On Victorian Make-up

by - 6:23 AM

   I remember once watching some make-up expert claim women in Victorian times didn't use make-up at all in Victorian England, basing this claim on - if memory serves well - the fact that no make-up from this period survived. Somehow this kept bothering me, since I've previously come by an article showing as a supporting evidence an excerpt from a book by Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, where make-up practices of some girls were revealed:

"Half the girls do it, either paint or powder, darken their lashes with burnt hair- pins, and take cologne on lumps of sugar or belladona to make their eyes bright."

                                                                                            (An Old-Fashioned Girl, L.M. Alcott, 1869)

   So I went digging through several Victorian women's magazines and watching BBC's Victorian Farm Episode 3, et voilà, look at what I found:

Bow Bells, 1866.

Godey's Lady's Book, August 1864

   So far, so good. The red lip salve functions like a sort of red lip gloss, according to Ruth Goodman; the recipe for the powder itself states it is for the purpose of concealing pimples. But it was the following article which made my beginner researcher's heart flutter:

   PAINTED FACES, transcribed from the April 1876's issue of Frank Leslie's Lady's Magazine:

   We hear a great deal now-a-days about "painted faces."
   When our good people of the church speak of the wicked actors and actresses who tread the boards of our theatres, they remark upon their painted faces, just as though there were no painted faces sitting Sabbath after Sabbath in their holy congregation.
   Now; for the life of us, we cannot see why there should be so much fuss made about painting, since everybody, almost, is guilty of it in some way or shape, and everybody else knows it.
   We have the pleasure of enjoying a large circle of acquaintances, and, to speak within bounds, nine-tenths of them either paint, powder, dye their hair or whiskers, or "touch up" their eyebrows, and we have no doubt but that the other tenth indulge in the same thing, only in not quite so evident a manner.
   Do not understand us as advocating the practice. We have nothing to say about that at present. We only deal with the fact as it exists. Everybody knows that nearly all our fashionable women, and a large number of our fashionable men, use cosmetics daily, and why they should indulge in so many scornful flings  at "painted faces " beats us.
   Now, is it any more reprehensible for an actress, whose good looks is her fortune, to resort to "Magical Balm," and  "Pearly White," and "Roseate Bloom" than it is for her aristocratic sister to use "just a little magnesia to take away the moisture and disagreeableness of heat and perspiration "?      
   The fact is, nearly everybody paints, and they are foolish enough to imagine that nobody suspects it, when, to the most casual observer, it is us evident as it would be if the placard were placed over their foreheads that we put upon our freshly-renovated houses and fences, to warn the passer-by to keep off—"Paint."
   They may not be outspoken about it, even when questioned—they will lift their hands in holy horror if you intimate such a thing; they will keep their rouge and powder under lock and key, and will go out to purchase it after dark, and in clever disguise, but that does not alter the fact.   Men everywhere sneer at painted faces as if they were the exception, and not the rule, and entirely forgetful that their own cheeks, and probably their noses, are rouged with brandy, which, by-the-way, is the very worst kind of paint in use.
   Ministers may declaim against paint from the pulpit; doctors may point out death in the balm bottle; reformers may inveigh against it; we of the scribbling fraternity may take up our pens to impale it, but men and women always have dyed and painted, and they always will.

   Still, there is much to explore yet. Onto the research, I will keep you updated if I find anything!

   What's brewing: I've got an article about Polish castle Książ in the making, plus two photoreports from Adršpach-Teplice Rocks stone town and from Turnov Museum, as well as a bustle pad walkthrough and several project dumps; I'm researching 1876's petticoats. For now I'd like to wish...

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1 komentářů

  1. Dear Rosa,

    Good evening! What excellent finds in the article department. I'd entirely forgotten Louisa May Alcott's words, and the other quotations are even better! One more silly myth biting the dust...

    Very best,

    who is reading Alcott's "Little Men" to the boys each evening, and we're really enjoying it. Naughty Nan has just joined the school and spiced things up.