MARIE ANTOINETTE is said to have held court at a gold-leafed toilet table. Victorian ladies had their hair brushed at long-mirrored "princess tables." Flappers sat at Art Deco stands making spit curls and beauty marks. But, for sexiness, glamour and kitsch, nothing has ever surpassed the Jean Harlow-movie vanity.
The best of these 1930s beauty shrines were gracefully curved, with makeup drawers and secret jewel compartments. The cheapest were camouflaged with bouffant skirts to match upholstered seats. Large mirrors were often full-length or three-paneled, ringed with diffused lights or bulbs.
Vanities skyrocketed the sales of cosmetics, negligees and frippery--"shepherdess" lamps, hand mirrors, swan's-down powder puffs, fancy trays for atomizers and French perfume. Some sociologists credit vanities with making hoydenish flappers more feminine, seductive and self-involved--until the outbreak of World War II.
Many such glitzy reminders of '30s films are still in town. There are streamlined originals in wood, glass and chrome and lacquer by famed designers Paul Frankl, Marcel Breuer, Krakauer, Norman Bel Geddes, Gilbert Rohde and Donald Deskey, as well as some from old-time beauty shops.