Antoine Le Camus wrote Abdeker: or the Art of Preserving Beauty in 1754. It is half “oriental tale” and half recipe book filled with cosmetic recipes. In the book Camus claims that “the face is the chief Seat of Beauty.” But Camus also asserts “beauty is that Form of an entire body, which pleases every one our senses.” Based on his beliefs, he also devised a model of the perfect woman and here are his deductions.
“The Form of an entire Body, that can be consider’d as beautiful, ought to please our Eyes by its Extent.” This meant a person was not be too fat or too thin or too big or too little.
“The Colour of the Parts is one of the Articles that Nature should observe in the Composition of a handsome Body.” Skin was to be fair in color because brown, yellowish, or freckled skin was said to be “accounted ugly.” Continue reading →
The Grecian Bend was a stooping fashion that first made its appearance England in the 1820s, although it did not reach the pinnacle of popularity until Victorian times (somewhere between 1869 and 1880). It supposedly acquired its name from the graceful Venus de Milo as she inclined slightly forward. The stooping fashion was also imitative of a physical affliction. Because physical afflictions often could not be corrected or because famous people had the afflictions, people copied them and adopted them as a fashion statement, just like they adopted the Alexandra Limp. Moreover, the Grecian Bend seemed erotic to Victorians because a woman’s breast and rear jutted out. Also making the fashion more appealing, was the belief that any woman who adopted the Grecian Bend was bold and daring.
Women who adopted the Grecian Bend quickly discovered they were more than bold or daring because they soon found they were in severe pain. Being stuck in such a strange position caused back aches and was said to be “wearisome” for those who had to maintain the position for hours. However, despite the aches and pains, thousands of woman embraced the Grecian Bend. At its peak it was seen regularly at watering places, such as Bath. But Bath was not the only spot where the Grecian Bend became popular. Soon the fashion spread across the ocean to America. Continue reading →
Alexandra of Denmark married the Prince of Wales in 1863. As the Princess of Wales, Alexandra’s every fashion decision was admired and English women copied her, including what became known as the Alexandra limp. Alexandra acquired the limp in 1867 after suffering from a severe bout of rheumatism that “threatened to contract her leg and make her a cripple.”
Whenever Alexandra appeared in public she used a walking stick and exhibited a slight limp. Her infirmity was soon copied by “distinguished people, and the ‘Alexandra limp’ was adopted by various members of fashionable society.” In fact, her limp became so popular Victorian people everywhere — even in foreign countries — were greeted by limping women, and proponents claimed it would supersede “chignons, panniers, wasp-waists, and the Grecian bend.”
One newspaper reporter noticed the imitators and stated: “a monstrosity has made itself visible among the [Edinburgh] female promenaders in Princess Street, viz., ‘the Alexandra Limp!'” The reporter also maintained that “Grecian bends and preposterous mincing steps as of a duck on hot plates have been common enough … [on] our fashionable exhibition streets; but this newly acquired affectation excels them all.” Continue reading →
By the late Georgian era, gone were the towering headdresses. In its place was a woman’s natural hair, considered her crowning glory. With a more natural look and styles taken from the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, women attempted to achieve a gorgeous head of hair. Hair color was one of the most important aspects. Fortunately, if a women did not like the color of her hair, she could change it. Once a woman had the right hair color numerous tips existed for washing it. One writer advised it should be “occasionally well washed with soap-and-water,” although there were also critics who opposed hair washing all together. To keep the hair glossy and shiny, combing and brushing came next, and, according to one nineteenth century writer, “the oftener the comb and brush are subsequently used in the day, the better it will be for the luxuriance, smoothness, and set of the hair.” But brushing was not the only prerequisite to luxurious hair. Sometimes oil or pomade was added, and, if the hair was styled, there were curling tongs, crisping irons, or papillotes, small pieces of paper that curled the hair and were humorously called paper shackles by one writer. To preserve the hairstyle and ensure it lasted for more than a day, women often wore nightcaps. Continue reading →
During the mid 1800s, Dundreary whiskers, or as the British called them, Piccadilly weepers, became popular. They were long bushy, carefully combed side whiskers, worn without a beard. The whiskers were named for Lord Dundreary, a character in Tom Taylor’s 1858 British play titled Our American Cousin. The play was a farce about a boorish but warm-hearted American named Asa Trenchard, who was introduced to his aristocratic English relatives.
