The Makeup Museum's entrance.
The Makeup Museum’s entrance.

Beauty looks different in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Lip gloss and transferable lipstick have taken a backseat in favor of DIY beauty like root touch-up and at-home manicures. Even foot masks and peeling treatments (yep, that’s a thing) are curiously having a moment. Our current state of the union is undoubtedly less glamorous than pre-COVID-19 — after all, who knows if we’ll ever retire our WFH hoodies? To reflect on what was, I, a style and beauty editor who’s currently embracing au naturel skin and my coziest pajamas, would like to introduce you to the NYC Makeup Museum.

Consider this the perfect socially-distanced activity to commit to with friends instead of outdoor dining for the fourth weekend in a row. The museum’s first in-person exhibition is named “Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America.” It aims to explore the decade’s icons, artifacts, and blatant racial bias.

On display, you’ll get a glimpse of actual cosmetics that are decades older than the Victoria’s Secret Sugar Rush Lip Gloss you’ve been hoarding since middle school. That includes items like Marilyn Monroe’s go-to products and Kevyn Aucoin’s private journals.

'Ebony' and 'Jet' magazines' problematic advertisements from 1950.
Problematic advertisements of the 1950s.

The Makeup Museum was initially set to open in May, but it was delayed until September due to the pandemic. Beauty-loving historians were forced to hold tight and wait for an up-close look at Norma Jeane’s beauty regimen. But beyond the glitz and glamour of the famous era, the museum also informs visitors of the problematic vintage advertisements targeting women of color.

Beauty in the ’50s wasn’t without its flaws, and its founders are well-aware that products weren’t designed — or marketed — to women of color. Having launched amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, it’s evident that the museum has important work to do. The museum’s founder, Doreen Bloch, told Essence how the museum aims to tackle this period of Black history.

“This is something that is very fraught in the 1950s, and it’s something that we really want to highlight in a big way in our exhibition and not shy away from it. In the United States, a lot of women were literally not able to go to department stores to buy makeup. There is very clear exclusion, and you see this in all sorts of ways,” says Bloch.

“But I think what’s going to be very powerful for people seeing the Makeup Museum’s take on this is that we really want to highlight pioneering women, like Dorothy Dandridge, Anna May Wong, Lena Horne, Rita Moreno, who were the exception to a Marilyn Monroe look and went through so much adversity in Hollywood. And nonetheless, persevered in many ways.” These individuals were catalysts for turning the beauty industry into the billion-dollar industry that it is today.

“2020 has been a difficult year for so many, with the beauty industry and its artists being hit especially hard,” said Makeup Museum co-founder Rachel Goodwin. “Our dream for the Makeup Museum has always been to create a place of refuge for all beauty seekers, providing inspiration, escapism, reflection, and education.”

We can’t give too much away, so you’ll have to visit in-person to learn more about the nearly century-old cosmetics and iconic celebs. Take note that safety precautions are being followed. You can’t touch any artifacts (sorry), and the museum is following NYC’s 25-percent occupancy rule. To stay compliant with the state law, only 16 guests will be allowed in at a time. The downside to this is that you need to purchase your $40 ticket online ASAP. The upside is that you will have plenty of space to take a quality Instagram pic.

No matter what you take from this experience, we guarantee that it’s exactly what you need right now. You don’t even need to put on makeup — but we recommend ditching the PJs for some real clothes before heading out of the house.

The Makeup Museum's lipstick artifacts from the 1950's.
Lipstick artifacts on display at the Makeup Museum.
The Makeup Museum's fragrance installation.
Fragrance artifacts on display at the Makeup Museum.


The Makeup Museum's Makers Room.
The Makers Room at the Makeup Museum.