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Radiating style and European sophistication.
Immune to the hungry looks of men. And the envious glances from women.
What is a compact mirror
A compact mirror is a handheld mirror in a small hinged case, used for quick makeup touch-ups when out and about. They are kept in your purse or pocket.
The term can also refer to powder compact. These have a mirror on only one side of the clam-shell, the other being a container for makeup (traditionally powder and puff, later lipstick).
If you’re looking for larger handheld mirrors check my reviews here.
Compact vs travel
Compact mirrors can of course be used as travel mirrors. They are small, light and tough, and can even include lighting and magnification.
But they might not be the best option for every traveller. I’ve reviewed purpose-made travel mirrors separately here.
My Top Recommendations
If you want to jump straight to my four favourite compact makeup mirrors, check them out here on Amazon
How to choose a good compact mirror
I strongly recommend a hinged or clamshell-type design. This has two great advantages, the first being to provide protection for the mirror itself. Not so much against breakage (most modern compacts use shatterproof glass), but against scratches and dirt.
The second advantage is to allow the base to be placed on a surface, freeing up both hands for applying makeup.
The mirror should be high-quality glass. Compacts are just too small to be peering into a distorted reflection from cheap plastic.
Check the hinge is good quality, and that it is stiff enough to remain steady in the “open” position. Also check that the clasp is secure and won’t allow the lid to open by itself.
The case should be strong and durable – it’s going to have a hard life bouncing around in your bag. Metal is ideal, and connects you back to the glamorous 30’s.
Unless you’re going for a vintage collector’s piece (and who wouldn’t drool over these beauties), compacts are inexpensive enough that you can afford to choose quality.
I’m in two minds about modern lighted compacts. On the one hand, I just love the traditional film noir aesthetic – simple, metal, chic, nothing else needed.
But on the other hand , why not make the most of technology?
Lights might make sense if:
Do bear in mind that the quality (evenness, diffusion, color) and brightness of the illumination from these tiny devices won’t be quite as good as a full-sized makeup mirror. But, given their limitations, their LED lights are astonishingly effective.
Think about where you will actually use a compact in your own life, and choose accordingly.
A compact has 2 sides, so it makes sense to get 2 different mirror strengths. One should be plain (1x) which, depending how far away you hold it, will allow a (small) view of your face or hair.
The other side should be magnified, to allow a better view of the details of lips, lashes and brows. 5x is a good all-round option, but you could certainly go more powerful depending on your vision. (I’ve reviewed the best magnifying mirrors here.)
In some ways a compact is an indulgence. So use this as a chance to make a statement, express something of your individual style.
For me, quality of the reflection in the surface of a mirror is the first consideration, and I have no concerns here. Fancii use the best quality glass, with absolutely no distortion or colour imbalance. At 3in internal diameter you easily can see your entire face in the plain (1x) side. On the other is a genuine 10x magnification (as opposed to some other compacts which are far short of the claimed zoom), slightly larger at 3 1/4in. (If your eyesight needs something larger, Fancii make a similar compact with a 5in mirror (Amazon ))
The second main benefit from the Mila is the natural and even lighting, perfect for artistic makeup. The LED bulbs have a CRI of 95 (the same as sunlight), and the ring arrangement minimizes shadows. Together these let you blend like a pro – no more blotches or weird colors. And the light is dimmable simply by holding down the power button.
The battery is rechargeable by USB, and lasts for hours of continuous use. In the real world, I go for weeks between charges.
Fancii have put a lot of thought into the design, with many small features you might not notice (but which would really annoy you if they were missing). The light doesn’t accidentally turn on in your bag, yet comes on automatically when you lift the lid. The last-used brightness setting is remembered. The clasp is secure. The hinge is just the right stiffness. It comes with a really cute travel bag. Etcetera.
There are very few drawbacks to this vanity mirror. The led lighting element surrounds the plain mirror – some people might prefer it on the magnifying side. I don’t feel it makes much difference; either way the light is aiming back at your face (where you want it during makeup application).
This is a very impressive product that could even double as a small travel mirror, and offers the best lighting available. Highly recommended.
If you’re looking for something much sleeker, and don’t need lighting, then this is the one. At just 3 1/2 ounces and 3/8 inch thick, you won’t know it’s in your bag. But it’s the real deal.
At 4″ diameter it’s slightly larger than a traditional compact, although still balances well in the hand. I feel this is the perfect size in a 10x magnifying mirror. If it were much smaller you’d only be looking at one hair at a time! The second mirror is unmagnified (1x).
Like all the mirrors I recommend, this compact has optical-grade glass for a sharp and distortion-free reflection.
The hinge is well-made, of metal, and the lid stays in whatever position you position it, from fully closed to 180 degrees open. So you can rest the mirror on any surface and have both hands free for makeup.
I’ve chosen this one for its 20x magnifying mirror. Such high power mirrors are hard to find, and is the main appeal of this selection. Again, the optics are great with quality glass and no distortion.
As a tri-fold it also has a 5x and a plain mirror, so is extremely versatile. The price you pay is not in dollar terms, but in size. Although the diameter is a typical 3 3/4 inches, the weight (5.8 ounces) and thickness (1.2″) can barely be described as compact.
Note that because of the tri-folding mechanism, it is not really possible to stand it in an open position and use all 3 mirrors hands-free at the same time. Fortunately the 20x is at the end and therefore can be used hands-free. If you are at all like me you will probably agree these high-strength mirrors are just too hard to use handheld.
The central 5x mirror is surrounded by a LED light ring. This is very bright, dimmable by holding the power switch, and an ideal cool/neutral daylight color. It runs off USB-rechargeable Li batteries (included). Sadly, it does not hold charge well. You’ll need to get into the habit of giving it a quick boost before you head out.
How about this for a funky take on a classic small compact makeup mirror? It’s a traditional 2 3/4″ diameter, with plain and 3x mirrors. The clasp, hinge and glass are all of high quality.
The appeal of this pocket mirror is in the unique styling, guaranteed to attract compliments. Reassuringly weighty metal decorated with silver plate, hand-painted ceramic, and rhinestones.
These make great gifts or favors. In real life they are prettier and somehow more “classy” looking than they appear in the pictures. They also arrive beautifully packaged with a box and velvet pouch. And if the “sugar skull” look doesn’t appeal, there are lots of different designs here.
Don’t do it. They all use cheap plastic mirrors and I can’t recommend any of them.
Compact Glamour through the Ages
Imagine a world where touching up your makeup in public would result in outraged glances from society ladies, and an immediate assumption about your morals from men.
Where lipstick and powder products had to be hidden or disguised. Where women’s actions were tightly controlled by men, society (and, let’s be honest, largely policed by other women).
Welcome to your great-grandmother’s life.
Although makeup has been used for centuries, often flamboyantly by both sexes, in the Victorian and Edwardian eras it was regarded as vulgar, verging on the profane. This attitude was to change dramatically with the arrival of the First World War.
In a few short years, the traditional role of women in society was overturned. Now likely to be working out of the house, we required cosmetics to be portable. With most young men overseas, we turned to makeup and fashion to stand out in a crowd of women. And Hollywood and nascent consumerism urged us on.
Initially compacts were made of metals, particularly silver and brass.
And they were designed to be flaunted rather than hidden, signifying style, self-confidence and liberation.
Art Deco extravagance soon followed.
Peak cool was reached in the 30’s, inspired by pre-code Hollywood stars. Sophistication, overt sensuality, and a serious attitude problem.
Compacts are due for a revival. Do you have what it takes?