To Patch or Not to Patch

The Allure of Beauty Patches

The 18th century can thank the Duchesse du Maine for bring patchy back. Although their popularity waned after the reign of Louis XIV, beauty patches would rise to the height of fashion in the 1760s, worn by both men and women to either hide their imperfections or flaunt their pristine white beauty.

A popular anonymously written poem makes this metaphor:

Her patches are of every cut
For pimples or for scars
Here’s all the wandering planet’s signs
And some of the fixed stars
Already gummed to make them stick
They need no other sky.

Some contemporaries of the trend remarked that migrating patches made constellations of the wearer’s face as the patches were shaped to resemble stars and celestial bodies. Other times the silk, velvet, or taffetta adhesives were cut into hearts, diamonds, or the more elaborate animals, insects, and figures (fyi: if one were poor, the patch might be made of mouse skin).

Like the fan, patches were worn to suggest a certain mood or state, with each placement having a name. Corner of the eyes was the passionate; middle of the cheek, the gallant; the nose, the impudent; near the lips, the coquette, and to masks scars or pimples, the concealer. 1  A patch on the forehead signified dignity, around her lips, kissable.  A bethrothed young woman wishing to announce her new status sported a heart on her left cheek.  Upon her marriage she switched the heart to the right. 

Can you guess this lady’s intent?   She’s passionate and kissable (and looking to land a man for the night!)

Portrait of a Lady – Thomas Gainsborough 

(modified for your patchy enjoyment)

The favored color was black, but green, purple, blue or red might be use to enhance a lady’s gown or her eyes.   Dark skinned women were seldom seen wearing patches because their foremost purpose was to show the striking comparison of black against pale white skin.

According to one of my sources, “a great lady always had seven or eight, and never went without her patch-box, so that she might put on more if she felt so inclined, or replace those that might happen to come off.” 1

Faience Patch Box from the Polk Museum of Art, ca 1745

Seven or eight? Seriously?  That would look like a strange case of the pox and not, I imagine, altogether beguiling.

 

Sources

1.  The XVIII century

2.  England of Song or Story

3.  Women & Gender in 18th Century Russia

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