Wrinkles, sagging necks and double chins, characteristics of many women over the age of thirty-five, were commonly treated by early beauty culturists with some form of physical contouring involving straps, bandages or tapes. The two most common forms of straps were chin straps, used to lift sagging neck muscles and reduce double chins, and forehead straps, worn to smooth out wrinkles above and between the eyebrows.
When conducted in a salon, strapping was usually an extra in a regular salon facial. Clients could ask for it at the beginning of the treatment or would be tactfully informed that it was needed. For many woman over the age of thirty-five, a strapping treatment would have been considered mandatory but they may also have been recommended to younger women as a wrinkle preventative. Clients were also encouraged to buy their own straps to continue the treatment at home; wearing them while sleeping at night or at some other time of the day in private.
Chin straps: Facial treatments using chin straps, sometimes referred to as ‘tie-ups’, were presumed to ‘restore muscle contractility and aid in the breaking down of accumulated fat cells’, so were recommended for mature women with flabby facial muscles, saggy throats and/or double chins.
Chin straps were commonly used with skin foods and astringents and were generally combined with some form of muscle stimulation to ‘improve circulation and tone muscles’. This might involve a facial massage before or after the strap was applied, tapping the skin with the fingers (tapotement) or a patter, and the use of an astringent.
See also: Patters
In some salons a more forceful massage routine, known as muscle strapping, was used. This massage routine, also known also as muscle lifting, muscle toning and face-moulding (Wall, 1946, p. 549), used more pressure than normal and concentrated on those areas of the face where lines had or might appear, as well as the lower part of the face and neck.
See also: Massage, Wrinkles and Double Chins
Better-equipped salons may have used electricity to stimulate the circulation through vibratory massage machines (vibro massage), high frequency or electrical muscle contraction. These treatments were presumed to tone muscles, remove fatty deposits and/or improve circulation.
During the facial, the chin strap held the lower part of the face and neck in the proper position. After applying the strap the operator would go over the chin and neck, patting and smoothing the skin. Ice and astringents were commonly used with the strap to ‘restore the vitality of flaccid muscles so that they would lift and improve the contour’ of the face. Skin foods were also applied to ‘rebuild impoverished tissues, thereby strengthening and firming the flaccid, sagging muscles of the face’.
Forehead Straps: Forehead straps were employed to remove or diminish frowning lines and wrinkles. Before the strap was applied, the skin would be treated with a skin food and, if considered necessary, muscle oils would be patted in over the deeper lines like those between the eyebrows.
See also: Muscle oils
Salons that did not have the resources to make and use ready made straps could achieve similar effect by using surgical bandage or a small towel. These would be tied or wound around the chin and/or forehead. Towels were generally used dry, whereas bandages were sometimes applied wet. Small towels were also used by women who wanted to do a ‘tie-up’ at home, something regularly suggested by beauty writers providing advice though newspapers or magazines.
If you want to keep your chin and throat pretty—keep your chin up.
A chin strap will help you get sagging muscles working correctly. It’s of most use when applied expertly, and when you massage and exercise too.
You might ask the operator who gives you a facial treatment to complete it with a “tie-up.” The operator first thoroughly cleanses you face and neck, massaging with a good emollient cream. Then she adjusts the chin strap.
The same routine should be followed at home. Good ready-made chin-straps are cut on the bias, or are made of elastic material. A towel folded diagonally to make a three or four-inch band is effective if used correctly. The bandage should hold the tissues smooth and flat, should not distort the face. Let it just be comfortably snug.
Tapes were also applied on any part of the face where wrinkles occurred, including the forehead and the corners of the eyes or mouth. Although employed in salon treatments, they also have a long history of domestic use.
Did you ever go to see a lady, not of uncertain but of uneasy age, and find yourself ushered into the family sitting-room by a new servant, who did not know the ways of the house? Did you find her with a court-plaster lozenge an inch wide between her eyes, and one at the outer ends of her eyebrows? At sight of this remarkable ornament, did concern express itself lest she had fallen down stairs, or had a difference with the cat? Were these insinuations parried with veteran resources, and were you dissuaded from further inquiry by the delicate remark that she could interest you better than by giving the history of her scratches? Of course you knew there was a mystery about those bits of court-plaster, and perhaps feel so to this day, unless Nature have given you the mind of a detective. If so, your patience is to be rewarded. The secret of those patches was not scratches, but wrinkles.
However, not everyone was convinced that they had any effect.
It has been supposed that when once the skin has been thus corrugated into folds, it were possible, by stretching it with adhesive strips, to restore it to its natural evenness and smoothness. This has failed in every instance we have known it tried, and we consider it time [they were] thrown away.