The play premiered on 15 October 1858, in New York. Edward Askew Sothern, an English actor known for his comedic skill, aptly portrayed Dundreary. Sothern initially thought the part “dreadful.” In fact, Sothern was reluctant to accept the part. He thought that portraying Dundreary might permanently damage his career and reputation. Because Sothern was dejected about the part, he “began to introduce extravagant business into his character, skipping about the stage, stammering and sneezing, and, in short, doing all he could to attract and distract the attention of the audience.” Continue reading →
When Jane Austen was publishing Pride and Prejudice and Napoleon was being exiled to Alba, cosmetics were used by Regency women “to produce a healthful bloom on the countenance.” As a woman’s face, neck, and hands were frequently exposed to nature’s harsh elements, great care was taken to restore beauty and luster back to her skin. In fact,Regency women were sometimes willing to try strange things, such as “eating chalk, drinking vinegar, [and] wearing camphorated charms,” all in the hope of whitening their skin or maintaining a youthful appearance. Despite the Regency woman’s best efforts, nature often took its toll. Regency women suffered from age spots, freckles, pimples, spots, sunburns, or wrinkles.
Beauty was sometimes a strange process in the 1700 and 1800s. Some women went so far as to cover their faces with lard or apply masks “plastered … with a perfumed pomade to preserve the complexion.” There was also a mask of sliced veal (steeped in milk) that was applied to the face, and, of course, the ever popular milk bath that fair beauties soaked in, while those who had long since seen the bloom of youth bathed in astringents, such as wine. But, perhaps, one of the strangest beauty fashions was a practice that first began in the 1600s and was adapted by both sexes. It was chicken-skin gloves, sometimes called Limerick gloves. Continue reading →
Any kind of spot or imperfection, known as “the cruel ravages of unsparing time,” were not only disagreeable but also something every Georgian and Regency woman wanted to avoid, disguise, or repair. In order to accomplish this, the most important and indispensable part of a woman’s toilette was her skin care products, referred to as cosmetics.
Cosmetics were designed to keep a woman’s skin translucent, supple, and beautifully tinted. They were also required to prevent imperfections and stop the skin from aging. Reputedly, regular use of cosmetics would preserve the delicacy, suppleness, and flexibility of a woman’s skin. Continue reading →
Beauty was important to women, but, perhaps, it was even more important to men, because it was a man who noted in the late 1700s that a woman’s “first merit is that of beauty.” People seemed to have particular ideas of what beauty entailed and wrote about it. André Félibien, a French chronicler of the arts and the official court historian to Louis XIV of France in the 1600s, provided the following classical description of beauty often using Venus as the ideal image: Continue reading →
Of all the fashions of the 1700s, perhaps the wig most resembles “character of that period, embodying the artificiality, the mixture of dignity and affectation, and the pompous conventionality.” The wig did not suddenly appear over night but rather grew into popularity until at one point wigs were so fashionable, if you wore your own hair you tried to make it appear as if it were a wig. During Louis XIV’s reign big flowing wigs were popular, but towards the end of Louis XV’s reign in 1774, smaller wigs became fashionable, until even they disappeared.
Many of the wigs gentlemen wore were created from real human hair, and it was common for fashionable beaus to keep their wig looking perfect by carrying in their side pocket, “a tortoiseshell wig-comb…for constant use.” It also became common for people to sell their hair to earn extra money. In fact, at one point, real hair became worth so much, people who had long flowing locks were sometimes threatened or attacked for their hair.
In the 1700s, all sorts of wigs came in and out of fashion. Among the fashionable wigs of the times were three: the tie-wig, also known as the Ramillies (sometimes spelled Ramilies) wig, the bob-wig, and the bag-wig. Continue reading →