rouge on your cheeks, if any, and plenty of white face make-up. Add a dab of beet rouge to your lips and you’re good to go!