New Digitization Project Offers a Peek at Thousands of Historical Beauty Products

Deep in the recesses of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., more than 2000 jars, boxes, ointments, and salves are usually kept locked away. Most objects in the collections haven’t seen the light of day in years, but thanks in part to skincare company Kiehl’s, a new digitization project is bringing the museum’s Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Collections to light, as Smithsonian reports.

There are shampoos, deodorants, and tonics galore, plus stranger items, like sanitary products made with sphagnum moss and “safe” arsenic complexion wafers (arsenic has a long history of use in cosmetics; it was valued for producing a fashionable pallor).

Sociologists and cultural historians know that objects made for everyday use can be even more revealing than the polished products of high culture; a bottle of hand cream may tell you more about a society than a symphony. Rachel Anderson, curatorial assistant at the museum's division of medicine and science, told Smithsonian that the large collection, which spans the mid-19th century to the present, is helpful for tracing cultural trends. For instance, although she notes that products for producing pale skin were popular at one point, “not even 30 years later, you see tanning products coming into vogue." The result, she says, is a shift from "A healthy caucasian face being idealized as pale ... then later being idealized as tanned.”

The digitization also helps preserve delicate products, often packaged in fading cardboard boxes or rusting metal tubes, for public access. On the museum’s website, you can click through categories devoted to makeup, hair care, baby products, and the always important “alleviating body odors.” Illuminating historical text accompanies each category. You can also search by keyword, if you have a particular fascination for, say, moss, arsenic, or Farrah Fawcett shampoo. The digitization was announced earlier this month, and is ongoing. If you think beauty standards are crazy today, it's worth being reminded the past often wasn't much different.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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