For many women, the cost of beautification had grown staggering over the last decade. Each consecutive year ushered in a series of must-do rituals; every month the beauty industry seemed to find an elusive patch of face that required yet another specific product.
As a nation, we were open-minded to the most implausible crèmes, gels, and scrubs; we subjected ourselves to countless painful and often gross procedures.
And in doing so, the American woman spent herself silly.
But then the economy took a plunge into the toilet, and seems intent on wallowing there.
Procedures that had become almost commonplace -- such as $250 oxygen facials, regular Botox injections, and nose jobs/boob jobs/knee jobs -- seem in retrospect as appalling as those once-popular subprime mortgages.
Yet this doesn't necessarily have to mean that we're all doomed to sags and sallowness.
Here is my silver-lining gesture toward recession-plagued women, who still want to look and feel good even though their wallets are slimmer: a list of easy, time-hallowed, Great Recession-proof tips about how to look your most beautiful and age gracefully, without the barrage of hideously pricey products.
Culled from a variety of sources -- from vintage etiquette manuals to advice dispensed from the mavens of Hollywood's Old Guard -- these tips have little to do with needles and knives, and everything to do with self-awareness and common sense.
Many are deceptive in their simplicity. But don't forget that the penultimate emblem of glamor, Greta Garbo - who has long been lauded by plastic surgeons as the embodiment of facial perfection - reportedly had the simplest beauty arsenal of all: "[A] single toothbrush, a comb missing several teeth, and half a bar of Lux soap," according to one biographer.
Which means that there must have been other tricks to the trade.
The ones that follow will serve you long after the job market stages a comeback.
If you saw a video of yourself sitting at your computer or watching television, you'd probably be surprised by how rigidly you hold your face. Make a concerted effort to soften your expression, since over the years your face will carve itself along those lines. As Coco Chanel (pictured above: Audrey Tautou in the film "Coco Before Chanel") once said, "Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve." Decide that you deserve a better face and give it long-term natural uplift.
Many women have horrid and slatternly posture. And it's not good enough to have a straight back while sitting down; be aware of your posture when you're standing as well. Yoga 101 can teach you how to arch up from the bottom of your spine, stomach tucked in, shoulders back. You'll improve your circulation, appear taller, and project a life-long air of regality - which is something you can't buy in any ecomony. Former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland (pictured above) used to keep a bolster cushion on her office chair right behind her bottom, which forced her to sit as upright as a West Point cadet.
It makes your legs look thinner, especially in photos. Jackie O discovered this early in life, and nine times out of ten, in seated photos, that's precisely how she's sitting. And you just can't argue with Jackie. See - who needs expensive spinning classes?
This is advice from the owner of the most famous gams of the 20th century: Marlene Dietrich. "Your legs look longer when the color of your shoes doesn't act like a stop sign," she said. (The petite Natalie Portman demonstrates this principle above.) PS - she also added: "White shoes make your feet look large and fat." You can take that one or leave it.
We all know that if you want to send your looks straight to hell, you'll take up smoking. All of the chemical atrocities aside, even the sucking gesture your mouth makes help to cleave those beastly lines into your upper lip. Well, sucking on a drinking straw also promotes those wrinkles around your mouth. Not to mention that it looks jejune, and not in a charming way.
Which will reduce wrinkles - and therefore keep you from blowing $300 on a jar of skin caviar. Bigelow pharmacy in New York City sells these pillowcases for a quarter of that price, and they only grow softer with age. If you need inspiration on this point, don't forget that Marilyn Monroe preserved herself rather nicely for years, sleeping only in silk sheets and Chanel no. 5.
When asked to advise the next generation of New York socialites, Grande Dame Nan Kemper told them to entertain constantly, be themselves, but most importantly: "get tons of sleep." With our over-wired schedules, this prescription is probably the biggest challenge for most of us - and likely the one with the biggest pay-off.
Most American women are wearing the wrong bra size, which will only lead to aesthetic tragedy later in life. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: make an appointment with a good lingerie department and get yourself outfitted. It's a necessity, not a luxury, for God's sake. Case in point: Dita von Teese, pictured above.
Estee Lauder reportedly told her granddaughters that they should never leave the house without wearing a hat. "You only get one face," she told them. "Protect it." Happily, you can honor her wisdom and memory without even visiting one of her ubiquitous cosmetics counters. Here's a variety of hats from Forever 21, all for $13 or less. A bonus: a hat will protect and prolong your haircolor too.
Not just to maintain a chipper attitude in a bad economic climate - but because a raised chin makes your jawline appear more taut. A well-known Joan Crawford technique, especially in photos. Above, the model Carmen Dell'Orefice makes a compelling case. And: much cheaper and less painful than a facelift.
On November 1, 2010, Chronicle Books will release a book by Lesley M. M. Blume based on her popular column about nostalgia for The Huffington Post. 'Let's Bring Back' will be a sophisticated, stylish cultural encyclopedia, celebrating forgotten objects, pastimes, fashions, and personae from bygone eras.
Let's Bring Back is also showcases many old-fashioned beauty rituals - from milk baths to moon-manicures to 1930s pin curls, culled from a wide variety of delightful sources and wise women throughout history.
Follow Lesley M. M. Blume on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lesleymmblume