They don’t make stars like her anymore.
It’s no secret that whatever clothing or cosmetics that famous celebrities wear, their fans will want to wear them as well. But, even before the days of 24 hours news and celebrity fragrances, there was a hunger for the general public to find out what the stars were wearing. A 1937 article from the Baltimore-based Afro-American newspaper went over some of Billie Holiday’s favorite makeup and perfume at the time, as well as her must-have clothing items for that year.
According to the article written by Lillian Johnson, Holiday was fond of the Coty perfume, Emeraude, which was a vanilla-amber-patchouli scent. Johnson mentions that Holiday wore the famous scent, Evening in Paris, as well, which was known for its powdery, heady scent tinged with violet flowers. In the photo below from 9 years later, the singer can be seen at her dressing table with a bottle of Cashmere Bouquet.
The photo above also shows that she had a tin of Max Factor’s Panchromatic Theatrical Powder as well, in the shade 31. Judging by color charts from the 1930s Max Factor was likely one of the few brands that would have manufactured a shade dark enough for Holiday. The drugstore brand was created after the hot lights of Hollywood and the burgeoning color movie industry meant that old fashioned grease paints in sallow colors would no longer work for movie actors.
Maksymilian Faktorowicz, creator of this new line of makeup, made a huge array of colors for use on stage and in the movies. His formulations were so popular and so realistic that soon he marketed them to be sold to the average woman. Unlike many other brands that only had shades for lighter skin tones, Max Factor had darker shades for all kinds of actors, as well as contour shades for special effects. The company then used their connections to the film industry to help sell their cosmetics.
In Johnson’s article Holiday is said to have used Max Factor’s Makeup Blender (a thinner makeup for neck, chest, and arms), followed by some rouge placed high on her cheeks, and then some Max Factor powder.
Holiday is noted as primarily wearing only 3 colors for stage and public appearances: white, black, and green. For her 1937 winter wardrobe she already owned a gray coat with a blue fox fur collar. But, she had her eyes on a boiled Persian lambs wool coat of the style that was so popular during this era. For her underthings she chose softer colors, like her peach dressing gown with turquoise trim, and her satin underthings were reportedly a tea rose color.
Holiday told the reporter that she always did her own hair and nails, but had never taken any professional training on the subject. As far as having a maid to help her, Holiday remarked that having someone around to help her would probably only make her more anxious so she never hired one- not even for touring.
Holiday famously wore white gardenias in her hair as often as possible for her performances, the crowning touch to her elegant and carefully curated look. Following an accident when a too-hot iron took off some of her hair another performer ran to the coat check to see if they were selling flowers that night and they were- gardenias. The flowers covered the hair mishap, but remained a part of her signature look until Holiday’s untimely death in 1959.