Long, curved, deep black eyelashes have always been in. But how were they achieved before mascaras? The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion, published in 1834, explains:
I love painting my face with foundation, concealer, blush… It’s fun to experiment with makeup. But in the past, it could also be dangeorus. Often, deadly dangeorus, as this chapter in The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion so clearly illustrated:
Paints must not be confounded with cosmetics, which really impart whiteness, freshness, suppleness, and brilliancy to the skin, when it is naturally different to those qualities; consequently they only assist nature, and make amends for her defects; and it may be affirmed they are to beauty what medicine is to health.
Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate Queen of France, was famous for her beautiful looks and charm. But it wasn’t all natural. She had an army of dressmakers, hairstylists, and ladies-in-waiting, and a huge budget, to help her look her best.
Great care and attention was dedicated every day to her toilette. The Queen would have very gladly done without it. Although she enjoyed fashion, perfumes, and girly things, she hated the pomp that surrounded this ceremony and would have much preferred getting ready in private than in front of all the courtiers assembled in her room hoping to catch her attention and become her favourite.
As she told her mother in a letter, “at twelve what is called the Chamber is held, and there every one who does not belong to the common people may enter. I put on my rouge and wash my hands before all the world; the men go out, and the women remain; and then I dress myself in their presence.”
Queens had no privacy, but they had some great beauty secrets. Here are Marie Antoinette’s:
There’s only so much makeup can do for you if you don’t take proper care of your skin. Marie Antoinette knew this and, each morning, cleansed her face with Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon (yes, it was really made with pigeons!). The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion shared the recipe, first used by Danish women, with their readers:
“Take juice of water-lilies, of melons, of cucumbers, of lemons, each one ounce; briony, wild succory, lily-flowers, borage, beans, of each a handful: eight pigeons stewed. Put the whole mixture into an alembic, adding four ounces of lump sugar, well pounded, one drachma of borax, the same quantity of camphor, the crumb of three French rolls, and a pint of white wine. When the whole has remained in digestion for seventeen or eighteen days, proceed to distillation, and you will obtain pigeon-water, which is such an improvement of the complexion.”
After cleansing her skin, she would apply Eau des Charmes, an astringent, and finally, Eau d’Ange, a whitener. To keep her hands soft, the Queen slept wearing gloves infused with sweet almond oil, rose water, and wax.
Unlike most people at Versailles she bathed frequently, but always wearing a flannel chemise to protect her modesty. Once in the bathtub, she would wash herself with a scented (bergamot, amber and herbs) soap, exfoliated her skin with muslin pads filled with bran, all the while sitting on a large pad filled with pine nuts, linseed, and sweet almonds.
Once her skincare routine was complete, it was time for makeup. Eau d’Ange probably didn’t whiten her skin that much, so to make her face even paler, a white paint was gently and carefully applied. This was then set with a dust of scented powder. Rouge was then applied to her cheeks.
The Empress Maria Theresa wasn’t fond of rouge and would have rather her daughter had stayed away from it, but as Marie Antoinette told her, everyone did it at Versailles. It would have been weird for her not to. Then, khol was used around the eyes to define and enhance them. Finally, a scented pomade was used to give her lips, eyelashes and eyebrows a glossy look.
Perfume was a necessity at Versailles. The palace was occupied by thousands of people, few of which paid much attention to their personal hygiene. The whole court stank. To keep the Queen’s room smelling nice required a vast array of fresh flowers, pot pourri, and perfume satchels. These usually smelled of orange blossom, rose, violet, lavender, and lemon, all the scents the Queen loved.
Those aromas also featured prominently in her own perfumes. The queen loved both simple scents, like violet or orange blossom water, and more complicated concoctions featuring iris, jasmine, lily, vanilla, and musk, sometimes infused with spicy accents of cinnamon and cloves.
What do you think of Marie Antoinette’s beauty secrets? Would you have followed them too?
