French Mouches: Beauty Marks or Patches

Mouches or Example of Patches Worn During Charles I's Reign, Author's Collection
Example of Patches Worn During Charles I’s Reign, Author’s Collection

Smallpox affected women’s complexion in the 18th century. Because smallpox often left pox scars and because women sometimes had acne, moles, or facial defects, it became popular for women to hide or disguise these problems. They did so using patches that were referred to by the French as mouches (flies).

Patching was initially more popular among the French than the English and was popular until about the Regency period. However, the first written mention of patching occurred in the English book Artificial Changeling, written by John Bulwer in 1653. Despite Bulwer’s mention in 1653, apparently mouches, were popular long before as it was “common with the Roman dames in the latter days of the Empire.”[1] Continue reading

Evils of the Victorian Chignon in the Late 1800s

Parisian hairstyles of 1870. Author’s collection.

There were many fashion evils during the late 1800s, but the evils of the Victorian chignon were said to be the worst. A chignon was a hairstyle that had a knot or coil of hair arranged and worn low at the back of a woman’s head or at the nape of the neck. However, by the 1890s the chignon’s placement was higher on the head and the styles between the 1870s and 1890s were also more feminine and elaborate.

The main objection to the Victorian chignon seemed to be that they were not created from a woman’s real hair. Rather they were composed of false hair pieces that one person designated “hirsute deceptions.” Another person noted that they were “an offense against elevated morality, because, though they deceive nobody, they are intended to deceive, and deceit in any form is an offense against sound morals.”[1] There was also this gem, “‘Glory of a woman is in her hair’ … but nothing is said about the glory being attainable by the use of somebody else’s hair.”[2] In fact, hair pieces were so popular one contemporary writer of today notes: Continue reading

The French Pouf

"Rose" Bertin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
“Rose” Bertin, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mademoiselle Marie-Jeanne Bertin, or as she was called at court, “Rose,” gained fame as dressmaker and became known for creating complicated headdresses. These headdresses, also known as “poufs,” were called such because the hair was raised with pads, wool, false hairpieces, and pomade. Bertin’s rise to fame began in a millinery shop where through a stroke of fate she met the Princess of Conti and became responsible to create the trousseau for the richest heiress in France, the Duchess of Chartres. The Duchess then introduced her to Marie Antoinette, and before long Bertin became the Queen’s stylist and dressmaker.

Working with Léonard Autié, the Queen’s hairdresser, Bertin and Autié created some memorable teetering and towering poufs. Among the poufs designed were the pouf aux sentiments, pouf à la circonstance, pouf à l’inoculation, à loge d’opéra, and pouf à la Belle-Poule. Continue reading

Patching or Mouchets

Women with Patches or Mouchets, Author's Collection
Women with Patches, Author’s Collection

Patching was a strange fashion, and one of the earliest written mentions of the practice in England, “occurs in Bulwer’s Artificial Changeling (1653). ‘Our ladies,’ he complains, ‘have lately entertained a vain custom of spotting their faces, out of an affectation of a mole, to set off their beauty, such as Venus had; and it is well if one black patch will serve to make their faces remarkable, for some fill their visages full of them, varied into all manner of shapes.'” These patches were tiny pieces of fabric — satin, taffeta, or velvet attached with glue — known in English as mouchets and called mouches by the French. The mouchets contrasted with alabaster skin and hid facial imperfections, such as pimples or pox scars. Over time, these patches, developed coded meanings. For instance, a patch on the right cheek denoted marriage, on the left cheek it signified an engagement, and near the mouth indicate a woman was flirtatious. Continue reading