Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Vanity Sets

     A while back, I asked my 91-year-old dad if there were any special gifts or memories he had from when he and my mom were dating. 

He grew quiet on the other end of the phone connection for a moment or two; then he told me the year they were dating, a few months before they got engaged, he bought Mom a vanity dresser set . He described it as a white box that had a double heart on top. The inside was lined with cream silk and held a brush, comb, hand mirror, trinket jar, bottle of perfume, and nail files. We speculated about what happened to it over the years, since I have no memories of it. 

I found a photo of a Lucille Ball set that was popular the same year dad purchased the one for Mom, and sent it to him. He said it looked quite similar to the one he purchased. 

A few days later, Dad mentioned a little glass jar with a gold lid that Mom always kept on the dresser that was part of the set (like the jars in the above photo). The jar I remembered, and just recently Dad gave it to me. 

Now, I just wish I could find the rest of the set! Or at least a photo of what it looked like.

Today, I thought I'd share a little about the history of vanity sets. 

They began with a box. 

From ancient times, boxes (often ornate) have been crafted to hold a variety of beautifying paraphernalia, such as jars for cosmetics and the tools to apply, flasks for perfume and oils, and mirrors. 

Vanity sets were the original make-up organizers. They hit their stride in the Victorian period, remaining popular through much of the 20th century. 

The sets may have changed in style and material, but never in their purpose of helping women prepare for the day ahead, and making them feel beautiful. 

Vanity sets may have included the following: 
  • Organizing Tray
  • Hair Receiver
  • Hair Brush
  • Hand Mirror
  • Comb
  • Perfume Atomizer
  • Manicure Set
  • Pin Box
  • Powder Puff
  • Powder Jar
  • Shoehorn
  • Button Hook

Vanity sets were crafted out of wide range of materials, from inexpensive to luxurious.

Designs may have been painted or etched into the sets. 

Long-ago sets might have been made of wood. Luxury sets of ebony and ivory. 

A special gift set might include monograms, or a design significant to the recipient. Personally, I would swoon if I had the above set!

Some of the other materials used over the years included silver, enamel, porcelain, depression glass, pewter, celluloid, Bakelite, tortoise shell, brass, crystal, and plastic. 

When I was in high school, my mom gave me a three-piece set much like the one pictured above. The head of the brush could be removed for easy cleaning. 

Sadly, after college and several moves, I have no idea what I did with that set, but I'd sure love to have back. 

What about you? Did you ever have a vanity set? Or remember seeing one on your mom and grandmother's dresser? 

I mention a vanity set in my new release Henley.  Read about hers (and her sweet love story) today!

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1 comment:

Julie Lence said...

What a sweet memory, Shanna. My mom's mom had most of those brushes, jars and whatnot on a small dressing/makeup table. Of course the jars were empty and I never knew what they were for, but it was fun to play with them. I think my other grandmother had the brush/comb/mirror set. Like you, I have no clue what happened to any of them. Hugs!