I receive lots of messages about refilling vintage powder compacts with modern powders. It can seem daunting when faced with a gorgeous empty compact and, let's face it, less than positive beauty counter assistants ("I've no idea, Chanel powders are definitely square"). So, here's a quick how to:
1) Was your compact made for loose or pressed powder?
This is THE key question. The sticking point with most pre-1960 vintage compacts is that they were manufactured for loose powders. Pressed or "creme" powder didn't become popular in Britain until the mid- to late-1950s. They would have originally had well-fitting powder sifter - a little gauze sieve to hold the powder safely and dispense a small amount onto your puff.
In many cases this sifter has been lost. This leaves an empty compact which looks like it "should" fit pressed powder. Unfortunately most loose powder compacts are completely the wrong size for refills, or have a inner lidded "powder well" which will not stretch to a refill's depth.
2) So what do I do with my loose powder compact?
The most sensible option for a sifter-less loose powder compact is to make your own powder sifter. You can then fill your compact with any loose powder or mineral powder foundation.
If you're lucky enough to own a vintage Stratton compact, you can also find suitable replacement loose powder sifters at my shop, Vanroe Compacts.
I've read a lot online about using alcohol to reset powder into a DIY pressed refill, but this is messy, risky to the finish of your compact... and frankly, I'm on the side of using vintage compacts in the way they were made! They've already been through a lot!
Most British vintage pressed powder compacts are the historical size for "creme" refills - 67mm in diameter. If your compact is not this size, it's most likely to be a sifter-less loose powder compact (see above).
If your compact is 67mm and marked "Stratton", it could also be a Stratton convertible compact. These were made for loose or pressed powder. If you'd like to refill with loose, you can still buy replacement Stratton powder sifters. Pop the powder in your compact, then the sifter on top and you're ready to go!
4) Yey, I've a vintage pressed powder compact! Quick, where can I get a refill?
If your compact has a 67mm inside diameter then the powder refill world is, almost, your oyster. I've toured the beauty counters for my list of modern, high-street powders still made in this size:
- Max Factor Creme Puff
- Rimmel Stay Matte
- Estee Lauder Lucidity
If you know of another exciting 67mm fit, do get in touch! (jane @ vanroecompacts.com)
5) What if my favourite powder is too small?
Unfortunately several leading make up brands have reduced the size of their powder pans from the standard 67mm to a rather stingier 59mm. Brands with circular powder pans of this size (or smaller!) include Bourjois, Boots 17, MAC, Clinique, Benefit and Lancome.
Fortunately, all is not lost. When I restore pressed powder compacts I include a thin card insert in the base of their powder containers. This means that customers can secure a slightly smaller powder pan with a dab of glue, without damaging their lovely compact. Do the same with your pressed powder compact, and lots more refill brand options open! (Perhaps even that square Chanel!)
You might also like my post on The Use, Care and Repair of Vintage Stratton Compacts.