Prior to 1920, wearing makeup could be a dangerous proposition. It contained chemicals such as lead, sulfur and mercury. Beyond the health risks, it was not proper for nice girls to wear makeup. Those who did wore pale, muted colors and their supplies were hidden away from disapproving fathers and husbands. Women who feared the consequences of wearing makeup often vigorously pinched their cheeks and lips to give them color.
The prevailing attitude was that a lady had no reason to be in the sun and therefore should be pale. Some historians even suspect that the look became popular because of the prevalence of tuberculosis, which made its sufferers look very pale.
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