|Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liaisons"|
18th Century Beauty Myths - Busted!
by Isis' Wardrobe
If I tell a stranger that I’m interested in 18th century beauty I will, nine times out of ten, hear a statement, like “People died from their makeup back then”. Having been repeated in years they are considered truths though they are at best overly simplified facts or just plain untrue. So here is a debunking of some popular 18th century beauty myths.
1. Makeup in the 18th century was poisonous
A very simplified truth. Some ingredients used in makeup were poisonous, like lead and mercury, but the majority of them were not only safe, but are also products that are used in the cosmetic industry today. It was perfectly possible to steer clear from any harmful substances and still wear a fashionable makeup with very pale skin, rouged cheeks and a rosy mouth.
|Elisabeth-Marguerite, the Artist's Daughter by Nicolas de Largillière, painted before 1746.|
|Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry, after Francis Cotes painted 1751-1760.|
To enliven the pale skin, rouge was used throughout the century. Vermillion, made from mercury, is not good for you at all, indeed when beauty recipes from the time happily recommends lead, they do warn for the use of mercury. There were, however, plenty of other pigments to choose from. Alkanet root, red sanders, Brazil wood, saffron and carmine from the Cochineal louse, for example. Each providing their own shade of red, giving the 18th century beauty the opportunity to choose a shade that complimented her own colouring.
|Madame Victoire, Princess of France by Alexander Roslin, 1765.|
No, they did not. This is an idea that was started at 19th century masquerades and was adopted by the movie industry as it looked great in black-and-white.
|Rudolf Valentino in Monsieur Beaucaire, 1924|
|Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner, probably 1780’s.|
|Elizabeth Linley by Thomas Gainsborough, ca 1775.|
|The extravaganza or The mountain head dress of 1776|
|Madmoiselle de Roquelaure by Pierre Mignard, ca 1700.|
|Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1756.|
|Eva Helena Ribbing by Gustaf Lundberg, late 1760’s.|
|Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Antoine Lécuyer, 1775|
|Mrs. Henry Hoare by George Romney, 1780 – 1784.|
|Marquise d'Orvilliers by Jacques-Louis David, 1790.|
4. They never bathed, and instead used perfume to mask the smell
Well, they didn’t bathed as we do today, that is certain. A bath demanded the economical resources for clean water, someone to carry it home and to heat it, making cleanliness a matter of class. At the beginning of the century there was also a wide-spread view that it was dangerous to immerse your whole body in hot water. Still, people wanted to be considered cleanly in the 18th century too, and kept clean as well as they could, their standard was just not the same as our own. The modern view is that you can only get clean if in large amounts of hot water, perhaps because most people have never tried to clean themselves any other way. In fact you can wash yourself very well with a limited amount of water with the help of soap and a wash cloth. The bidet was invented in the late 17th century and was, at least, very popular with the French upper classes. Marie Antoinette owned several, for example. A bidet makes more intimate hygiene quite simple with a limited amount of water
|French 18th century bidet.|
|Copper bathtub from the 18th century.|
I hope you have enjoyed this little post. I had fun writing it and I would like o end it with a big thank you to American Duchess for allowing me to ramble in her blog!
- Ashenburg, Katherine Clean: an unsanitised history of washing, London: Profile, 2009.
- Buc'hoz, Pierre-Joseph The Toilet of Flora, London: printed for J. Murray, and W. Nicoll, 1775.
- Corson, Richard Fashions in makeup: from ancient to modern times, London: Owen, 1972
- Le Camus, Antoine Abdeker: or, the art of preserving beauty. Translated from an Arabic manuscript, London: printed for A. Millar, 1754.
- Maeder, Edward (ed.) Hollywood and history: costume design in film, Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; 1987
- Ribeiro, Aileen Facing beauty: painted women & cosmetic art, New Haven, Conn.; Yale University Press, 2011.
- Elisabeth-Marguerite, the Artist's Daughter by Nicolas de Largillière, painted before 1746.
- Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry, after Francis Cotes painted 1751-1760.
- Madame Victoire, Princess of France by Alexander Roslin, 1765.
- Rudolf Valentino in Monsieur Beaucaire, 1924.
- Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner, probably 1780’s.
- Elizabeth Linley by Thomas Gainsborough, ca 1775.
- The extravaganza or The mountain head dress of 1776
- Madmoiselle de Roquelaure by Pierre Mignard, ca 1700.
- Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1756.
- Eva Helena Ribbing by Gustaf Lundberg, late 1760’s.
- Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Antoine Lécuyer, 1775.
- Mrs. Henry Hoare by George Romney, 1780 – 1784.
- Marquise d'Orvilliers by Jacques-Louis David, 1790.
- French 18th century bidet.
- Copper bathtub from the 18th century.