I’m often asked if I’d love to live in the past. As much as it fascinates me, truth is, I don’t. Going back to the 18th or 19th centuries for a couple of days, yes. But live there? I don’t think I could ever live in a place with no toilet and private bathrooms. Just think of the dirt and stink! No thank you!
The habit of washing daily (or at least often), so loved by the Romans, had long been lost by then. But, thankfully, bathing still had its champions. The author of the The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion: Embracing The Economy Of the Beard, published in 1834, was one of them. The chapter on cleanliness is the first in the book. Here’s what it says:
As a preservative of health the value of cleanliness must be obvious to every sensitive mind, whether indeed it be considered in a medical, a moral, or a cosmetical point.
Personal cleanliness, and every thing connected therewith, is a principal duty of man: an unclean and dirty person is never in health, and, at best, is always a loathsome and disgusting sight. It is better to wash twenty times a-day, than to allow a dirty spot to remain on any part of the skin.
On places where impurities are suffered to obstruct the pores of the skin, the insensible perspiration is not only suppressed, but the absorption by the skin also; and if the whole body be, as it were, covered with a crusted coat of perspirated matter, it is impossible under such disgusting circumstances to possess sound blood, or enjoy good health.
The body, and particularly the joints, ought to be frequently washed with pure water, especially in summer, when the perspirable matter, being of an unctuous, clammy nature, obstructs the excretion by the pores. The face, neck, and hands, being most exposed to the air, dust, and the like, ought to be daily washed, morning and evening.
Attention should also be paid to the ears, by occasionally cleaning them out, that the sense of hearing may not be impaired by the accumulation of indurated wax, which, from its acrid nature, may prove unpleasant as well as injurious.
The whole head ought to be frequently washed and cleaned, as it perspires much, and is, besides, exposed to the dust and other particles in the atmosphere. Washing opens the pores, while the comb, by its close application to the skin, removes the viscid humors and renders them fluid.
The use of baths, too much neglected, ought to be more generally introduced. It is not sufficient for the great purposes of cleanliness and health, that a few or more wealthy families repair every season to watering places, or that they even make use of other modes of bathing, either for health or amusement.
A very different method must be pursued, if we sincerely wish to restore the vigor of a degenerated race: we mean here to inculcate the indispensable necessity of domestic baths, so well known among the ancients, and so universally established all over Europe a few centuries ago.
Would you have followed this advice?
Rouge was one of the most popular cosmetics used in the past. Worn by both women and men to add colour to their cheeks and lips, it was said to give a youthful look to the complexion and make you more attractive. That’s because its reddish hue mimicked the colour of cheeks and lips during sexual arousal.
The Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion, published in 1834, gave readers a few tips and recipes to help them make their own at home:
It would be well were those ladies whose taste may lead them to relieve the deficiency of their complexion by means of rouge, were they to compose the articles themselves. They would not then run the risk of using those dangerous reds in which deleterious minerals are ingredients, of spoiling the skin, and of exposing themselves to the inconveniences which we have alluded to, as liable to result from the use of metallic paints.
The more dangerous reds are those compounded with minium, which is a calx of lead, or cinnabar, otherwise called vermilion, produced by sulphur and mercury. Vegetable red therefore should alone be used. These are attended with little danger, especially when used with moderation.
The vegetable substances which furnish rouge, are red sanders wood, root of orchanet, cochineal, Brazil wood, and especially the bastard saffron, which yields a very beautiful color, that is, mixed with a sufficient quantity of French chalk or talc.
Some perfumers compose vegetable rouges, for which they take vinegar as the excipient. These reds are liable to injure the beauty of the skin. It is more advisable to compound them with oleaginous or unctuous substances, and to form salves. For this purpose, balm of Mecca, butter of cacao, oil of ben, &c. may, for instance, be employed.
