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The art of Vanity

For centuries ladies knew how to get dressed! I'm not just talking about the lovely dresses and hats that were de rigueur at the time, but actually about the act of getting dressed itself. The vanity was more than a messy pile of disposable hair brushes and mismatched essentials, it was a stage to show off the best of her taste, and where hair was fixed and makeup applied in a ritual of femininity.

We all know how we get dressed plays as important a part in how we feel as the clothes we chose, so perhaps it's about time we brought back the art and glamour of the dressing tables of bygone days?

Putting together a vanity set in the old style has gotten harder and harder, but it is still possible with a little perseverance to pull together a dressing table worthy of any lady from the past!

Here are a few tips on seeking out and building a vintage vanity set.

Building a Set

Chose an era!

The simple act of dressing is a private moment in which you can escape to a different time or world. The vanity set you chose to put together can play a large part in setting that stage. So before you start to make your first purchases, think about what era you might most want to "play" in?


Are you a rococophile? If so the need is not so much for a full matched set, think about sevres style porcelains, and gold ormolu ornaments. Porcelain sets of powder pots and trays are a great place to start, as well as gold tone items with popular 18th century motifs such as cherubs and eschell S-curves would be a great choice for any budding Madame du Barry!

Feeling more like a Victorian lady? This is one of the easier stages to set. many companies still make replica silver victorian blush, mirror and comb sets. Pull together matching silver items or just the core brush, mirror and comb. Mix it up with some bohemian glass powder pots and perfume bottles in rich colors as well as a profusion of lace doilys, mats and other rich textiles.

Perhaps more Hollywood starlet? Art deco vanity sets are pretty easy to come by, but look out for ones in the best condition you can find. Occasionally full sets of 10 or even more pieces do show up, but more often the sets have been broken up over the years. Old school hollywood star snaps can really help bring out your inner starlet!

What do you need?

We're all different and we all have different needs we want to have met by out vanity sets. Before you start building your set/collection, think about things you need, things you would kinda like, and things you would never use. Some items are easier to get in certain styles than others so make sure that the items on your "must have" list are easy to find in the style you're thinking of collecting first before you start to build your set.

Common Vanity Set Items

1) Powder jar

2) Hair Receiver

3) Manicure sets

4) Rouge pots:

5) Atomizer


6) Shoe Horn

7).Button Hook

8) Tissue Box

9) Comb

10)Photo Frames

11) Clock

12) Hand Mirror

13) Nail Buffer

14) Soft bristle brush

15) Perfume Tray

16) Case

Sets and marriages:

What's the difference? A set is all matching and from the same manufacturer, it was in fact made as a set! Marriages are where you bring in bits and pieces of different sets that co-ordinate well together, but weren't originally made to go together as a set in the beginning.

Sets can be the hardest thing to pull together, every once in a while a perfect full set of vintage vanity items will pop up, sometimes you will find multiple sellers selling pieces with the same pattern. With with items like celluloid pieces it can be tricky to find exact matches. A marriage is a great way to put together an attractive vanity. If you want to go with celluloid look for green, yellow and faux ivory, these colors come up regularly (though often with different designs) and can be easy to pull together in an appealing marriage. Metal finishes can be easy too. All silver or all gold tone are easy to find. You can also look out for neutral metal pots etc and find an exotic mirror/brush set with similar metal details to make a group that look as if they belong together!

Get Searching:

Some companies such as Stylebuilt are still in business, though because these days dressing has moved out of the boudoir and into the bathroom a lot of the items are more bathroom oriented (which might be good if you're not quite up to a vintage boudoir area!) They did however produce a large volume of vanity accessories back in the 40's-60's so picking them up 2nd hand isn't too tricky! Similar companies that were big in their day are Matson, Florenza and Apollo, all made many gilt pieces. For celluloid try looking for Pyralin or dupont, for silver Birks or simply search by era or style! Don't forget, try searching under both "vanity" and "dresser" sets!

Important note!

These items make great decoration, but if you do wish to use any vintage items you're going to have to do some work to get things in order, cleaning and sanitizing everything is a strong strong must, in some cases the working parts will have to be replaced carefully which can be a tricky process, and somethings will just never work (but make great decor!) Staying safe and healthy is a big part of looking and feeling your best, so always think of sanitary needs before glamour!

My Vanity

I've been working on a vanity area of my own for a while, and was lucky enough to find a complete set in the original case from the 30's or 40's as a starting point! The Maddox style cockatoos were a perfect match, and the little doilies are an easy inexpensive way to keep lose items grouped together, and to help prevent scratching on delicate tables tops. For me the final piece of good luck was an adorable tulip lipstick holder just like one Hollywood star Lana Turner used to have! Every morning I sit at this table to get dressed and the novelty has yet to wear off!

So whether your a quaintrelle looking to spruce up her morning rituals, or a pin up looking for a setting ripe with nostalgic suggestion, perhaps the vanity set is just what you need?! I hope this segment is of help for bringing a set together and that maybe we can resurrect this age old tradition of dressing and display!


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My Lipstick Holder

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