It is no secret that make-up has had a bad rap up until well into the 20th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when make-up was commonly used by both men and women, it was not only being bashed by moralists but was also very likely to kill you. It contained such unsavory substances as lead, belladonna, arsenic and many more. Maria Coventry, Countess of Coventry, for instance, paid a heavy price for her makeup addiction. She died at the age of 27 from lead poisoning.
By the end of the 18th century, the cult of the natural began to take hold. Women donned simpler style of dress, and makeup became even more despised. But that did not stop people from using beauty products to improve their looks and complexion. In a hilarious scene from Jane Austen's Persuasion, the vain and silly Sir Walter Elliot advises his daughter to use Gowland's Lotion to improve her looks. This advice would have been pretty dangerous since Gowland Lotion contained, among other things, mercuric chloride. A substance you should keep away from your face.
But while many cosmetics of the past were downright lethal and incompatible with our modern aesthetic, we can still learn a few things from our foremothers.
The 18th century was not a very great time for bathing. Ladies avoided baths and hair would not be washed for months, especially when the high puffy styles came into fashion around the middle of the century. These elaborate updos took a long time to construct and no lady would willingly ruin it by washing. The hair was built up and kept in place with a generous helping of powder. What we modern ladies can take from this is that powder is a wonderful degreaser.
While I do not recommend going without bathing for months on end, hair can be made presentable by a bit of hair or talcum powder. Just put some on your hand and run it through the hair, shake off the excess and you are ready to go. I prefer unscented talc, but you can find powder with a variety of very pleasant scents like vanilla, jasmine and rose. Some powders have glitter if you like a little extra glitz.
Rouge has been used for ages to give cheeks a glowing healthy look and to put some color into wane lips. It has mostly been replaced by blush and lipstick in our beauty kits.
However, it is about time we bring rouge back. There is no need to run to the local pharmacy for some white lead, vermilion and alkanet root. It can be easily replaced with lip stain or lip tint. Unlike lipstick or blush that could look heavy, lip tint gives a more natural flushed effect. The other advantage is that it is a two-in-one product. You can use lip tint to rouge up both lips and cheeks. Some shades can also be applied instead of cream eye shadow for a very pretty look. Just remember to dab some powder on it to keep it from creasing.
|Maria Coventry, Countess of Coventry (1733 – 1760)|
|An ad for Gowland's Lotion which was a chemical peel|
|La toilette by Lucio Rossi (1846-1913)|
|Hairdresser powdering a lady's hair. Galerie des Modes, 12e Cahier, 1e Figure|
|Lulu Organics Hair Powder|
|Lush Vanilla Puff Powder|
|Ageless Artifice Perfumed Powder|
|Madam de Pompadour applying rouge|
|Lush It Started With A Kiss Lip tint|
|Odora Candy Color Mineral Lip Stain|
Ageless Artifice Red Paint for the Face
Would you like more tips on how to emulate that 18th century beauty? Katie Cannon over at Ageless Artifice has a wonderful blog about historical cosmetics and a site where you can buy many of them. Great for all you makeup and history junkies out there.