Beauty History: The Elizabethan Era

Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, ascended to the throne of England in 1558. With her pale complexion and curly red hair, she was considered to be beautiful for the standards of her time. Once Queen, Elizabeth would start to set trends and wealthy women would go to great lengths to look like her. Here’s how they did it:

Face

A pale complexion was considered to be a sign of good health and prestige at the time (only rich women could afford to have fair skin because poor ones would work for hours outside and that resulted in a tan). To achieve it, wealthy women and men of the time would use several different things. One of the most common ways to whiten skin was to use Ceruse, a foundation made with white lead (which was poisonous!) and vinegar. Others instead preferred to apply sulphur, alum or tin ash. White eggs were also used both to fake a paler complexion and hide wrinkles.

Eyes & Eyebrows

During the Elizabethan era, women used black kohl to rim their eyes and make them look darker. Belladonna, which enlarges pupils so that eyes look larger and sparkly, was also used. Also, at the time, fashion required eyebrows to be thin and arched, which would create a high forehead (it was considered to be a sign of aristocracy) . For this reason, women would pluck their eyebrows a lot to achieve the desired effect.

Cheeks & Lips

During the Elizabethan period, rouge cheeks and lips were very popular. To achieve them, women would use plant (like madder, an Asian plant with red roots) and animal dyes (such as cochineal, a beetle) on the cheeks. Cheeks were also reddened using a mixture of egg white and ochres. Madder and cochineal were also used on the lips, which could also be reddened by using vermilion, a red pigment obtained from mercury sulphide.

Skincare

All that makeup women (and men) used to achieve a white complexion, would often create all types of skin problems. To get rid of blemishes, wrinkles, spots and freckles the Elizabethans would use several methods: rosewater, lemon juice or mixture of eggshells, alum, mercury and honey. The wealthy would also bathe in ass’s milk while washing the face with mercury was also very popular.

Hair

Not only was pale skin fashionable, so was fair hair. Women would use different substances to dye or bleach their hair, like urine! An another way to get blonde hair was to use cumin seeds, saffron, oil and celadine. It was also during this period that people began dying their hair red, which was the hair color of Queen Elizabeth I. Young women would wear their long hair down, and sweep it up once married, usually in a bun so that head coverings could easily be pinned to it. Wigs were also popular. They were used by women whose hair was growing thinner or by those that wanted their hair to be of a certain color. Some women were so desperate to have fashionable hair that they decided to completely shave their hair off and only wear wigs! Both real and fake hair was often adorned with jewels and hair pieces. These were very expensive and so only rich women could afford them.

Men Hair & Beards

At the start of the Elizabethan era, men used to wear their hair short which became longer as time went on. But long hair had to be curly and so many used hot irons to achieve that look and then used wax or gam to keep it in place. Beards, which could be cut in lots of different shapes from round to square, from oblong to pointed, were also long and kept in place with starch.

10 Comment

  1. beauty and grooming have certainly evolved so much. now we have everything ready without the pain of DIY-ing everything :D i would love to have the luxury to bathe in ass’ milk tho

  2. Xin, yes, we have certainly come a long way with them. Now we have lots of products that we can buy instead of making but what hasn’t changed is that we still go to great lenghts to achieve the ideal of beauty we have these days.

    That sounds nice, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t mind that too. :)

  3. Negra Cabreada, lol. I agree with you. We have some weird trends too but at least we don’t have to use those poisonous ingredients and weird homemade masks that didn’t work too well.

  4. Hello, as part of research I am doing I am required to “critique my sources”. Where did you get this information from? And, have you had any professions or experiences which have involved in depth analysis of this era etc. Basically, was this just for a one time blog post or have you had any background resource/course etc. with this part of history?

    thank you!

    • Hi Hannah. I’m a history geek who loves the Tudor era so I read a lot of books about the subject. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which ones I used for this post. I have so many and this was written years ago. Sorry!

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