Patches or Mouchets: Beautifying the Face

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.'”[1] 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.

Women with Patches or Mouchets, Author's Collection

Women with Patches. Author’s collection.

One particularly popular patch was the coach-and horses patch, which someone described rather humorously stating:

“[T]he mourning-coach and horses all in black, and plying on their foreheads, stands ready harnessed to whirl them to Acheron, though I pity poor Charon for the darkness of the night, since the moon on the cheek is all in eclipse, and the poor stars on the temples are clouded in sables, and no comfort left him but the lozenges on the chin, which, if he please, he may pick off for his cold.'”[2]

Patches or mouchets could also be large, and women often wore more than one. As shown in the drawing above, one fashionable lady sported a coach and horses on her forehead, a crescent on either cheek, a star at the side of her mouth, and a round spot on her chin. Samuel Pepys described his wife when she wore her first patch.”My wife seemed very pretty to-day, it being the first time I had given her leave to wear a black patch,”[3] but a few weeks later when she was adorned with two or three patches, he described her “far handsomer than the Princess Henrietta.”[4]

Mouchets soon allowed woman to express their political leanings. For instance, whether a woman was a Whig or a Tory could be known by her patches, and accordingly, the “Whigs patching on the right, and the Tories on the left side of their faces, while those who were neutral, decorated both cheeks.”[5] Certain women were so zealous and steadfast to their parties, The Book of Days noted, “[women are] so far from sacrificing their zeal for the public to their passion for any particular person, that in a late draught of marriage-articles, a lady has stipulated with her husband that whatever his opinions are, she shall be at liberty to patch on which side she pleases.”[6]

At their height, patches or mouchets were worn in all sorts of shapes and for almost all occasions. They were “being worn in the afternoon at the theatre, in the parks in the evening, and in the drawing-room at night.” But it seems patches were considered inappropriate during mourning and were not worn at that time. The following poem from 1658 tells how one fashionable woman wore patches:

“Her patches are of every cut,

For pimples and for scars;

Here’s all the wandering planets’ signs,

And some of the fixed stars.”[7]

There were also nine rules noted for the proper placement of mouchets:

  1. The Passionate, or smart patch, at the corner of the eye.
  2. The Majestic, almost in the middle of the forehead.
  3. The Gay, on the brink of the dimple formed by a smile.
  4. The Gallant, in the middle of the cheek.
  5. The Kissing, at the corner of the mouth.
  6. The Brisk, near the nose.
  7. The Coquettish, upon the lips.
  8. The Discrete, or Prudish, under the lower lip, towards the chin.
  9. The Concealing, upon a pimple.

In the Harrison’s British Classicks in 1787, the following was stated:

“Though I have seen with patience the cap diminishing to the size of a patch, I have not with the same unconcern observed the patch enlarging itself to the size of a cap … all those young ladies, who find it difficult to wean themselves from patches all at once, shall be allowed to wear them in whatever number, size, or figure they please, on such parts of the body as are, or should be, most covered from sight. And any lady who prefers the simplicity of such ornaments to the glare of her jewels, shall, upon disposing of the said jewels for the benefit of the foundling or any other hospital, be permitted to wear as many patches on her face as she has contributed … to so laudable a benefaction. … the public will be benefited; and patches, though not ornamental, be honourable to the sex.”[8]

18th century images of patches or mouchets. Courtesy of Wellcome Images.

In 1766, a year before 16-year-old Marie-Louise Thérèse of Savoy-Carignan married the Prince de Lamballe, patches although still “a fine lady’s necessities … seem[ed] … to have fallen from their high estate.”[9] Fashion books were no longer describing patches or mouchets as imperative to a woman’s toilette, and woman were no longer insisting on wearing them. Times were changing. The makeup worn in the early 1700s — heavy white foundation created from white lead, egg white, and other white substances overlaid with white powder, wide swaths of rouge on the cheeks, and reddened lips — was, by the end of the century, still pale but less white with rouge applied in an upside down triangular shape. As women’s faces began to represent a more natural appearance. The English doctor Thomas Addison noted, “every patch argued a pimple; and to wash away this impression, an inundation of cold creams and lotions rushed in from the Continent.”[10]

References:

  • [1] The Book of Days, Vol. 2, 1832, p 90.
  • [2] Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, Volume 78-79, 1869, p. 237.
  • [3] The Living Age, Volume 78, 1863, p. 210.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] The Book of Days, p. 594.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, p. 237. 
  • [8] Harrison’s British Classicks, 1787, p. 163.
  • [9] The Book of Days, p. 594.
  • [10] The Town and Country Magazine, Volume 1, 1769, p. 61.

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