Mascara And Mazurkas: Make-Up In Skating Through The Years

1951 Avon Cosmetics advertisement featuring Barbara Ann Scott

As trends in figure skating have changed over the years, so too obviously have trends in its fashion and hair. As skaters became stars of the stage, screen and even the circus in the early twentieth century, another aspect of their appearance came into consideration... what they wore on their skin.

Most earlier accounts of the make-up skaters wore speak to portrayal of certain characters, sometimes controversial and even dangerous. Red McCarthy painted himself with silver lead based paint 'make-up' in as King Bat Of The Forest and Canadian and American skaters alike donned blackface to perform in club carnivals. Ice Capades star Donna Atwood told NEA Staff Writer Alicia Hart that skaters wore "heavy, dark make-up" for a Tahitian number. She claimed, "If we didn't remove our make-up often enough, we'd soon find our pores had become terribly enlarged."

Left: Cosmetic ad from the Oshawa Skating Club's 1945 "Ice Frolics" carnival program. Right: Sonja Henie posing for a beauty column.

In his book "Ice Cream", Toller Cranston recalled how Andra McLaughlin Kelly told him Sonja Henie "went to elaborate pains with her make-up... [She] did not apply it directly to her body in the usual way, with a powder puff or sponge. Instead, she had herself dipped into a vat of candy-floss-pink liquid makeup that had been specifically created for her. When Andra showed me a sample of the colour, I found it grotesque. Andra assured me, however, that under exactly the right lighting conditions (which the star, of course, demanded), Sonja's entire five-foot-three, 110-pound body glowed like a perfect Georgia peach. The tint of the potion, manufactured exclusively for her use, became known as 'Sonja Pink'."

Top: Right: Beetleware dressing table box, circa 1930's. Photo courtesy Museum Of Design In Plastics - Arts University Bournemouth. Bottom: Stratton compact featuring five women skating, circa 1935-1940. 

Sonja actually offered up her make-up advice to the masses in a piece that appeared in "Photoplay" magazine in 1939... and didn't mention being dipped in a vat of foundation once: "If you find yourself so busy and occupied with one thing or another all day long, that you can hardly find time to powder your nose, much less renew your lipstick, take Sonja Henie's advice on how to keep your lipstick on. Sonja says she powders her lips before she applies the lipstick because the rouge then stays on twice as long. To set it even more, try using the most indelible lipstick you can find in a definitely light shade. Then, over that, use your regular stick in the shade you prefer. Sonja says that if you follow this procedure 'no matter what you go through during the day some colour will be left.'"

Max Factor ad from the 1951 issue of the "Ice Skating International Directory"

In a 1951 article published in the "Ice Skating International Directory", Max Factor Jr. pitched the need for all skaters to wear theatrical make-up. He wrote: "The right type of glamour make-up is as essential for the Ice Skater - either in solo appearances or as a member of the cast of the ever-increasing number of Ice Shows - as for any other type of production or personal appearance before the public. Many of the outstanding Skaters have appeared in films and have come to my Hollywood Studio for advice on their make-up, and in England, where there is a continuous stream of new productions on ice, the Max Factor Hollywood Make-up Artists' services have been in great demand. The basic glamour make-up for a Skating Show is much the same as for a theatrical or film production - most performers know enough about stage make-up and so I do not propose to go into the fundamentals in this brief article - BUT there is one important difference to remember. In a stage production the players are separated from the audience; they rarely come close. Skaters, on the other hand, are frequently within a few feet of the spectators. 'Glamour' make-up is easily acquired, but not so easily retained without a certain amount of care and attention. A performer in your field, who comes into close range of the audience must look as glamorous at close range as from a distance under the brilliant lighting. Skating artists should keep very clean outlines to the eyes and mouth. Use brushes for both. Lip Gloss applied over the lipstick gives a lovely sheen which is attractive and at the same time, protective. It also has the virtue of lengthening the life of lipstick application. For face and limb make-up the most popular shades with Ice Skaters in Max Factor Pan-Cake make-up are Nos. 24, Tan Rose and 2879. Some performers prefer to use Pan-Stik (the latest form of make-up) for the face, and Pan-Cake for the body. But this is something for the individual to decide. Atmospheric conditions in a rink are, of course, very different from those of stage or set, but performers on the ice find that Max Factor Pan-Cake remains perfect as a make-up under the most strenuous conditions - even under water - but that is a different medium altogether, altogether it may be a comforting thought for those who 'skate on thin ice'."

As we know, Cover Girl doesn't cover boy, so Max Factor make-up soon became a staple in the cosmetic bags of both men and women touring with professional shows. In her 1956 book "Thin Ice", Jacqueline du Bief advised, "Make-up is an element that must not be neglected but it should be used with discretion because if applied too lavishly there is a risk of giving the face too set an expression. Its intensity, as with the colour of the costume must depend on the lighting used."

In the amateur ranks, many men resisted putting on a little make-up until the rise of television made it almost a necessity. Interestingly, the program for the Oshawa Skating Club's 1950 "Ice Frolics" carnival lists a female make-up artist for the female skaters and a male artist for the males. Though they were generally far more minimalist than the female stars of the ice shows, most competitive female skaters embraced cosmetics with open arms. By the early seventies, the Washington Ice Rink was offering make-up lessons to female skaters of all ages. Some twenty years later, former Canadian ice dancer Linda (Roe) Bradley opened her own business - The Artistic Impression Makeup Company - offering seminars, consultations and even her own make-up line for skaters. In the nineties, Josée Chouinard also appeared in ads for Almay cosmetics.

While many skaters succeeded at the cosmetic craft, others have been often critiqued. The inimitable Toller Cranston threw shade at two time Olympic Gold Medallist Oleg Protopopov's radiant shade of orange foundation and no one will ever forget that famous line uttered by Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Winter Olympics when the medal ceremony was delayed while Olympic officials tried to find the Ukrainian anthem. After she'd been mistakenly told that Oksana was re-applying her make-up, Nancy said in front of the cameras: "Oh, come on. She's going to get up there and cry again. What's the difference?" Two years earlier, Jim Kershner of the "Spokane Chronicle" gleefully snarked, "I'm sorry, but this sport is just too frustrating to watch. It's excruciating to see all of those skaters' bottoms careening across the ice like human curling stones... I'd like to see a category called 'Makeup Per Square Inch,' in which points are subtracted for each pound of makeup employed. This would solve one of the biggest problems in figure skating today: huge chunks of makeup scattered over the ice after a skater takes a fall. The problem is even worse when it's a female skater." Sportswriters are a quaint bunch, aren't they?

All kidding aside, the trends in skating make-up may have greatly evolved over the years but one thing is for certain: cosmetic companies have made a small fortune off of figure skaters... and that's not likely to change any time soon.

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