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Elegance Then and Now


In the Old South, back in the days of plantations and Gone with the Wind, ladies of society had one major chore: to look elegant. And a chore it was, not only for the servants, but also for m'lady herself. Stays, buttons and corsets. Curling irons heated in a coal stove. Endless powders, pomades, rouges and perfumes.

Today, m'lady is quick to say, "I have better things to do with my time."

Whereas it used to take a woman hours to ready herself for a party, today, it's 30 minutes, tops. And for work, she's lucky to have ten minutes. Radio reports of traffic on the freeway are a powerful dictator of style.

Back then, a healthy glow was most likely painted on with rouges and powders. Lip colors tended to be darker. Women indeed "put on their face" before going out, because men, and more specifically, other women, expected it of them.

Today, women strive for a natural look. A fresh glow, like you'd get from a day in the sun, is the goal. Powders and foundations are left for formal evening events. Simple blushes and moisturizers are in for daywear. And we're still ambivalent about the sun - it does cause damage, so makeup with added sunscreen is a must. It's the look of a day in the sun, but without the sun. These days, m'lady can have it both ways.

As for today's look, everything is freer. Clothing flows and follows the naural line of the body, styles that in earlier times would only have been allowed for pre-adolescent girls. (Go-getter that she was, Scarlett O'Hara probably would be right at home with today's fashions, even to the point of "showing those abs.")

Of course, hair and makeup are freer, as well. Simple updos can change a a look in seconds. And if you are skillful at hiding the pins, the updo is the "height" of sophistication.

Hair extentions, weaving, and braids require and initial investment of time, but they pay off later by multiplying your options for a quick change of look.

A word about hair extensions: A clip-on extension is a quick fix that lets you add fullness, but it will only last the day. The woven-in extension will last up to a month. With it, a micro-thin braid, called the "track", is laid against the scalp against the scalp, and the extension is sewn into the track. When it is time to remove the extension, the threads of the track are snipped, not your own hair. A glued-in extension will stay for three months. The downside is that if it's not carefully removed, it can cause breakage of your own hair, excessive pulling, and even bumps on the scalp.

Spending hours at the make-up table and at the salon will never go away completely. Just ask the nervous bride or the woman who's chairing this year's symphony ball.

One of the country's most sought-after makeup artists, Nellie Muganda opened Neja Cosmetics in San Francisco in 1998 after 20 years of flying coast-to-coast for fashion shows, Vogue covers, and TV commercials. Neja custom-blends cosmetics and offers facials, hair styling, and waxing.