Makeup and beauty accessories have been around for centuries. Throughout the ages, women have used many different methods to beautify themselves. It has been an endless, tireless, and sometimes, very painful pursuit of feminine perfection.
During the Victorian era, makeup was frowned upon. Women (outside of theatre) seen in public 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 because prostitutes were the only women wearing makeup at the time.
Men would actively voice their opinion in local publications, announcing their distaste for women who would wear “masks of deceit.” Many men thought those 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 various hair accessories.
The ideals of beauty, similarly to today, were set by publications, such as Harper’s Bazaar, members of the royal family, socialites, and aristocrats. They were the style icons and trend setters of the time.
Guerlain introduced a new perfume to the market called “Jicky” that gained popularity when the public 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. It exploded in popularity and was considered exotic because of the use of sandalwood.
Below is a video made by world renown makeup artist, Lisa Eldridge. She’s done extensive research on the history of makeup and is an active collector of Victorian era cosmetics.
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 to 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 translucent, 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 introduced 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 marketed as a contraceptive douche. This 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.
Times have changed over the years, but history of makeup has somehow transcended time. The motivation for women is the same. An endless pursuit of beauty…