Makeup and beauty accessories have been around for centuries. Throughout the ages, women have used many different methods to beautify themselves in the hopes of finding a husband or to be recognized as a member of a higher society. It has been an endless, tireless, and sometimes, very painful pursuit of feminine perfection.
During the Victorian era, makeup was frowned upon. Women seen wearing any sort of facial cosmetic, such as rouge on the cheek or lip was cast out of civil society. The community would label these women as jezebels, mainly due to the fact that prostitutes were the only women wearing makeup at the time. Men would voice their opinions in local publications, announcing their distaste for women who would wear these “masks of deceit.” Many men thought that women who wore makeup were intentionally concealing God’s given look, in an act of trickery. Due to this, the only acceptable beauty regimes were skin lighteners and hair accessories . The ideals of beauty were set by publications, such as Harper’s Bazaar, members of the royal family, and aristocrats. They were the style icons and trend setters of the time.
Skin whiteners during this time were very popular. Pale, delicate skin was the ultimate status symbol. Only servants or poor, lower class society had tan skin or freckles. Children born with freckles were immediately subjected with high concentrations of skin whiteners. Even though this practice was widely acceptable, it was always performed quietly and secretively. To avoid a tan, women and young girls would keep every area of their body covered. For an evening event, when a woman was allowed to show a little skin on the neck and shoulders, she would accentuate veins with light blue paint to give the look of pale, delicate skin.
Women wanted men to believe that their skin was naturally flawless and white. So, instead of going to their local chemist, they created their own recipes at home in secret. This flaw in society started the usage of dangerous chemicals becoming popular. Ingredients such as alcohol, mercury, glycerine, borax, and bleach were common. Some were also made using lead, corrosives and caustic.
Slowly, businessmen began preying on the insecurities of women. Theron T. Pond developed a “pain destroying and healing” potion made from the bark of a witch hazel shrub. T. T. Pond Company, learning the cosmetic profitability, began claiming that his product could be used as the ultimate cure-all. One use being a contraceptive douche. This product later became known as Pond’s Cold Cream. Avon, Guerlain, and Vaseline were also established during this time.
The Victorian woman’s hair was her most prized possession. Curly hair was the most popular, in the belief that curly hair indicated a sweeter, more gentle disposition. For the unfortunate straight haired women, hairpieces were widely available. Most hairpieces were meant to be worn in pairs and styled off of the neck to display the fragile neck and shoulders. These hairpieces are applied similarly to the clip-on hair extensions women use today and for many of the same reasons.
Due to poor hygiene, lack of sanitation, and the suffocating layers of clothing, women began wearing perfumes to mask offensive odors. Many perfumes companies originated in the 1700‘s for the use in hospitals and mortuaries but became popular among those trying to disguise over-powering smells. The year 1858 was know as the “Great Stink of London”, in which the government had to finally step in and create a sewerage system. Guerlain introduced a new “shocking” perfume scent to the market. Floral perfumes were the most common at the time, but Guerlain’s “Jicky” infused new fragrances from sandalwood, fern, and tonka bean. It’s popularity exploded when society received word that it was being used by Empress Eugénie de Montijo of France, wife of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte and ruler of the second French Empire.
Women’s lives have changed a great deal over the years. However; we still share a similar objective. Women strive for beauty and will remain loyal to their favorite cosmetic for the promise of a more beautiful appearance. Makeup and beauty products have significantly advanced in technology over the years but are surprisingly similar. In fact, some products are still made using toxic, carcinogenic materials.