Some enterprising companies offered tapes for sale over the counter. For example, the B&P Company sold ‘Wrinkle Eradicators’ and ‘Frowners’ through drug and department stores from 1899. The idea was resurrected in 1937 when the Wings Products Co. – organised by Mrs. Mary Roebling – began selling medicated pink tabs shaped like wings for facial frowns and wrinkles. Similar products are still on sale today.
Eleanor Adair: Although many of her contemporaries – such as Frances Hemming (Cyclax) and Marie Earle – also employed them, no one promoted the use of straps in facial treatments to the same extent as Adair. Pictures of models wearing them figure prominently in her advertising and she was reputed to have a wax head wearing a strap at the entrance to her salons.
Adair’s ‘Muscle Strapping Treatment’ combined manual work and straps with Ganesh preparations such as Eastern Muscle Oil, Diable Skin Tonic and Eastern Skin Food. Chin straps were used to ‘remove double chins and restore lost contours’ while forehead straps were used to reduce ‘deep lines between brows, corners of eyes and over the forehead’.
See also: Eleanor Adair
Elizabeth Arden: Arden was introduced to straps when she worked as a treatment girl in Eleanor Adair’s New York salon and continued to use straps when she started out on her own. Like Adair, Arden used a ‘strapped’ head prominently in her early advertising, although in Arden’s case the face looks more like it is wrapped in bandages. Given Arden’s prominence in the beauty industry she probably helped maintain their use in salons for over half a century; for example, Dorothy Gray’s use of straps came about because she had once worked for Arden.
See also: Red Light, Blue Light
Arden’s range of straps was more extensive than those produced by Adair. As well as chin and forehead straps she also sold a Puffy-Eye Strap for ‘hollow or sunken eyes’ and an L-Bow Strap; to ‘soften and whiten the elbows’. As with Adair, Arden applied her chin and forehead straps with skin foods, muscle oils and astringents, which in her case meant, Venetian Orange Skin Food, Venetian Muscle Oil and Venetian Special Astringent. Muscle stimulation was intensified through the use of the Arden Patter.
There is no appliance so important to the beauty of woman as a perfectly made Chin Strap. Its use is absolutely essential to every woman past thirty, or after illness, strain or worry. It is beautifully made of flesh colored satin of the very finest quality, and it has an interlining of powerful astringent herbs which aid in invigorating and restoring relaxed muscles. This Strap is a combination chin and neck strap, tailored to fit the cheeks and chin and to round out ugly irregular lines on the throat. It holds every muscle of the lower part of the face and neck in proper position. It should be tightly adjusted and worn each day for fifteen minutes or longer if convenient. It is the daily treatment that counts. If you wish to wear the Strap during the night, you will find it very soft and comfortable as it is a rest to tired muscles. Then do not adjust it as tightly as during the day.
Although you can still buy straps and tapes that promise results similar to those put forward in the 1900s, neither are commonly used in the beauty industry today. Their place in the salon facial has been taken by face masques. These come in a wide variety of forms, can be customised to an individual client’s requirements, and have the added advantage of not needing a laundry service.
Although botox is now used to reduce expression lines, we should not totally dismiss past practices. Of course strapping the chin will not firm sagging muscles but putting a ‘forehead strap under a golfing hat’, as Arden recommended, may reduce frowning during a difficult day on the course. Many facial lines are caused by repeated facial expressions – e.g., the lines around the mouth of smokers and the worry lines between the eyebrows of frowners – so maintaining a passive face will help reduce the formation of these wrinkles. Avoiding stress, quitting cigarettes and wearing sunglasses so you don’t squint in sunlight, may all help you avoid expression lines and contribute to maintaining a youthful look. Something similar was suggested long ago.
However, if it is a possible thing, I would advise perfect repose of the face for a moment five or six times each day. The eyes should be closed, the muscles relaxed, and the face kept perfectly placid. These little halts in the occupations and anxieties of life retard greatly the traces which time imprints upon our faces.
Updated: 6th December 2017
Ayer, H. H. (1892). My lady’s dressing room adapted from the French of the Baronne Staffe. New York: Cassell Publishing Company.
Banford Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture. (1938). Theory and practice of scientific facial culture and muscle strapping. New York: Beauty Laboratories, Inc.
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Elizabeth Arden Ltd. (n.d.). The quest for the beautiful. New York: Author.
Verni, M. (1946). Modern beauty culture (2nd ed.). London: New Era Publishing.
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Wall, F. E. (1961). The principles and practice of beauty culture (4th ed.). New York: Keystone Publications.
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Woodhead, L. (2003). War paint: Miss Elizabeth Arden and Madame Helena Rubinstein. Their lives, their times, their rivalry. London: Virago.