There are females whose skin cannot be reconciled to unctuous bodies; such, therefore, may use the following:
1. Take Briancon chalk, and reduce it to a very fine powder — add to it carmine in proportion to the vividness of the red which you intend to produce; and carefully triturate this mixture, which may be applied to the skin, without danger; or
2. Take French chalk prepared, four ounces; oil of almonds, two drachms; carmine, one ounce.
Obs. — The makers of rouge, from motives of economy, sometimes substitute cinnabar for carmine. It may be ascertained if carmine be genuine, as in this case it is not altered either by the mixture of oxalid acid, or volatile alkali. The rouge of which we have just given the composition, may likewise be made up with salves; it then produces a superior effect, being a better imitation of the natural colors.
3. A liquid rouge to produce a perfect imitation of the colors of nature may be made as follows: — Add to a pint of French brandy, half an ounce of benzoin, an ounce of red sandal wood, half an ounce of Brazil wood, and the same quantity of rock alum. Cork the bottle with care, shake it well once a day, and at the end of twelve days it will be fit for use. The cheeks are to be lightly touched with it.
4. Take Brazil wood and rock alum; pound and add them to a bottle of red wine, and boil it till it is reduced to one fourth part. To use this, dip a piece of cotton wool into it, and rub the cheeks.
5. Take half an ounce of red sandal wood, half an ounce of cloves, and five pounds of sweet almonds. Pound the whole together. Upon this paste pour two ounces of white wine, and an ounce and a half of rosewater. Let the whole be stirred up well together. In about eight or nine days, strain this paste in the same manner as is done to extract the oil of sweet almonds, and a very good red oil will be obtained.
6. Alkanet root strikes a beautiful red when mixed with oils or pomatums. A scarlet or rose-colored ribbon, wetted with water or brandy, gives the cheeks if rubbed with it a beautiful bloom, that can scarcely be distinguished from the natural color. Others only use a red sponge, which tinges the cheeks of a fine carnation color.
Would you have used rouge back then?
Once upon a time, if women wanted to wear makeup on cold winter days, they were doomed to shivering. If they attempted to come close to the fire to warm themselves up, their waxy makeup would melt away. The horror! Something had to be done, and fire screens were invented. Placed near the fire, they allowed women to finally “save face” (that’s were this expression allegedly came from).
If you have ever visited an old historic house, especially in the United States, you have probably heard this tale. It’s a nice one, isn’t it? Too bad there isn’t any truth in it.
Makeup was rarely made of wax
Before the Roaring Twenties, in the US only actresses and prostitutes wore makeup. Creams and lotions may have been available in shops, but makeup had to be made at home. Few did, and even fewer used wax in their concoctions. They were more likely to include stuff like honey, eggs, almond oil, and lemon.
In Europe, wearing makeup was common among the upper classes. White pastes, usually made with lead, were applied all over the face to achieve that ghostly white look that let everyone know you didn’t have to work for a living. They were also used to hide the ravages of smallpox, although in the long run, they would only finish the job and ruin the face completely. Beeswax, instead, was usually only applied on the lips to give them some shine.
So, why were fire screens used then?
In a time without central heating, fireplaces were often the only way to warm a room. But they weren’t that effective. I still remember how cold my grandparents’ house was. When I was little, they used to live in old farm. The warmest room was the kitchen, where the fireplace was.
But its heat never reached the other end of the room. Didn’t even travel half-way there. If you wanted to keep warm, you needed to stand very close to the fire. But you were able to do so only for a few minutes at a time. The heat was too hot.
Too bad they didn’t have a fire screen. That would have easily solved the problem. By placing one between the fire and the people nearest to it, the heat would keep them warm without scorching their skin. But they didn’t prevent makeup from melting. Even if women had worn wax-based makeup, the heat was never that strong to melt it.
Although very useful, fire screens were rare. An expensive accessory, few could afford to spare the money for one. Those who could bought little works of art. Their fire screens were usually skilfully embroidered, doubling up as beautiful decorations for the home.
Had you ever heard of this myth?