Makeup History of the 1700’s

June 13, 2015 § Leave a comment

Could you imagine being arrested for wearing makeup or risking illness just to wear it? The history of makeup dates as far back as the 1700’s. In it’s time makeup was quite scandalous and poisonous!

unnamedMakeup, also referred to as cosmetics, describes the materials used to enhance one’s beauty applied to one’s face.The word cosmetics comes to us from the Greek word kosmetike. This meant “the art of dress and ornament”.

During the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, makeup was a strong indication of social status. Established by Louis XIV, the toilette was the process of attending to one’s appearance in front of an audience. It was a daily ceremony in which the upper class and royalty were dressed including hair and makeup.

With the arrival of smallpox (a viral disease identified with a high fever & large pustules on the skin), people were left scarred by pustules and sought out a means to cover up the marks. Enter makeup… People looked to makeup and patch boxes to cover these blemishes.

Patch boxes were small patches of various materials that covered scars. They were made of velvet, silk, leather and taffeta. Some were dyed with colors and many had shapes like hearts, dots and stars. Considered to be very stylish at the time, these patch boxes began to carry certain connotations. The placement on one’s face indicated if one were married, a mistress, engaged and even flirtatious.

Of course, those who chose not to wear patch boxes opted for makeup. The standard way of fashioning makeup was to have a pale complexion, rosy cheeks and lips softly tinted red. Makeup consisted of a few things rouge, foundation, face powder & eyebrow pencils. Rouge, a French word for red, was applied to the cheeks with wet pieces of wool. It’s goal was to the create the illusion of plump, rosy cheeks against pale powdered complexions. This was followed by rouge also applied to the lips.

Makeup at this time was made of suspicious ingredients. Rouge contained Carmine a lead based pigment. Foundation and face powder were made of lightly flaked white lead. Arsenic was another ingredient found in makeup. Many of these ingredients were poisonous and frequent use resulted in illness or death.

Towards the late 1700’s makeup went to limited use with the exception of rouge. At this time, makeup began to carry a stigma of being worn solely by prostitutes. The church wanted to restore modesty to women and condemned painted faces. Wearing makeup was considered vulgar. Makeup was also considered a deceptive practice comparable to witchcraft. So in the late 1700’s Parliament enforced a law making any ‘form altering’ illegal. This included form altering clothing such as corsets and makeup.

Throughout the decades makeup has progressed! Laws have changed since the 1700’s. Today, you won’t be arrested and tried as a witch for wearing makeup. It has improved in terms of ingredients, tools and much more. We now have a numerous variety of beauty aids and colors. Application has changed by more than a swatch of wool to brushes and more. Makeup has evolved from homemade poisonous products into a $100 billion dollar a year industry worldwide!


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