Wings to Beauty: Jackie Cochran’s Marriage of Aviation and Cosmetics
This is part of my Virtual Book Tour in support of Fighting for Space. For more information, see the bottom of this article. I’ll be discussing Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics in a livestream on my YouTube channel Friday, April 24, at 12:00pm PST.
Jackie Cochran is best known as an aviatrix. She won the Collier and Harmon trophies multiple times. She was the first woman to win the Bendix transcontinental air race solo, the first woman to pilot a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean during WWII, the woman who led the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots during the War, and the first woman to break the sound barrier. She worked as a test pilot when no women could fly jets, and held more records than any other pilot when she died in 1980.
She also ran a wildly successful cosmetics company, Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics. Though flying and beauty may seem like they have no overlap, Jackie Cochran proves otherwise.
From the Salon to the Cockpit
Growing up between poor mill towns in the Florida panhandle, Jackie Cochran (then Bessie Pittman) envied the wealthy women she saw about town. She spent hours studying the intricate hats in the window of the millinery shop and loved the dresses on the fancy ladies who bought them. When she started working in salons at just 11 years old — her escape from a job in the cotton mill — she got her first look at the beauty world. She not only learned how to style hair, but also the value that came from a seemingly superficial change. Her clients left with a new look as well as a renewed sense of self-esteem. As a young adult, Jackie married these two elements into her philosophy: a beauty appointment was as important emotionally as it was cosmetically. Beauty had the potential to imbue any woman with a sense of power.
She took her skills to New York in 1929, and by early 1932 Jackie was a beautician at the top of her profession. Her home base was the upscale Antoine’s salon in New York that allowed her to spend winters at its sister salon in Miami. The country was in the throes of a severe economic depression and Prohibition was in full swing, but Jackie’s clients were sufficiently wealthy that none had to cancel their weekly beauty appointments, which meant Jackie’s business was unaffected and her social calendar remained packed.
One night in May of that year, she found herself at a dinner party at the Miami Beach…