Makeup: 18th Century Whores and Ladies

In 18th century England only one type of woman wore white powder and painted cheeks.  You guessed it, the courtesan or the actress, two demimonde professions which, by virtue of patrons and proclivities, tended to be nearly indistinguishable during the period. Courtesans rubbed elbows (and more!) with lords; actresses encouraged men’s capital admirations, gathering up diamonds the morning after.  Ah, the life.

But cleanliness is next to godliness, girls.  Unlike present day where we brown ourselves like baked chicken, cakey vampirish complexions were à la mode.   Staring around the late 17th century, women of a certain age would gussy up their necks, faces, and sometimes, hands with paint or a fine dusting of powder.  Few dared venture outside without a speck of makeup, be it rice powder or lead paint.  As is common knowledge, freckles were anathema, as were pox scars and blemishes, so pray tell: what was a proper, young lady to do?  Apply elderflower water, add a dash of desperate prayer, don’t forget sundry parasols and bonnets, and if all else fails, flaunt your patches (read To Patch or Not to Patch).

Compared to cosmetic blends, other means of achieving a wintry complexion proved downright vile.  Bloodletting, anyone?  What about fashionable consumption? Surely you wouldn’t object to that.  Women during the period went so far as to mimic one suffering from tuberculosis: white skin, glistening eyes, and waifish slenderness.  Lead paint was the cornerstone of this look, but truly, the usefulness of belladonna eye drops could not be underestimated.

Beauty is pain

If only someone had told the notorious Kitty Fisher that her ghostly visage would result in early retirement from earth, perhaps she would’ve steered clear of the stuff.  But . . . probably not.  She had a reputation to consider and besides, what was a little nerve tingling outside the bedroom?  Really, who cares that the French physician Deshais-Gendron believed in 1760 that pulmonary lung disease among high-born ladies was associated with frequent use of lead face paint and rouge.  A quack, I tell you!  A quack!

Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra dissolving the pearl, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1759 (Eight years before her death)

Aside from courtesans and actresses, the French fared the worst.  The noblest ladies wore powder and paint by the gobs, whereas the lowest of prostitutes tempt custumors with freshly scrubbed visages.  Curious, but the French and English always were contrary to one another.

Medical Opinion of the Period

Doctors consistently advised their patients to abstain from heavy cosmetics, relating their use to all sorts of unsavory symptoms including, but not limited to: acne, blackening of the skin, rotting teeth, loss of appetite, and the coup de grâce, total paralyis of the nerves.  In Selling Beauty: Cosmetics, Commerce, and French Society, 1750 to 1780, the author Morag Martin states:

“Disease and death were the inevitable followers of fading looks.  Once the skin was exposed and damaged, the chemical in cosmetics affected the functioning of the senses and even the internal organs.  Eighteenth century posthumoral theory postulated that any foreign element in contact with the body forced normally expelled fluids into key organs and blood vessels, destabalizing the body’s balance.”

I think we all can agree:  BAD.

Recipe for Lead Powder 

Several Thin Plates of Lead

A Big Pot of Vinegar

A Bed of Horse Manure

Water

Perfume and tinting agent

 

Steep the lead in the pot of vinegar, and rest it in a bed of manure for at least three weeks. When the lead finally softens to the point where it can pounded into a flaky white powder (chemical reaction between vinegar and lead causes lead to turn white), grind to a fine powder. Mix with water, and let dry in the sun. After the powder is dry, mix with the appropriate amount of perfume and tinting dye.

I can safely assumes that none of you intelligent beings will attempt this at home, if nothing else because of the horse manure.  Lead is also poisonous!!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Makeup: 18th Century Whores and Ladies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s